A seemingly small idea to create a coworking space in an unused basement of a local United Methodist church has become a place of support and collaboration transforming the lives of women and bringing equality one dream at a time.
Empowering women happens every day in The Mix Coworking & Creative Space, located in the little-used basement of the historic White Rock United Methodist Church, Dallas. In a little more than one year, the space has become a place where women, in particular, find the support and collaborative spirit they need to build a business, explore new opportunities or expand a dream.
Members’ stories are as diverse as the neighborhood White Rock UMC serves:
Melissa DeGroat, artistic director of Epiphany DanceArts, wanted to expand her professional dance company to include a social enterprise – teaching adaptive dance to children and young adults with special needs. Her special dancers were not always welcome at other studios around town. DeGroat says The Mix has been a great fit for her – welcoming all of her dancers, connecting her with the church worship director and helping to promote branding and marketing communications.
“It's a place,” she says, “where we can make great art happen in a warm and hospitable environment, unlike anything we’ve experienced!”
Kristi Kelley, owner of Stem and Style, is a typical coworker. She worked from home but wanted to reclaim her home. When you live where you work, it is very difficult to draw boundaries around your work life and your family life. The expansive space allowed her to invest in the large floral cooler she needed to expand her business. She also hopes to provide in-house floral services for the church and to collaborate with another member company – an event and wedding planner.
Amy Margaret King, owner of Nested Strategies, is establishing her own coworking space later this year. In the coworking movement, it makes perfect sense to collaborate with another company that others might see as competition. It is the way of the shared economy, and women collaborating in particular, to look for the “greater than the sum of the parts” rather than the zero-sum game.
The women of The Ahadi Collective are growing a commercial textiles collective in The Mix. They are African refugees with whom the Missional Wisdom Foundation has worked a few years – always with the challenge of sustainable employment that allows for their large families. One is a master tailor who is training the others. Neighbors and collaborators have brought piecework and projects and taken the time to train and coach the women to improve their skills in both sewing and marketing. A big win? A customer recently offered one of the women a better job!
There are so many more examples that The Mix could share. Although The Mix has an unusually high ratio of women to men among the membership, establishing women-only spaces has not been a goal. The staff tries to listen for the concerns that drive the need for single-gender spaces:
Do we hear and value all voices?
Do we consistently schedule events and meetings consistently for times that include – or exclude – parents?
Do we welcome young children and provide space for them while respecting the need for a professional environment?
Do we offer a comfortable space that respects the modesty of a breastfeeding mom?
Coworking represents an opportunity for any church who has underused space during the workweek. Creating a welcoming and stimulating space for church and community members to connect and provide mutual support is, indeed, the work of the church!
The Missional Wisdom Foundation sees coworking as another opportunity to facilitate new ways to be the church in the world and a literal interpretation of “two or more gathered.” Another space is taking shape at Bethesda United Methodist Church, Asheville, North Carolina. Other hub cities are Portland, Oregon, and Wichita, Kansas.
Daryn DeZengotita serves the Missional Wisdom Foundation as coworking catalyst. She has worked more than 30 years in marketing communications and earned a journalism degree from Texas A&M University. She and her wife, Celia, live in Rowlett, Texas, with their sons, Alex, 16, and Jacob, 15. As a family, they are part of the First Rowlett United Methodist Church, participating in the community garden, the backpack food ministry and recovery from a recent tornado.