Oakwood Community searches for interns

By Anita Rao
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham Voice

Enjoying the afternoon sun in their backyard, Jayme Johnson, 27, and Cliff Dyer, 33, stand next to their six ducks that provide them eggs to produce their own food and eat a more sustainable diet. Johnson and Dyer will promote sustainable eating and living as one part of Oakwood Community, a residential community and service-oriented internship program they will begin at their house this summer. (Staff Photo by Anita Rao)

Six ducks, four rabbits and one young couple living on Oakwood Avenue in central Durham soon plan to invite four men and women, aged 21-26, to move in with them.

The new housemates will be the first participants in Oakwood Community, a residential community and service-oriented internship program that begins this summer in the home of founders Cliff Dyer, 33, and his girlfriend, Jayme Johnson, 27. The program will provide room and board for residents, who will intern for 6-12 months at select non-profit organizations in Durham.

The idea for the community began when Cliff’s former roommate moved out in spring of 2010. He and Jayme had begun to think about moving in together and discovered that they were both interested in turning their house into a living community, which Jayme described as a group that shares responsibilities, space and resources.

“We had both lived ‘in community’ before and realized that we have a big house with three bedrooms … we only need one,” Jayme said.

Cliff first lived in community in 2003 as part of Sustenance Farm, a sustainable agriculture internship program in Bear Creek, N.C., a small community in southwestern Chatham County. Jayme’s experience with community-style living, however, began when she was 16 years old.  Because of issues in her family, she started living temporarily with other families and switched homes eight times in two years.

“It really opened up my eyes to the richness that can come from learning about different people’s ways of living,” Jayme said.

Through discussion of their experiences, Cliff and Jayme created what they called “The Big Idea.” Jayme said they both wanted to give back some of the hospitality they had received and support other young people who want to “change the world, but cannot afford to volunteer full time.”

So, “The Big Idea” became Oakwood Community, which they now describe as a program with three components: sustainability, service and community.


Jayme said that her primary focus in sustainability is food, which is her biggest source of consumption. She and Cliff work to minimize the environmental impact of the food they eat through buying local food as often as they can and eating a predominantly vegetarian diet. They keep ducks in their backyard for fresh eggs and raise rabbits for meat.

“If I am eating meat, I want to know that the animal was taken care of and treated as good as possible,” Jayme said.

Aside from encouraging community members to think about the full cycle of the food they eat, Cliff and Jayme also expect them to minimize their electricity and water usage and walk, bike or use public transportation as much as possible.

“A big piece of sustainability is reducing those things that are outside of your control and knowledge and increasing your awareness,” Cliff said.

Cliff and Jayme said they hope the community will practice more sustainable choices and further decrease their environmental impact by learning from each other.

Kelsey White, 22, who applied to be a resident in the community, said that she is interested in the community’s focus on environmental ethics and thinks living there will help her learn more about her food and lifestyle choices.

In their brightly colored kitchen, Cliff Dyer and Jayme Johnson, founders of Oakwood Community, hope to host monthly brunches open to all members of their neighborhood community. With four young interns, they will work together to provide “a free meal that brings people together for conversation, discussion, and hanging out,” Jayme said. (Staff Photo by Anita Rao)


Sustainability also carries over into the second prong of the program. Cliff said he thinks sustainability is “increasing the amount of things within the sphere of personal relationships and friendships.”

The program will promote community within the household through shared meals, house meetings and group social events. But Jayme said they also want residents to engage with the broader Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood, and she hopes to begin that process through hosting a free, monthly brunch at the house.

“I kind of want a sign outside that says when the Oakwood Community House’s next brunch will be and advertise it to the whole community,” Jayme said.

Cliff said they have also thought about hosting a weekly tutoring night and a monthly workshop in which they invite different members of the community to give a presentation about their skills and interests.

Some of these ideas will change depending on what the interns are interested in, Jayme said, but the level of community engagement they envision starts on the simple level of daily interactions.

“Just saying hello to people when they walk by is how it begins,” Jayme said. “It’s just being familiar with your neighbors.”

Kelsey, who currently lives in community as part of the Johnson Intern Program in Carrboro, said she appreciates Oakwood Community’s emphasis on being an integral part of the neighborhood community.

“In my program now we are somewhat isolated from the realities that members of our community are facing,” Kelsey said. “But I like that they are living in a diverse neighborhood and trying to engage with neighbors and open up their home.”


The four new residents will also be a part of the broader Durham community through their 20-25 hour weekly internships with nearby non-profit organizations, Jayme said.

They have currently established partnerships with the Durham Crisis Response Center, the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, Genesis Home, SEEDS and The Scrap Exchange. Cliff said they chose these partners because they are all doing work focused on community, service or sustainability and are also located close to the house, so interns can walk or bike to work.

Ann Woodward, the executive director of The Scrap Exchange, said she thinks Oakwood Community provides a great infrastructure for local non-profits that are interested in bringing in long-term interns but cannot pay them or provide housing.

“There are so many people passing through, and there is a big cultural and arts community, but you have to have systems in place to help people get engaged, and I think this program has stepped up to the plate,” Ann said.

The Scrap Exchange is a creative reuse center with a mission to promote creativity, environmental awareness and community through reuse, Ann said. Through their partnership with Oakwood Community, they hope to begin an artist-in-residence program, in which an intern will learn ways to make and share art with reused materials. Their intern will also learn about how non-profits work, become familiar with their retail store and reuse center, and become active in public policy issues related to the reuse industry.

The deadline for applying to the Oakwood Community is April 1, and Cliff said they are looking for a wide variety of people who are compassionate and willing to look beyond themselves to engage with the various levels of community around them.

“It’s about connection, awareness and participation,” Cliff said.

6 thoughts on “Oakwood Community searches for interns

  1. This is incredible! Bull City Forward would love to support however we best fit into your work — and as a new resident of Cleveland-Holloway, I’m thrilled to have this service-oriented community in the neighborhood!

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