Switchboard Hearts Chicago!

This week we brought the Switchboard Hearts Tour to Chicago to meet with members of the Oberlin, Reed, and Wheelwomen communities. We travelled all over town hatching ideas for new Switchboards, sharing food and drink, and finding the roots of our communities in a new city. We talked with too many lovely people to share them all, so we’ll focus on just a few.

David - Oberlin (’06)

Getting together with David was a double win. We talked not only about the Oberlin Switchboard, but also about the other communities David belongs to. I joined him at his housing cooperative on his night to cook, and we chatted while the tofu fried. Our conversation meandered from Oberlin history to finals week camaraderie to what it’s like to be helpful for your day job. (David does youth programming at a church.)

David shared with me both his enthusiasm and his hesitation about the Oberlin Switchboard. “I care a lot about Obies,” he said. “But I care a lot about other people too.” In light of limitations on time and resources he has to offer, he asked me what he should post about (and how it would change his life). He seemed to like my suggestion to begin with an ask. By the end of the night David and I were thinking together about how Switchboard could help the communities he engages with every day.

Bernadette - Reed Parent

I didn’t know what to expect when going to chat with Bernadette. Most of my questions were geared toward students and alumni, but she had reached out to me and I was excited to meet. I couldn’t have been prepared for how many great lessons I’d learn. A project strategist and speaker, Bernadette has recently been coordinating federal, state, and corporate employees to get big tech projects done. “The key,” she said, “is that you both know you’re leaving. This sets you free to show up and tell them the bad news,” and to organize people to solve problems a way that accounts for all the variables.

I was particularly interested when she said that telling stories is the best way to wrap your head around complicated problems. Narratives help you understand complexity. When I asked her how she developed the skills, she said you really do fake it until you make it sometimes: you walk in and say yes, I can do this—and then figure it out. Great advice for Reedies trying to pursue their dreams on Switchboard.

Sam - Oberlin (’14)

Sam and I met at a busy downtown coffee shop to talk about her experience on the Oberlin Switchboard. I couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying meeting. After graduation, Sam was looking to move to Chicago, and she asked the Oberlin Switchboard to help her find a place to live. She said she was hesitant to reach out after countless failed classifieds postings elsewhere, but she saw that Obies on Switchboard really wanted to help one another and that everyone was getting a response. After taking the leap and posting, she received a number of direct messages suggesting places to check out, places to avoid, and wishing her luck. Even though she ended up finding a place through other means, her initial experience made her confident. “I definitely feel like if I needed something I could go on Switchboard and find what I need.”

I was excited to hear her wishing that Switchboard had been in her life sooner. Ideally, every Oberlin senior would learn about it at the beginning of their senior year. Even though Sam didn’t find the house she was looking for, she said that she found something even more important: a community that cared. “The biggest thing Switchboard helped me with is not being terrified about life.”

Our week in Chicago finished up with parties for the Reed and Wheelwomen Switchboards (more to come on those!), and then we set off for Oberlin where we’re getting to know the community even better. We’re on our way to New York next, so keep your eyes open for opportunities to meet and gather!