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Oh, hello there, it's Bailey from the Get Together podcast, wondering what the heck you're going to do to keep your people together through this winter, the rest of this pandemic, we're wondering the same thing.


So we're going to test out a new event series, live interviews with community leaders who have great answers to that question. How do you keep people together during a pandemic? Our first session is with Carla Fernandez and Mary Horn, two of the folks behind the dinner party, a mazing community who has been on this podcast before. You may remember, but the dinner party is a worldwide community of 20 and 30 somethings who have each experienced the loss of a loved one.


Before the pandemic, more than 400 dinner party tables were regularly meeting in nearly a hundred cities, gathering about 4000 people. When covid-19 arrived in March, those in-person dinner parties were no longer an option. The organization has done a remarkable job of transforming since the pandemic first started. They've added 70 new tables and launched a body program. If you want to hear more of the updated story of the dinner party. Join us on November 20th for a live interview.


You can find out more about the event at our website. Get Together Work World events that set together adult world events. And for those of you who haven't heard the dinner party where rereleasing their wonderful episode with the two founders, Carla and Lennon, here today on the podcast, help you dig it. All right. See you soon. Welcome to that get together.


It's our show about the nuts and bolts, the meat and potatoes of community building.


I'm your host, Bailey Richardson, a partner at People and Company Partner, and I am a co-author of Get Together How to Build a Community With Your People, which is now available on Amazon, baby.


Wow. Wow. That's a great idea. Oh, me.


Is it my turn to introduce myself? Yes, it's me, Kevin.


With another partner at People in Company, generally friendly person, co-author of Get Together. I'm five, seven and a half and like 60 Minutes cut. I don't have a fresh cut right now. I will have a fresh haircut shortly onto you, baby. OK.


Each episode we interview everyday people who have built extraordinary communities about just how they did it. How did they get the first people to show up? How did they grow to hundreds more members? Today we're talking to Lennon Flowers and Carla Fernandez, the co-founders of the Dinner Party, a worldwide community of 20 and 30 somethings who have each experienced the loss of a loved one. The dinner party tables are regularly meeting in nearly 100 cities around the world, from Milwaukee to Tel Aviv.


Most of these two hundred and seventy five tables gather at a hosted house over a potluck to attend. Everyone must first fill out an application which the team at HQ reviews by hand, carefully matching each person to a table near them.


We see the work that we're doing right now, very much as like we're creating this platform for these amazing, brave, creative people who've lived through some shit and are ready to like, talk about it and build friendships from that place of heart brokenness, but create something beautiful from it. And our job now is to like, get out of the way and give them the platform to be able to tell their story. The dinner party is not about one off dinners.


These tables have just 10 to 15 people meet every couple of months so the attendees can build meaningful connection over time.


Kevo, what's stuck out with you about our conversation with Carla and Lenine Lenine to one of my phrases and remixed into something I love, which is Find Your Elephant.


We were talking about of the early days of the dinner party and you know, they created this dinner party, both of the founders having lost a loved one.


And they create these dinner parties as a space to speak about this thing that they felt isolated about, that they didn't have the space to speak about. They called it elephant in the room.


And yeah, they definitely like talk about intentionally censoring themselves around people basically all throughout their daily lives. Yeah, yeah.


And feeling like there's just so many landmines with if someone asked me about, you know, what do my parents do, you know, as experiencing loss, I would ruin the conversation.


I ruined someone's day because I was sharing about my life and they created the space to talk about they create this community to discuss this idea of, you know, life after loss.


I get to talk to community leaders or aspiring ones that, you know, have a hunch they want to start something. I think this is a really powerful point. You know what makes a really compelling community? It's about finding that elephant. It's about, you know, what is it that people are bursting to talk about or share with each other or experience with each other, but that they don't have the space to? And can you get people together and create that environment, you know, Karlo, that have taken it one step further?


And I think they've really designed the community after that first dinner to drive home that purpose. They're not chasing just like growth at all costs. They're not letting anybody host a table that they really are thinking about this. You know, what does it mean for someone to transform life after loss and have these ongoing discussions of support and candid conversation? And how do we continue to make decisions for this organization, for this community, with this community in mind every step of the way that continues to realize, you know, their communities purpose?


Yeah. So let's jump in. Let's jump in Carla Leonard and talk to us Lenin.


And I'm a co-founder of the dinner party and the executive director.


I am Carla Fernandez. I am the co-founder of the dinner party with Lenin.


Can you guys take us back eight or nine years ago and tell us about what motivated you to start the dinner party?


