During the summer of 2009 The People United, a regional network of organizers engaged in a variety of social justice struggles and Madre Tierra, a collective of immigrant women organizing in their community began working to establish the Highlander-inspired center that would become Wayside. Both groups had organized regionally for a number of years, most recently around immigrant’s rights. While bringing to a close a campaign which failed to stop construction of a new immigrant detention center, but achieved great success with secondary and tertiary goals, they began to envision longer-term movement building work that would be less reactionary and more focused on building and sustaining organizing for the long haul. One of the organizers with The People United had come into an inheritance of land and offered it for the establishment of the center.
Beginning with a listening project, the organizers consulted with groups around the region about the usefulness and viability of a place-based retreat and training center. The responses were encouraging and provided useful insights into location as well as introductory programs. It was decided that the land would be sold and proceeds used to start the center at a location central to the state and region that had an existing house. Once the land was sold, it was necessary to purchase property fairly quickly to avoid a large tax burden. The group decided to focus on getting the space up and running, accessible to groups around the region, implement a minimal number of programs and continue outreach to broaden a network of relationships that would inform and participate in the development of a longer-term strategic plan.
The real estate search eventually ended with the donor purchasing a late 1700’s farmhouse on 25 creek-front acres. The house remains in the possession of the donor and is leased at no charge to Wayside. Written into the lease is the option for Wayside to purchase the property at the original sale price. Restoration work was almost completed by the prior owners, but some work remained to be done. With mostly volunteer labor from around the region, the restoration was completed, an office was constructed and the house was renovated to be wheelchair accessible. After furnishing the house to serve groups of up to 25 and purchasing top-quality simultaneous interpretation equipment, organizers officially opened the doors in July of 2010.
Since that time, nearly 1,000 activists, organizers and cultural workers have made use of the space for retreats, training sessions, networking and cultural events. In addition to hosting student, community, labor, immigrants rights and women’s groups for their own events, Wayside has implemented its own programs as well in areas of organizer skills, language access and sustainability as well as hosting large networking gatherings that bring diverse groups together from around the region. To date no group or individual has been turned away for lack of funds.