While you may have noticed the co.space house deep in frat land, the mission of this living community is quite different from some of its neighbors’.
According to the co.space website: “Committed to discovering and living a life of meaning and purpose, we support one another to take the steps we need to be effective changemakers. From social entrepreneurs to sustainability enthusiasts, educators to agriculturalists, tinkerers to designers, the co.space is a diverse tribe.”
20 people currently live in the house, and the average mix of residents consists of sixteen students and four young professionals.”We try to maintain as diverse as possible, like half guys, half girls, usually mostly juniors or seniors, but once in a while we have a sophomore or two,” Co-founder Christian Baum said. “The interest here is wanting to make a positive impact on the world, but oftentimes people don’t know what that means, so the term changemaker comes from that.”
The “diverse tribe” concept immediately becomes evident upon entering the house. The eclectic decorations and projects strewn throughout the space create an atmosphere conducive to the habitants’ mission.
“The monthly pitch dinner is one of the main things that we do,” said house manager Dustin Betz, referring to an open forum where residents pitch their ideas for upgrades and projects in the house. “We just vote on whichever one we like the most, and I think that certainly some of the most dramatic home improvement projects have come out of that…a commonality in the house is learning how to manage your own small things in your life, but when I really try to boil down what I want people to take away from the co.space, I think it’s realizing that you are the creator of your own destiny, and little projects like that are a really good way to do it.” Past pitch dinner projects include bee colonies, a free library on the front lawn, a wall that any of the residents can paint on, climbing walls, and an indoor herb garden hung around the kitchen’s entrance.
“Something that comes out of the pitch dinners is that some of the cool things in the house people have just done on their own,” House manager Shelby Caraway said. “Christina is the one who has the screen-printing, so she got that through a connection, brought it here, and set it up. She has a supportive atmosphere, where we want to know about it and think it’s awesome, and she probably wouldn’t have done it if she lived in an apartment somewhere. That wasn’t a thing from the house, we didn’t buy into it, but we just supported her in that endeavor. People start other projects and get invested in different things here.”
“We can help identify the convenience of resources,” Baum said, “but as a general rule in life, you can have or do whatever you want to do if you’re able to first identify what the need or want is, and then identify the resources around you.” The co.space has been home to more than 60 changemakers since 2013.
“We had started New Leaf Initiative,” said Baum of his beginnings with co-founder Spud Marshall. “Through there, it was a lot of self-exploration as well…we spent a lot of time with community members and students, and tried to launch projects…we just met a lot of people, which is pretty neat.”
Baum and Marshall were speaking to a man named Marv who was involved with a local church when he asked them if they had any ideas on what to do with an empty fraternity house. “You should all go live there together,” Marv eventually said. Other members of the New Leaf Initiative showed interest in the concept, so Baum and Marshall began to explore the idea seriously.
“New Leaf was much more community-driven,” Baum explained. “Spud and I were more passionate about individuals, and helping individuals on their journey, launching projects and stuff. Once we realized that was really what we wanted to do day-to-day…that’s when we started looking at the fraternities, but real estate is such a huge issue around here…there was another year or two of just figuring that out. Eventually Spud and I bought this place and fixed it up, and found a lot of interested students and young professionals who would want to take that risk on us and on the idea…and the rest is history.”
“Too often, we’ll just say ‘I want to change the world’ and that’s such an audacious big thing, and here it kind of brings you down to actually cleaning your own clothes, doing dishes, learning how to focus on yourself and whatever world view you have…you’re not going to change the whole world in an instant, so that’s the commonality everyone has here…it’s a big organic mess, but that’s okay.”