Lenin and I met just over nine years ago and we met in the months following my dad dying of brain cancer. I had been I was twenty years old when he got diagnosed and was twenty one when he passed away. And I was one of the main caretakers for him during that time. And I found myself at a moment where most of my friends were getting their first jobs out of college and going backpacking and doing the things at twenty in twenty one year olds generally do.


I found myself in a very different reality, caring for someone who was dying. And then when I came out of that experience, I was looking for a connection and people who understood what that was like, but really didn't know anyone else my age who'd experience that kind of a loss and had gone to the traditional grief support group. But it was in the. Basement of the hospital where my dad had gotten his radiation and it was literally the last place I wanted to hang out, I had saw a therapist who was amazing, but it was kind of a monologue.


And I was sort of having this Goldilocks feeling of like, where is the piece of the puzzle that's about hanging out with people who feel like friends, where we can open up a bottle of wine and talk about this not in a sterile institutional medical way, but in a way that just feels like human. And then I luckily met Lennon not long after, and it took us a couple of months into our friendship before we sort of admitted to one another that we both lost a parent to cancer.


We were co-workers at a startup and had both gotten really good at, like, avoiding the subject because it generally was a conversation stopper, conversation killer, if you will. But when I met Lennon, I realized that I found a friend who I actually could have that conversation with. So I invited her over to dinner to talk about it and invited a few other people who I'd also been gathering, collecting early 20 somethings who've lost a parent. Yeah, I invited them over and it was felt like a social experiment and very well could have been the most awkward blind date of all of our lives.


And it was actually really the opposite. And we had this amazing night where we could talk about the parts of our stories relating to grief that sucked and were hard, but also the parts that were like weirdly hysterical and complicated. And we could talk about dating after loss and shifting relationships with other family members after loss, really what life looked like after. And how do you move on from something like this? And how do you be a young person without that source of support in your life?


So at the end of that night, it was the intention was like, let's do this once and see how it goes. And by the time we kind of got to dessert, there was a shared understanding that this was something really powerful and that we wanted to sit down again.


Did you think about any kind of facilitation of that first dinner?


So I had printed out some prompts that I had on people's plates that I have somewhere in a drawer or like a storage unit. I could dig them up at some point for our archive purposes, but that didn't that doesn't really do it. You know, people aren't going to a great conversation does get kicked off just because there's like a poem sitting on your plate. And frankly, the beginning of the night was like a little bit tense and a little bit awkward.


I think everyone arrived and there was this real elephant in the room of like, when are we actually going to talk about this thing that we we know we're all here to talk about? And people are really good about, like talking about the weather and what they're watching on TV and how this was in Los Angeles, like how bad the traffic was coming over. And it wasn't until we sat down to dinner and I toasted to my dad and we all kind of raised our glasses and I invited people to introduce us to whoever it was that brought them to the table.


That's when we could all kind of drop in and go there. And I think a lot of our work since then has been figuring out when Lennon and I aren't in the room, what are the facilitation and air quotes since people are listening techniques that we can give to our hosts that don't feel like you're in an overly facilitated space, that still feels like you're hanging out with friends. And yet I will make sure that, like we talk about the thing we're here to talk about before dessert is served.


And I want to ask you to just to share your personal background and experience. You're now the executive director of this thing that I'm sure you didn't see coming walking into that first dinner party. So what made you feel like it was such a special experience?


You know, as Carlos mentioned, my mom died while I was in college and she had been sick for about four years. And I think as a result of that, between the ages of 17 and 21, I got extremely well practiced in the art of compartmentalizing, you know, and making sure you never had to go there. And my family background was complicated before my mom got sick and remained much more so after her passing. And that kind of tendency, I've just never, ever talking about it stayed with me long after she died.


I had just moved out to Los Angeles around the same time that Carla did, you know, in a few months before that first dinner. And I realized that, you know, I had been coming from D.C., which was like a bigger version of Chapel Hill, the school where I had gone to college and no longer had anybody in my life who was familiar with, you know, some of the details, you know, and the big headlines, you know, without my having to mention it or anyone.


And I found that kind of fear and terror of like as you're a new person in a new city trying to do what every new person does is make friends. And there were all of these like perceived landmines in my own life of like, please don't ask anything about where I come from or what your parents do or, you know, like what's on your mind right now, because it was complicated. Right. So it was, you know, that first conversation with Carla that I still remember as were walking back from coffee to the office.


