~ THE SHORT STORY ~
Originally from FL, April Doner is an artist and connector at heart whose greatest joy is engaging neighborhoods in the process of discovering, celebrating and connecting their own strengths, dreams and productive talents.
April graduated from New College of Florida in 2006 with a degree in Sociology, but her practical education in community began Sarasota-based nonprofit SCOPE, where she received training and applied innovative models of change including Asset-Based Community Development and Peter Block’s Small Group. Under the guidance of ABCD Institute Founder John McKnight, she designed and led SCOPE’s Neighborhood Initiative, which gained mention in McKnight and Peter Block’s book, The Abundant Community Initiative. April also founded and co-led Uprise Art Collective in Sarasota and spent several years practicing asset-based organizing alongside De’Amon Harges and Mike Mather of Broadway United Methodist Church, whose practices in neighborhood organizing, micro-level economic development, diversity and inclusion and community investment have gained international recognition.
April has conducted trainings and neighborhood organizing projects for organizations including the Public Libraries Association, DePaul University, the Salvation Army, and Pachamama Alliance.
Currently, April practices asset-based organizing in her own neighborhood in Grant, FL and provides ABCD training, coaching and consulting in affiliation with the Abundant Community Initiative. She also offers community-based documentation and trainings in how to use storytelling, art and media to support and amplify community work.
~ THE LONG STORY ~
April grew up in the woods and waves of Grant, Florida. Her parents’ wisdom granted her an experience of close, caring community from an early age, as one of the first children to attend a very small school created for the children who lived on the Kashi Ashram in the tiny town of Roseland, FL. As a child, April could often be found wandering the woods around her home, burying her head in a book, drawing, or seeking community through odd obsessions like collecting business cards and walking, mapping and supporting the local economy (yard sales) in her neighborhood.
For the most part, she learned how to draw and paint on her own, enjoying the advice and examples of other artists and opportunities to create art through learning environments including Putney Art School Summer Program (1998 & 1999), Brevard Community College, and Zendik Arts.
Once she left Kashi to attend public high school, she experienced it’s opposite: the anonymity and fragmentation of institutional education. Always drawn to community, in her Junior year she encountered and spent a summer at Zendik Farms, a “revolutionary” artist community living, at that time, just one hour from her house in Vero Beach, FL. She followed them up to their new home in North Carolina, where she experienced the “Zendik” life: an intensely shared collective lifestyle centered on a philosophy of intense honesty, hardy living, collective dialogue and decision-making and pursuing one’s own “inner genius” through introspection, experimentation and the support of community.
Despite encouragement from friends she had made there to skip out on her senior year, April returned home to finish high school. Newly “politicized,” she was more eager than ever to find meaning in her study material and relationships. She attended Brevard Community College before transferring to New College in Sarasota, Florida in 2001 with a focus on Literature and Sociology. She spent one summer in Faison, North Carolina, interning for the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and another at the Human Kindness Foundation, a spiritually-oriented prison re-entry community led by the late Bo Lozoff.
While she enjoyed her studies, after her second semester she left school to be more engaged with the world, outside of the theory-laden halls of academia (much to the chagrin of her two parents). Her travels took her to D.C. for a short stint at housing-activist mini-community the Olive Branch.
At a protest on April 20, 2002, she met a gorgeous Italian photographer named Luca. He invited her to visit him in New York, and two days later she found her way to his door in Brooklyn with her belongings in a green duffel bag. The two became a couple, travelling to his hometown of Sicily where they lived for a year and a half and eventually married. In Italy, April learned Italian and earned money as a freelance English tutor, event decoration assistant, and house-cleaner while absorbing the rich culture of Italians and travelling the country.
Time away gave her an understanding of the value of education, so in 2004 she and her now husband returned to Sarasota, where she re-enrolled in New College. It was here that she learned about Asset-Based Community Development thanks to Sociology professor David Brain. She was excited to find a philosophy and practical approach to social change that both perfectly matched and expanded upon her own sensibilities. Her main inspirations were the books The Careless Society by John McKnight and the seminal ABCD book, “Building Communities from the Inside Out” by McKnight and Jody Kretzmann.
In 2006, April graduated from New College with a degree in Sociology and, also with the help of Dr. Brain, began working at SCOPE, a Sarasota-based civic engagement nonprofit. It was here that she had her first “full” ABCD experience, at a 3-day workshop in Asset-Based Community Development led by the movement’s founder John McKnight and the late ABCD Faculty member Henry Moore.
She spent 4 years at SCOPE, learning and applying innovative models of community change including ABCD and Peter Block’s “A Small Group” civic engagement practices. She worked with local citizens and with people in government, business and nonprofit organizations to develop creative partnerships and asset-based solutions to key community issues. The core of the work was about helping the community realize its own capacity to solve issues and realize goals, by learning about the many gifts, talents, and resources its citizens and local groups possessed, and by connecting with one another to start using those hidden resources.
She worked as staff support for SCOPE’s Race and Cultural Initiative for two years then, with the support of her boss Tim Dutton, focused on her budding passion for neighborhood-level change as staff-in-charge of SCOPE’s Neighborhood Initiative, working within Sarasota’s historically segregated neighborhood of Newtown and the City of North Port.
While holding conversations with citizens in Newtown, a Sarasota neighborhood, April met artist Tony Latroy Sanders. Tony is a self-taught artist who, inspired by a full-time artist he met, put his doubts aside to pursue a full-time career around his creative gift. Drawing on the support and genuine enthusiasm of people in his network and with the help of his wife, Tony built a living. What impressed her most was that most of Tony’s clients were not rich people–they were ordinary working- and middle- class people.
During this time, April also found herself attracted to artists in the community, and became addicted to the “blossoming” she felt in conversations about each others’ gifts and aspirations, and exchanging work. During a trip to Chicago in 2010, she happened across a dynamic hip-hop collective called Black Gate Studios. This encounter showed her what was possible when artists with shared passion for creativity come together, helping her see where her “artist” and her “community-builder” might intersect.
In 2010, April was invited by John McKnight to join the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University as a Fellow.
During this time, she encountered Black Gate Studios, an artist collective whose culture of mutual support inspired her deeply. She also visited Broadway United Methodist Church in Indianapolis and was deeply impressed by their innovative approach to overcoming poverty through neighborhood-level community-building.
Inspired by the idea of an artist collective, April left SCOPE in 2010 to apply her experience in organizing and a newfound passion for supporting artists and sparking local economy. Together with other artists she found who shared her passion, April helped to form Uprise Art Collective. Through Uprise, April and her peers forged powerful bonds of friendship and organized creative local events that built connections among local artists and community. In 2011, Uprise activity died down as core members pursued separate projects. From 2012 to 2013, April sharpened her skills in storytelling as a writer for This Week in Sarasota.
In 2013, April moved to Indianapolis to work with two brilliant practitioners of ABCD and other community change models and to continue practicing ABCD within her own neighborhood. Together with Anne Mitchell and De’Amon Harges of Tesserae Learning, April teaches ABCD to others through workshops and consulting, and tells stories of local abundance and transformation through her blog “Signs of Life,” TheAbundantCommu
April also loves to swim, dance, cook, make art, and practice Buddhism with her local SGI-USA organization. Her goal is to travel the world documenting stories of people-powered change and teaching Asset-Based Community Development. She dreams of a world full of connected, welcoming and economically vibrant neighborhoods where all people are valued for their gifts.