San Pancho's entreAmigos Sets the Bar Way High

Landon Hollander - InsideLaCruz
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May 23, 2013

The entreamigos community center in San Pancho hosts a library, computer lab, classrooms, gallery, glass workshop, recycling center and an all new re-sale shop. The building itself is fun, beautiful and educational. See photos of the facilities at InsideLaCruz

We recently traveled north to the nearby coastal town of San Pancho (technically, San Francisco) to get a closer look at the entreamigos Community Center. We had the opportunity to speak with founder and director, Nicole Swedlow about the center, its strategies and its origins. What we discovered was a remarkable example of community pride, participation and vision.

The entreamigos Centro Comunitario Educativo is a vast complex on the main entry street into town, Ave. Tercer Mundo about a half mile from Highway 200. The site features multiple rooms and spaces for a variety of projects and activities and on both visits the place was abuzz with energy and smiling visitors, volunteers and participants.

Some History First - A Humble Beginning (from the entreamigos website)

“In January of 2006, Nicole began teaching arts and crafts on her old kitchen table in the street in front of a little storefront that she had rented.  The idea was to invite local artists to sell their crafts in the store and in turn for a reduced commission rate on sales, they would be asked to teach an art class to children or adults in the community.

The store sat empty and things moved slowly until a cash gift of a friend, John Arner helped buy inventory to make the store look more like a store and “the project” began to attract visitors, artists and more interest.

In the summer of 2006 entreamigos had two breakthrough events with the start of the Summer Workshops and their first Planta San Pancho reforestation day.   In 2007 Indira Santos and Plantate Baronio joined entreamigos and together they expanded the upstairs of their storefront to create a small library. The Recycling program and the Recicla Parque initiatives took off, the Scholarship program was launched and by the end of 2008, it was clear that the activities of entreamigos could no longer be contained in the small space or the street.

The dream for a permanent space started down the path towards reality in April of 2009, when the State Government of Nayarit granted entreamigos the use of a giant abandoned warehouse.” (thanks in part to the intervention of a well-connected local, according to Nicole). “A resounding and generous response from the community coupled with the funding impulse of the Three Swallows Foundation, provided the resources necessary to remodel the building.”

Taking RECYCLING Seriously

The first thing you’ll see when you enter the entreamigos building (Nicole refers to it as the “bodega”) is a huge, multi-branched tree sculpture constructed of recycled metal building materials. This sculpture is emblematic of one of the very important entreamigos concepts; recycling usable materials into functioning fixtures for the center and saleable art, fashions and accessories for the Center’s shops. In short, any materials that can be transformed into a desirable “object” get the benefit of recycling.

The traditional notion of gathering recyclable materials, sorting and hauling it to a “recycling” facility has taken on a refreshing new spin at this Center. While there IS a huge pile of glass, plastic bottles and other “traditional recyclables” in the rear of the large building, a good portion of the interior is devoted to several work areas in which these materials are transformed. Imagine this; glass bottles that are collected (via recycling bins in town and transported to the center), sorted and crushed could be sold for $350 pesos a TON…OR ten bottles can be made into drinking glasses and sold for the same $350 pesos. Economy of scale…In addition to a glass workshop where the bottles are cut and some melted into drinking glasses, goblets, candle holders and other items, there is an entire sewing shop area where used clothing, donated ribbons, old vinyl signs and other products are made into purses, napkins, hangings and whatever the imaginative volunteers, seamstresses, and fabric artists can create. “Objets d’art” may have had their first life as bottles, building materials, clothes, motor parts, furniture or boxes, but in this magical environment they get reincarnated into items that either decorate the center or are sold in its shops.

Multitasking in the 21st Century

So, what else besides an organic recycling facility is the Center? To your left is the Imaginarte Gallery & Store with hundreds of one-of-a-kind items made in the Center’s workshops including glassware, jewelry, souvenirs, arts & crafts and T Shirts. All proceeds from the Gallery are used to further support entreamigos educational and recycling programs. Did we mention that a considerable amount of the art for sale in the Gallery is created by the kids of San Pancho right here at the Center?

Ahead to the left is the Café featuring organic and vegan dishes and coffee/coffee drinks. To your right is the main desk (where we dropped off our used clothing) which also serves as the hub for the huge public, bilingual LIBRARY. In the vast Library space besides row after row of the more than 5,000 books are several areas for kids’ projects and classes, one of these recently provided by the Fundación Punta de Mita. The library provides additional support and services such as computer and internet access, after school homework help, reading circles, computer classes, art and other classes.

You’ll need to go through or around to find the Recicla Shop in back where “gently used” clothing is on sale along with housewares and other goods. The prices are ridiculously inexpensive and yet, once a month the entreamigos center holds a one peso sale where clothes are sold for, yes, ONE PESO. Nicole told us that there are lines of eager shoppers from the community all the way out to the street.

As if all this isn’t enough, bear in mind that ongoing and new workshops “to broaden the skills and creative depth of (the) community,” are conducted every day. While we were there a dance class, a sewing workshop and an English class were in session. Typically headed by volunteers, these workshops are ongoing throughout the year. Children’s workshops and classes include English, computers, reading circles and many art and recycling workshops. In addition to language classes, adult offerings include skill building workshops in sewing, screen printing and art at the Imaginarte eco-design center.

The Harsh Reality

Nicole freely admits with a shrug of the shoulders “…all of this costs more than we generate.” For all of the incredible efforts put forth by all the staff and volunteers, the cost of running the entreamigos center and its projects is more than comes in, and so the ongoing goal is to not only increase sales of all the items available (through a bold internet campaign, for instance) but to enhance the visibility of entreamigos and thus increase donations.

Everything we saw at the entreamigos center leads us to believe that Nicole will succeed in this quest.

  Learn about entreAmigos San Francisco

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