I remember her mentioning that her father had passed away. And that being one of the first moments, it wasn't the first moment that I acknowledge that my mom died, but it was the first moment that I wanted to talk about it, you know, and for the first time that I had somebody to talk about it with. But it wasn't something that we could kind of carry on in front of the office water coolers. So when Carla sent out email, you know, I met it with both anxiety and also real excitement, not having done this before, not knowing how it would go.


I can't remember what I had for breakfast yesterday, but I remember distinctly walking up to this dog house like Carlat, this group house that Karlgaard, you know, called you Super Didley House, the blue mansion.


And I remember like walking up the hill from my car and knocking on the door. And as Carla mentioned, those first couple of moments that, you know, we're a little bit awkward, but there was something nice and having, you know, like being put immediately on stirring the pot and helping to set the table, that there were things that we could do with our hands. And in the course of that conversation, I honestly don't remember what it was that we talked about other than parents in our lives.


What I do remember was that the conversation went until about 1:00 in the morning and we all crawled up into Carla's bedroom in that dog house and fell asleep side by side like little babies, and then obviously wanted to do it again when it was a long time later before we kind of realized that not only was this an experience that had been meaningful for us around a table, but that we were actually not at all alone in that story and that there were even people that I knew who'd experienced a major loss.


It was just that none of us knew that the other was there because we were all so good at avoidance. And we were also God fearing the presence of that elephant in a room. I wished that there was a single kind of lightning bolt moment, you know, in which we could point to like, oh, yeah, this is going to be like our life's mission and calling and let's go, you know, launch. This is an organization.


There wasn't there was a long, you know, years worth of conversations and oh, isn't this interesting? And oh, what we're doing isn't rocket science. And yet why was it so hard and rare to find this particular community?


There's this sociologist which maybe you guys know, I think his name is Erving Goffman, and he talks about how in life we're always sort of putting on performances. We're like standing on stages all the time. And the loved people in your life are the people that you talk backstage with. And you talk like about the performance with those people.


And I feel like hearing you guys talk about the experience of having to sort of like smile and sort of perform for other people. You found people that you could go backstage with. In a way. I wanted to ask you how you approach going from one dinner party. You guys are laying in bed together like puppies. No, you want to do this again. So maybe just like the first next table. How did you guys get from we're doing this to like we're going to enable other people to do this.


Can you kind of take us through that realization and why you decided to do that and how you got the first one off the ground?


So while this initial table was gathering, I was in conversation with my therapist who live in San Francisco, who's awesome. I highly recommend hit me up for details. And she started asking me basically she was like, I have about five or six other clients who come and sit in my office every week, oftentimes pass each other in the hallway, in and out of my office, who've all lost someone in their life and are asking for this kind of space.


Can I just introduce you to them? And was like, OK, sure. And ended up coming up to the bay and having coffee with a handful of different people and realized that like the initial group in Los Angeles, like Lennon was saying, oddly enough, we weren't the only five weirdos on the planet that wanted this kind of space and other people were verbalizing it and asking for it. So we worked together with some of those folks that we connected with to start our first table in the bay.


And that's where a lot of the kind of understanding of what is this thing and how do you train someone to host one of these and what are the qualities that we look for in someone who could become a host?


And it was around the same time that I was going back actually to the nonprofit that I've been working with in D.C. and going back and forth between L.A. and D.C. and shared with a colleague there what we were doing in L.A. And he then shared that his father had died a few years before. And that was the first conversation that we'd had about it. A friend of his from grad school had lost her twin brother to suicide. And there were a number of other kind of one degree associations.


People were like, oh, I think this would be really valuable for myself, for somebody that, you know, is really important to me.


And so we started doing dinners in D.C. and, you know, I was back and forth a lot so we could do it any time I happened to be there. And then it didn't take long to realize that that was really dumb because, again, this wasn't rocket science. I didn't have to be in the room to carry on each of those conversations and to be that kind of bottleneck. So then the idea of a table as an entity, you know, began to form and it continued that way for a couple of years.


You started tables in Baltimore and in New York. And when Carl and I happened to be there for, you know, work or personal travel, you know, we would host a table. And when we weren't there, they could get together on their own. And that was beginning to like put language to, OK, so what is it that we're doing? Right. What are some of the things that work and what are some of the things that don't?


I was guilty of dinner parties that start two hours late, both because I was. Frantically trying to do everything myself, and I'm constantly running on California time. We would let the conversations linger and the weather and the traffic and entertainment or whatever it is you talk about in L.A. until, you know, one of the early dinner partiers in L.A. was like, hey, guys, are we ever going to talk about death and grief? I was like, oh, right.


