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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Gather: Middlebury's new community living room

<p>Gather, located at 48 Merchants Row, opened in mid-February in downtown Middlebury</p>

Gather, located at 48 Merchants Row, opened in mid-February in downtown Middlebury

Community living room space Gather opened in downtown Middlebury on Feb. 14. Located at 48 Merchants Row, the space is a Bread Loaf Mountain Zen Community project that aims to bring the people of Middlebury together by offering a place to connect and build relationships.

The primary goal of Gather is to foster a more tight-knit community in the town, said Joshin Byrnes, the leader of the Zen Community.

“We're separated by class, by education, by race, by religion, by age, by ability, by the status of our mental health, the status of our substance use… the goal here is to create a place where people can walk through the door without a label, without being categorized, without being diagnosed, and can just be formally received as whole and complete human beings,” Byrnes said. “The place will be open to anyone who needs a break and wants to relax or use the restroom or laundry facilities, or grab a drink or a snack.”

Gather offers amenities and activities for the town residents and Middlebury students alike, such as food, conversation, and therapeutic programming. The programming — which includes craft days, game nights, recovery and wellness meetings and community acupuncture — is designed to be both entertaining and healing, according to Byrnes.

In addition, the space has areas for relaxation, laundry machines and showers. Since the Zen Community hopes Gather can be a space that is welcoming to everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs, there is a dedicated area within the building where individuals can quietly reflect and meditate, irrespective of their faith or mindset.

The Gather space is free to anyone who enters. This was made possible by donations from a variety of sources, including contributions from individuals in the Zen Community — a group of approximately 1,300 people around the world — along with other private donations from donors the community has been in contact with.

The idea behind the space being free is that it will encourage people to enter and explore what it has to offer without any financial constraints, Byrnes said. Byrnes added that he hopes this will encourage a sense of curiosity in people and allow them to experience what it is like to see themselves as others and others as themselves.

This past Sunday, Feb. 5, the Middlebury Muslim Students Association and some community members held a bake sale event at the community space. The event aimed to raise money for relief efforts in Turkey and Syria, where recent earthquakes have caused significant damage and loss of life.

The bake sale featured a wide variety of homemade baked goods and pastries, as well as hot beverages such as tea and coffee. All proceeds from the event were donated to Bridge to Türkiye and Doctors Without Borders.

Byrnes, who is also an affiliate chaplain at the college, said that he welcomes Middlebury students to use the space.

Additionally, there are opportunities for students to volunteer their time or become “Gather Friends,” which would mean that they could become involved in the mission of the space by contributing to the events and activities hosted there. By opening up the space to students and encouraging their involvement, the community space can serve as a bridge between the college and the broader community, fostering greater engagement and collaboration.

“I imagine that this may be a place for students who are curious about who lives here in Middlebury and want to develop relationships with people who live here across the usual barriers like socioeconomics, educational differences, cultural backgrounds, world views,” Byrnes said.

Byrnes also expressed interest in creating Zen Peacemaker or a Gather Internship for a few college students.

“Interns would actively participate in holding safe, welcoming, and warm grassroots community spaces for a wide variety of individuals. We would train interns in trauma-informed hospitality, peer listening, and nonviolent communication,” Byrnes said. He added that while Gather is a secular space focused on inclusivity, those interested in learning about the principles of Zen Peacemaker practice would have the opportunity to study with experienced Zen Peacemaker practitioners and teachers.

Updated every Tuesday, the website serves as a hub for information on the various events and activities hosted at Gather.

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