Who lives around me? What makes them amazing? How could knowing that be useful?
This is what I’ll be exploring in a new series of blogs called “Amazing Neighbors.” My first interview is with someone I’ve admired since we first talked years ago: Don Hall, founder and Executive Director of Transition Sarasota, who lives about five blocks from my house off the edge of beautiful Gillespie Park.
Don is a friendly guy about my age with bright blue eyes, sandy hair, and a wide smile. We met several years ago when he called me at my former job at SCOPE to share his idea for a local organization based upon a model known internationally as Transition. “Transition Sarasota” would build local resilience and sustainable, community-based solutions to issues such as peak oil and climate change. Don’s clarity of vision and story of successes in his previous work in Colorado impressed me deeply.
Since then, I’ve watched his vision blossom into a vibrant hub of local energy and on-the-ground innovation. It’s brought local people and resources together in focused action, producing things like the Suncoast Gleaning Project, Eat Local Guide, and the Common Wealth Time Bank, a local barter system which will launch publicly at Transition’s Economics of Happiness Summit next Monday.
It has often struck me how silly it is that Don and I never see each other, since our work and passions are so closely aligned, and our houses so nearby.
So last Saturday I decided to end that silliness and walked the five scenic blocks over to Don’s house to interview him as my first “Amazing Neighbor.” It
was a fine excuse to have that conversation I’ve been wanting to have and to answer a question I realized had bugged me for a while: Who is Don Hall, as a person—beyond what I already know about him as the hardworking, articulate, unstoppable leader of Transition Sarasota?
I learned a ton—about Transition, Don and our common interests.We both love writing, literature, music, cooking and this neighborhood. Something else hit me too: the fact that this “do-good” activity of getting to know my neighbors is not just fun and interesting—it also helps me achieve my own goals by connecting me with immensely valuable resources and opportunities that I can use.
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April: Where are you from?
Don: I’m originally from Massachusetts–Wellesley, a suburb just west of Boston.
I grew up there ‘til I was 14, then went away to prep school in Southborough, Massachusetts. Then I came down here and went to the Out-of-Door Academy. I went to NYU for college, [majoring in] American Literature with minors in Creative Writing and Education. I was going to be a writer with teaching literature as a fall-back. When I graduated, I totally took a right turn and worked with Outward Bound, working with at-risk and adjudicated youth in Florida, taking trips into Georgia and South Carolina. Eventually, I quit doing that and I came back here to Sarasota.
During that time, I was also volunteering for the Sarasota Network for Climate Action (SNCA). At NYU, I ran Students for a Free Tibet in the university. Working for SNCA was a continuation of that and stoked my passion to get back into action, particularly around climate change. So, I applied to Naropa University and did a master’s in Environmental Leadership.
Instead of a thesis, we had an applied leadership project. I worked with a local organization called Boulder County Going Local which was right at the point of affiliating themselves with Transition. In 2008, they became the first official Transition Initiative in North America. My position grew to be managing the great re-skilling program which was DIY workshops, and also being a liaison with the Initiative Leader around the state of Colorado.
herbs in Don’s garden