OK, so lesson one is somebody actually has to kick off a conversation sooner by accident around that very first table when Carla raised her glass to her father, that the kind of moment of choosing became kind of a real moment of liftoff in a conversation. You know, I think early on we kind of thought of this as like punk rock, grief support and then realized like pretty quickly, like, no, actually, it's not that right. It is friendship formation and community formation that exist alongside that and a space where we're not seeking counseling because, you know, we've got therapist, right?


You're speaking a space seeking a space in which you don't actually have to hide any part of your story. And you can see the head nods and the moments of surprise and all of the differences across our stories and be witness to those as well.


What strikes me is that phrase you said earlier, the elephant in the room. We we get to talk to some people who sort of have this hunch that they want to start a community. Maybe there's a particular group of people that they care about or there's just sort of a feeling around a particular issue. And I think is as far as what makes great ingredients to start a community, this idea of the elephant in the room, like what is it that people are at times like bursting to speak about that they may not have the space to take that courageous first step to do something together and create that space?


It has the possibility to really realize a purpose for many people. I do think that there's something about that potential in, you know, that elephant in the room. And if someone can recognize it and see, yeah, what if I got people together to address that? Thank you for taking that first step, bringing those people together that first time.


The answer here is find your own elephant and all of us have one. Right. The number of experiences that we carry alone, you know, only to discover, like, actually, you're not alone in holding that right. Present day, the power of the words me to write in order to have that conversation that a lot of people are longing to have, somebody has to take that daring first step of naming their own story, you know, and again, in the kind of art of hosting a dinner party, isn't being an expert in grief or anybody else's story.


It is having the capacity to share your own vulnerability. Right. Which gives people self permission to share theirs. And there's something that's like powerful about diffusing as opposed to like we're all going to sit down and have a really hard conversation, you know, like the metaphor of an elephant in the room. Right. Like there's something that is actually longing to be said here. Let's go ahead and say it.


Can you guys talk a little bit about what Hosta to do that to diffuse the energy in some ways to start the conversation? You've already hit on the importance of someone making the transitional moment in the conversation. You've talked about choosing. But what are some of the things that you talk to your hosts of tables about to make sure that the conversation does get there and people do kind of feel like they have permission to speak right to the thing that they came to dinner for?


You know, we've been developing sort of tips and tricks and a guidebook that we share with our hosts.


They include things that we stumbled upon accidentally, like it's actually a great idea to have some things left unfinished so that as people arrive, there are tasks to be done and ways to busy your hands so that someone who might be feeling jitters to be not only entering a stranger's home for the first time, but also preparing to have a conversation they may have never been able to put words around before.


There's something for them to do, like fidget almost like set the table, light the candles, open a bottle of wine, like finish making the salad something to get their hands going, which we discovered after many nights of like as wine and said running late.


And then we're like, oh, there's actually this is serving a purpose for strategic lateness strategically.




And then when each when the host starts each conversation, there's a set of guidelines that we ask them to run through. If it's the first time the tables meeting, we have everyone around the table sort of introduce themselves, introduce who brought them to the table. And then we always ask the question, where are you at with your loss right now? I think oftentimes people can just sort of default into the auto play. The story they've already told ten times about the accident or the diagnosis or the funeral.


What we really want people to do is get into the present tense and talk about like what happened at work this week or how is this coming up in your relationship, knowing that grief is a lens through which so much of our life is seen, whether it happened a year ago, a month ago or ten years ago. So we really try to get people talking in the present tense. And then we also have the hosts run through some guidelines that include things like a Vegas rule.


So what happens at the table stays at the table, silence being heard just as much as speech for people who don't actually want to share anything at all. It's not, as one of our advisors says, some share or die environment. Which I think a lot of these spaces that are like we're here to have meaningful conversation, everybody share the most vulnerable thing you've ever said out loud, like that's so not what this is about. It's about people listening to their own boundaries and what they feel comfortable about.


And if they sit there another head the whole time and don't say a word, awesome. And then the third, you know, one of the other guidelines that we share is around no advice giving. This isn't a space for people to come and be like, oh, I know what you should do about your crazy step mom that worked for mine. It's about sort of listening people into their own truths. And oftentimes people do kind of share what's worked for them.


But it's very much not a place where people are giving advice.


Another piece of the format, it's less about each dinner and what happens within it, but more about the way you see the tables in the communities. Your building that I love is that you explicitly call out that these are not one time events. These are groups meeting over and over and over again. Kevin and I just wrote this book and we spoke to hundreds of communities. And the biggest takeaway for me personally was like the importance of showing up and going to the same thing once a week, once a month.


