Ch@t: New associate director DeJong to keep focus on resilience, community

Posted 3/13/20

Allison — Ally, for short — DeJong is the new associate director of Abundance NC. She describes herself as “a daughter, sister, soulmate to some, and a friend to many...a griever, a writer...a …

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Ch@t: New associate director DeJong to keep focus on resilience, community

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Allison — Ally, for short — DeJong is the new associate director of Abundance NC. She describes herself as “a daughter, sister, soulmate to some, and a friend to many...a griever, a writer...a butterfly enthusiast,” and someone who likes her coffee with cream and a little honey.

The 23-year-old is a graduate of Appalachian State University and a former Peace Corps volunteer whose association with Abundance — a local nonprofit based in Pittsboro whose mission is to cultivate and celebrate community resilience — dates to her middle school years. With Abundance’s long-time Executive Director Tami Schwerin taking a sabbatical, DeJong has been tasked with helping to lead the organization.

DeJong brings degrees in public relations, business and non-profit management to the role, returning to Pittsboro after living and teaching for a time in Comoros, an island nation off the east coast of Africa. We spoke with her about her history with Abundance and what lies ahead in the near future for it.

Abundance NC is well-known for its work in community resiliency and sustainability. Can you talk about what drew you to be involved with Abundance, and how you’re transitioning into your new role there?

Saying anything other than the truth would be doing my dad and Zafer, Tami’s son, a disservice. And in true Abundance-fashion, I won’t ever sugar coat it: death brought me to Abundance.

I was 19 when I lost my 47-year-old father to colon cancer, and my childhood best friend and first love to an overdose.

Abundance represents a lot of lessons I’ve learned in the last three years. Disconnecting to connect with the Earth and who’s right front of you. To approach and accept death. Have the hard conversations. Support what is directly affecting you and the ones you love — your local community. Feed your body with nutritious and safe food grown close by. Question everything you’ve been taught. Take an extra step to make this big and beautiful life, abundant.

I’m trying to take my transition into the organization day-by-day. Sometimes the weight of everything I have yet to learn is daunting, but it’s mostly motivating. People tell me I have big shoes to fill, but someone else once told me to wear my own. I think I’ll do the latter.

Tami Schwerin, your mentor, is well known as a founder of Abundance and its driving force. How will you two work together in the coming months and years?

Tami and the entire Schwerin-Estill tribe are family to me. I’ve been volunteering for her and Abundance since I was in early middle school. I envision our relationship to be similar to what it’s always been with an added layer of responsibility and fun.

Tami has always inspired me with her creative touch and ability to think of life alternatively. To see the value and opportunity within every interaction. Learning from her has been a dream of mine for some time now. I know it will be special and will change the course of my life.

One of the things Abundance has done so well is events — PepperFest and Death Faire, for example — as well as consulting and “incubating” other local non-profits. What do you see changing or evolving in that work?

Our main events aren’t going anywhere. As for the near future, we are stepping up our non-profit incubation and fiscal sponsorship program. We want to expand our reach from Pittsboro and the triangle to all of North Carolina. We have a unique opportunity to provide people with the means to bring their wild ideas to fruition. This allows us to open our umbrella wider and be the social weavers that we are — just on a much larger and more focused scale.

One of the things you’ve talked about working on is grant funding for Abundance. Explain how that will help the community...

Right now, we are participating in a matching sustainer grant with Funds 4 Democratic Communities (F4DC). With every new $5 and up monthly sustainer, we will receive $100 from F4DC. It’s almost unbelievable. It couldn’t come at a better time for us. Change within any organization is hard so any financial support we can receive from our community would help tremendously with our transition. Sign up here: https://abundancenc.salsalabs.org/f4dc-sustain-us/index.html

What’s on the calendar for Abundance in the next few months?

We have decided to not host a spring event like we have in the past to focus on our transition. You would think that would slow some things down, but it hasn’t! We are involved with a few events going on around the Plant in April. We’ve got the East Coast Runway by Hempsmith, HempFest by Carolina Hemp Tours, and a Star Party on our calendar. To get more information on these events and what’s going on at Abundance sign up for our newsletter at https://abundancenc.org/contact-2/e-newsletter/.

Why is Abundance’s work so important right now?

Our world is on fire. Through the climate, disease, mental and physical, and our egos. We are plagued by a need for the quick fix. Abundance’s work is showing people the value in what’s right in front of you. That you can trust and rely on your community; everything you need is right here at home. You can throw a vibrant, successful festival around a pepper and do good by everyone involved. You can lean on your community through death, loss, and grief by finding comfort in the common ground of our shared human experiences. We can live better if we really want to and I think Abundance showcases just that. Now more than ever, we must strengthen our circles so we can come together and build a more resilient world.

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