Imagine a world in which people of all ages can come together to share their knowledge and learn a skill. The skills you learn—sewing, zine-making and guitar playing, just to name a few—are not taught in most Western classrooms, but are useful and applicable in real life. There is no tuition, and the atmosphere is less “professor-student” and more “group discussion.”
This may sound far too idealistic to be true, but the practice of “skill sharing” is becoming common in numerous communities and schools, including Western. Bellingham Skill Share is a group of Western students dedicated to bringing people from all walks of life together to help each other grow by teaching and learning in a community setting.
“We're drawing on what people are already doing in this town in smaller forms,” said senior Jessica Tracey, who helped create the group. “We're connecting the energies of lots of different friend groups and organizations.”
Bellingham Skill Share formed in late August 2007. Starting from an initial idea of Tracey's, the group put on its first Skill Share event on Dec. 1, with group members and their friends leading workshops.
“Skill sharing is about the knowledge of everyday experiences instead of academic,” explained member AJ Burgin, a senior. “If we hold a workshop about Vegan cooking, we may not have the technical knowledge of a nutritionist, but we're still qualified to talk about it because it's something we know in our lives.”
According to co-creator Amy Gibson, also a Western senior, about 40 people attended the first Skill Share, which included workshops on creative writing, basic sewing, Knowing Your Rights and zine-making, among others.
Since then, zine-making has been a major facet of the group's communication. Members are currently working on a zine that will inform readers about the benefits of skill sharing.
“We like to put out our own literature about ourselves, and distributing zines is one way we do that,” Gibson said.
Bellingham Skill Share is currently planning its second Skill Share event, which is scheduled for April 12 at Fairhaven College. Tentatively planned workshops include Knitting, DIY Gardening, Card Games and a Bike Clinic. Bands and community organizations might also be invited to take part. The all-day event will be free and open to the public, though attendees are encouraged to bring any supplies they can.
“We don't receive funding, so we bring our personal resources from our homes and turn them into community resources,” Gibson explained. “We usually have enough to go around, but it would be great if people brought things to share.”
According to Tracey, the workshops are not just about pooling resources, but knowledge as well.
“We want to encourage anyone who knows anything about a skill to come and participate,” Tracey said. “Anyone could come and contribute what they know—there isn't just one teacher.”
The Bellingham Skill Share members plan to hold a Skill Share event each quarter and are hopeful that skill sharing will gain popularity among Western students and community members.
“It's an opportunity to be part of a really awesome community, learn new things and realize that we all have something to share with each other,” Burgin said.