We're just in this like one off culture and relationships cannot build if you do not give them time to build. How come you guys came to know that was important? And how do you communicate that to anyone who's applying or hosting?


So part of that answer, you know, lay in that very first table, right out of which group, a really good group of friends. The relationships are the product of, you know, affinity in and time. But we don't place any kind of architecture around it. You know, our accountability and expectation of like you will come to the next six dinners once per month for the next six months. And if not, you're out, you know, if you miss one done.


But how do you create an environment of A that people want to show back up to you? And one of the things that was really fascinating to me as we began to dig into what were some of the characteristics that marked our last tables. Right. Our most active and engaged tables, you know, where people were consistently sharing this had been a transformative experience. And it wasn't actually that the host happened to be our best facilitators as somebody who was like a complete nerd in the space, you know, wanted to have like all of the six guidelines and all of the how tos and deep training and, you know, X, Y and Z.


And that wasn't it at all.


The host who were really good at making this consistent, for whom they didn't let you know life get in the way. You know, when all of us have been there and had that experience where, you know, you wake up six months later after a really busy phase. Right. And you're like, I haven't seen this person that I really meant to.


The kind of investment in a community requires an investment.


Let's not kid ourselves about that. So how do you create an environment? And in that case.


Right, if that's going to happen on a regular basis, then it can't be a drain for you as a host. But that consistency really, really matters because at the end of the day, our end goal is is helping to seed relationships and friendships. And that is only going to be the product of time.


I want to talk about how you guys sort of like fit and how people apply and how you review applications. I love how you make so clear how human the process is. On your website. You say, please know that our staff, all of whom have experienced significant loss themselves, read every single host application with care and appreciate and honor the vulnerability it takes to fill out a form. You also explain similarly to anyone who's applying to be at a table that this is going to be a long application, that you will in fact read it.


It may take time to respond, but I'm just so impressed by how you guys are not trying to, like, optimize all this for speed or growth. You're really orienting towards quality. And so can you just give us a few behind the curtain looks at how you think about finding the right people for attending a table. Like one purported best practice, which I think is a really dumb myth, is that you have to lower the barrier so much for people to show up and that lowering the barriers sometimes means like don't ask them for anything that's going to take more than 14 seconds to think about in entering your name and your email address.


And we hear all the time actually that like the fact that our application is long is, you know, like one step of a long healing journey. Right.


Because oftentimes it's the first part, the first time that a person has been asked in a long time to describe what it is that brings them there to talk about where it is that they are now, which isn't an answer that simply rolls off the tongue because we need spaces in which to actually like, reflect and consider that we ask questions of how do you like to spend your Saturdays?


Because part of, again, creating tables where people find their friends and their crew by connecting not only around shared experiences of loss, but also other shared interest. You know, and we connect early 20 somethings to other early 20 somethings and 30 somethings, 30 somethings, because they've got other common milestones in their lives.


And loss is an entry point, but not the end point. Questions around identity, whether that's your gender or sexuality or racial identity.


New York, we've got 80 odd tables that we're actively meeting on the regulars that we can be choosy in where we send somebody. If you were the only person of color at an otherwise all white table right now, you're not likely to go back. Right. And in addition to that, it can be incredibly freeing to be in a space, you know, with others who share other same identities.


We have a number of affinity tables, you know, that are either around shared experiences of loss tables for folks who all experienced the loss to a stigmatized cause, tables for folks who've all lost a sibling and then tables, you know, for folks who share a particular identity, whether that's LGBT or possie, that's part of the reason that we ask all of those what can feel like, you know, to the outside, I think annoying questions. But we actually don't ever get that feedback from people who are actually going through the process themselves.


You know, I think as we figured out, like, what is the actual model to enable this thing to grow? You know, we did we've experimented with the like, maybe there's a table in each city and first come first serve the first 15 people that RSVP for tonight's dinner get a seat. And what would happen was that people would come into that space. And because it was a different combination of folks, every time they had to reintroduce themselves and the conversation never actually progressed past like, hi, my name is this is who brought me to the table.


This is the story that honestly can sometimes be retried, amortizing to share on repeat over and over and over again. And I think since the beginning, we've had so many people just be like, put your toolkit online and move on to the next issue area. And we've learned so much about how in a culture that's pushing for low barrier to entry, simple, you acts like make this very easy. Sure. But it wouldn't work. Like the thing that actually makes this work and that makes this transformative for people is the fact that we're reading applications that were hand matching people to tables, that we are spending the time to not just have a cattle call for everybody to come to the one dinner that's happening tonight in L.A. But we're creating these small groups of friends.


And it's interesting is the community word merges or is being claimed or is entering more sort of tech spaces and corporate spaces and places where there's like a bottom line and whether certain metrics that people are measuring. And I feel like we're trying to stay strong in our ground of like to build community where people actually have each other's backs, where conversation that's happening is actually meaningful. Work spaces are actually life changing.


It doesn't fit one to one inside of structures where people are so focused on growth for growth sake and like efficiency and streamlining. And we're excited to just like talk honestly about the amount of labor and time and care it takes to build something that has this level of impact in people's lives. It can't be short.


And I think that transparency is also powerful for someone on the receiving end. Right. To hear these people care about me enough to spend time to think about this, it adds intentionality. It adds texture. It adds like weight to you joining to you being like placed in a certain spot and to the intentionality of everyone who shows up at that house or at that table. So you set the tone for everyone when they know that that's happening, that you guys are being really thoughtful and reading about their lives.


I think that's like a very powerful act of generosity.


And we're working right now on a website that will change how all of this works and that once people's applications are approved, they'll get to select which table they join based on their zip code and which hosts have availability. And we're excited because it's going to allow us to kind of step back from the matchmaking work, which takes a lot of time. And there's some big questions of like is giving people within our community, the agency to choose, going to make them feel like they belong that much more, or for people who are coming in who are in kind of an acute state of grief, I.


There was decision paralysis, like just put me to a table, so we're very much like watching and learning, like how how much can we help to navigate people who come in that are that would feel differently about that kind of a decision?


With my experience talking to folks who were chapter or circle based organizations that have lots of lots of little pods all over.


One of the kind of beautiful things is to create the sandbox and learn from how people utilize it, how they experiment.


And sometimes those lessons lead to, quote unquote best practices, or sometimes it leads to, oh, let's avoid that. So I'm curious for each of you, you know, what is something that you learned or surprised you from, you know, other hosts from other people organizing these tables?


I've definitely had experiences of go of attending dinners where I am a participant and being flot, like being odd by how our hosts handle certain delicate transitions in conversation or manage getting the table set in time for a dinner of 15 people and seem like totally relaxed about it.


And it's been really beautiful to kind of like realize that there are masters within our community that are getting better at this than enlightenment. And I probably ever will be or I will ever will be speak for myself.


One thing that we're seeing happen in some cities is hosts and partiers coming to us asking if they can create experiences that bring some of those affinity groups together. So we're now having dinner partiers get together in cities like D.C. and Austin for Shabbat dinners on Friday nights, connecting across tables for people that are looking for that kind of space. We're also seeing dinner partiers hosted their own like daylong retreats. Just one just happened in the Bay Area. We have some dinner partiers planning a drag show fundraiser for us next month in Chicago.


Be there, be square. We see the work that we're doing right now very much as like we're creating this platform for these fucking amazing, brave, creative people who've lived through some shit and are ready to, like, talk about it and build friendships from that place of heart brokenness, but create something beautiful from it. And our job now is to like get out of the way and give them the platform to be able to tell their story, recruit more and more hosts and their cities and towns, help us fundraise to keep this thing going, help us improve like what kind of tools they need to be able to have good dinners.


And yeah, right now our job is very much like keeping our ears wide open and learning from these hundreds of hosts around the country that are doing the thing.


As somebody who then, you know, went on to think a lot about what are the guidelines and practices around facilitation and that hold this became a surprise when I realized, like, oh, you know, people that I would not have pointed to as master space holders. Right. But whose enthusiasm and passion for a community whose authenticity and sincerity and desire to connect right and thoughtfulness around texting somebody on an anniversary or a birthday because they're not just involved in their own lives.


Those were some of the ingredients that made for best tables. So we're constantly learning from our community.


And I think we're still looking for like those platforms where we can do more peer sharing and idea sharing from across our community because there's a goldmine of lessons.


And for every awkward situation or hard thing, and when you are talking about hard things, it happens, right, that there isn't a single situation that has proven unsolvable because of the genius within our community and folks who've experienced it.


I think so many people who have started a group of people getting together regularly need to think about at some point is how to sustain the organization and how money shows up in the picture. So you guys have a thirty five dollar annual fee. But I wanted to ask you about how you made that decision to start charging an annual fee and how you approached communicating that with your existing community lending arm wrestled about this for probably eight of the nine years we've known each other and for good reason.


You know, we there's a lot of people working in the end of life, greenspace, that are selling a product that can sometimes feel like they're taking advantage of a person at a time of need. And we have always been very, very careful to not fall into that camp. And we've never wanted to charge for what we do. But then these amazing things would happen, like we get press that our childhood selves wouldn't even dream of getting, like being an Oprah magazine and being on NPR.


And we'd wake up the next morning, the kind of morning where we should be like celebrating with, like a mimosa branch because your life goals. But actually we would freak the fuck out because we'd have hundreds, if not thousands of applications in our inbox. And we didn't have any additional funds to actually respond. As we've been saying, read every single one of those applications at hand, match every single one of those people.


So it meant that we've had this sort of backlog of applications almost since the day that we started. We finally came to a point where we're like, OK, we need to figure out how, as our community grows and as demand for our community grows, so do the resources to be able to hire people to actually take care of different regions across the country. And I think the amount was conversations with our team, conversations with our community, serving people in our community, asking like, what do you think?


How much of this be? You know, I think thirty five dollars for some people seems like, you know, it's two on of Netflix or it's one Kopay for one therapy appointment. And I'm getting to come to dinner for the rest of the year. But that felt like the right amount for us. And and like you said, we have plenty of ways where people can get a scholarship or not pay, that no one gets turned away from any of our tables.


Leonard, you want to add to that at all? Yeah.


Now, is the person that lost the arm wrestling match after, you know, eight years? I stand corrected. Right. And, you know, I was really wary of having a membership fee, first of all, because, you know, every member of our community has paid their dues on entry. And the idea that, you know, if our end goal is creating real community, you know, and circles of friends, that is anything you buy and pay for.


Right. It's not a product on the grocery aisle, you know, and it didn't change the reality that it actually cost something for us to do this. One of the things that we found, you know, over the last few years is just that, you know, for us to do our jobs right, we need more hands and more time in which to do it right. And we know the consequences of not having that stuff there. You know, when people fall through the cracks and at the end of the day, we were less willing to let people fall through the cracks than we were, you know, to take the risk, you know, including the membership fee.


It's also true that this entire community, you know, that thirty five dollars alone, you know, as a number that was is what our community said they could pay, isn't enough to sustain the thing. And so we've been reliant from day one, you know, on donations. And part of the advantage of this having been a community in a few cities, you know, before it was ever an organization, was that from the very beginning we had people who are passionate about it and champions and who went out, you know, and on our very first crowdfunding campaign that allowed me to quit my job, you know, and for us to have enough resources to do a few events in year one, all of those donations came from members of our community and people who love them.


We've got like, you know, four hundred thousand dollar budget now and a staff, you know, and a team that takes resources to run this. And I think one of our passion points is around demystifying where the money goes and, you know, breaking the myth, you know, that communities build themselves. Right. They need support.


As from an outside perception point of view, people sometimes look at our work and are like, what do you need? Money for their potluck dinners in people's homes by volunteers.


If people had the ability or the confidence or the tools to find others who are grieving and sit down to dinner, they would have already done it by like they're actually what we're learning is that there does need to be this hub, this like brand for lack of the better world, this platform out in the world that's inviting people into this kind of conversation, like inviting people into a different way of thinking about their grief and relating to it and not just sweeping it under the rug.


So we see a big part of our work is not just the matchmaking and the table curation, but also kind of banging the gong or cutting up the bat signal or whatever. Yeah, totally. Whatever, like corny metaphor. You want to use that. Like there is another way of living your life after you lose someone that means a lot to you. And all of that work takes time and partnership and crafting.


You know, we've heard from people that they've just read our manifesto or they've been matched to a table and they probably won't ever attend. But they're kind of like lurking on the wait list. We call them lurkers. But just knowing that this thing exists gives them some kind of solace that gives them some kind of ease. So we're interested in, like, whether someone comes to a dinner every month for the next ten years of their life or just gets attached to a table and knows that they have this, like, safety net if they need it.


We're very stoked to meet people where they're at and have these spaces in our community for people who are looking for all different kinds of levels of connection and support, we always say communities.


You build them with others, not for them. And there's something about the knowledge that you guys are all passing around how to transition into these hard conversations, how to, like, connect people who have such a pain point, but also a connection point. There's also a piece of you guys, just by being a network that allows you to push forward the kinds of conversations people are able to have about grief by sharing insights and learnings and the little sort of like fingertip feeling things that happen that really do make all the difference in this kind of situation.


I want to close by just asking you guys. We have people listening out there, maybe not as many people as an. But there are people out here listening, if we gave you a magic wand, what would you ask for, for the dinner party? It could be something tangible or intangible. But what is the big wish you had for for your community?


So I guess I mean, my first magic wand is money, we'll take it and it really goes to show that we promise.


I think the other piece, though, and and I knew this from the very beginning, we will never be able to serve every single grieving human because at some point in our lives that has every single human and the number of people who lose someone long before they should vastly exceeds the number of people that can ever be served by one organization.


So our interest is really how do we, you know, in culture change? How do we change the way we show up to one another?


One of the big surprises in all of this has been, you know, I think that there's a lot of talk and conversation about death avoidance, you know, and that we are a culture and that's, you know, scared of vulnerability. Right. Or, you know, stigma is stigmatizes, you know, expressions of vulnerability. I actually don't think any of that is true. I think that it's not that people don't want to talk about this. They're afraid of saying the wrong thing.


And so I think our, you know, like wish for the world is that we learn to be unafraid of each other's stories.


Right. And to know that you don't have to have lived and experienced, you know, in all of its detail to be present for somebody who has what we can do is, you know, witness and accompany one another.


And you can do that with or without the help of a capitalized dinner party.


And I would just add back to the money part. I just concluded on the transactional plates.


Let's do it. We're in this beautiful moment where we're receiving applications from cities around the world. Many places there is a greater waitlist than we can serve. Some of those places are the state of Texas, the nation of Canada, California.


And we're looking to partner with people who have boots on the ground in those places who can help us make strong, open doored communities of the dinner party. And some of these places where we're seeing more demand, help on that front looks like a lot of different things. But we're wanting to connect with people who want to volunteer with us and help us fundraise and help us strengthen in some of these key places.


Thank you guys so much for your time. Was really what you do unless you're talking to you. Yeah. Thanks so much. Bye bye.


If you want to get involved with the dinner party, maybe attending one or donating or volunteering, go to their website, the dinner party dog.


And hey, even if you don't want to get involved, you should check out their website because it's amazing. Seriously, do it. Those really special conversation.


Yeah. With Carla online. And do you have any I know any final little like takeaways or reflections after, you know, after spending 45 minutes with them and learning what they're up to.


I think one of the things that we didn't talk about a lot, but in reading their website, they make clear is that they once had someone say to me that if your life is simple, your relative maximum and your relative minimum is quite not not very deep. So if you haven't had really hard things happen to you, you just don't have as much like breadth and width to seeing like how much there is in living and in life. So you can be standing on the top of the mountain, but the mountain actually looks kind of short.


But if you go down into the valley, you can just see so much more of the real reality of living.


And I think I haven't lost someone that was really close to me. I know people who have and I've been through like my own small forms of grief. And I think there is a lot of beauty and strength and sort of like wisdom that comes from going through something like that and being able to truly see the width of human emotional experience that I can tell that they understand amongst themselves are like Kalila and Lenna and I think even understand between the two of them.


And I think that's just something that like separate of all the community conversations, like, I can see that, yes, there's sadness, but also there's some form of visibility, of understanding, like the human experience that you end up walking away with, you know, a little bit more about what it means to be alive, you know, after going through something like that, if that makes sense.


Yeah. What about you? The cheers that Carla shared? Hmm. I just remember one phrase was around like, who brought you to this table?


And I thought that was just such a kind of poignant way to phrase this question around, like, you know, who did you lose that made you a member of this club that you never wanted to be a member of? Yeah. That idea of like you who brought you to this table, I thought was and the story that that was, I don't think that was a question that they originally sort of posed in that way and another host did. So I was just thinking about, you know, how language can be flipped and remixed in this way to once again sort of like come back to the purpose of why you're getting people together.


Yeah, yeah.


And some of that stuff like you can't you won't know it at the start, but other people, as they continue to make this thing their own. Like, we'll figure it out. Yeah, yeah, absolutely, I agree there are so many beautiful little touches to help her create the spaces that they make for everyone.


Yeah. Hey, y'all, thanks for listening today. You can find out more about us people and company at our website, People and Company. Also, our book, Get Together About Building Communities is on Amazon. It's full of stories and learnings from conversations with community leaders like this one with London and Carla. And yeah, please check it out.


Final thing, if you like the podcast, we'd love if you would either review us or subscribe to the podcast because it helps get the podcast out to more people in the world.


Cool. Cool. Till next time. Later on.