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The 'Amish Envy Club'
Families working together on household tasks find many rewards
by Kathy Magnuson
"I am responsible for my story, for my course of action." That is what Amy Brendmoen said she learned from her mother. Brendmoen grew up as a daughter of a single mom who was raising two kids, working and going to college.
As an adult, while dating her future husband, Jeff Neske, Amy and Jeff discovered they really enjoyed doing home improvement projects together. Then they had kids. That meant one was taking care of the kids while the other did the project. As young parents, they were frustrated by not working together-and they missed seeing their friends.
They admired the Amish culture, where people worked together to build barns and bring in harvests. An idea was sparked, "Wouldn't it be cool if we took a page from the Amish playbook and invited a bunch of people over to do projects with us." The "Amish Envy Club" was started.
When Brendmoen and her husband proposed it to their friends, they found they all shared the same feelings. They invited three other couples-who had children about the same ages-to participate in the "club." "One day per year we would go to each of our homes-so four projects a year," Brendmoen explained. Two people would take the kids on an adventure and the other six people would stay behind and work on the project. The host's responsibility was to have a work plan, the needed materials and provide supper. Lunch was potluck.
"It was amazingly successful because during the day you are working on a project with people you haven't had a chance to talk to without kids running around," Brendmoen said. "We would laugh, have smart conversations, dumb conversations, political conversations and all of a sudden we'd be done. Around 8 o'clock at night people would roll out of the house and turn around, look and say, 'Oh, my gosh. Look what we did!' It was work that would have taken us weeks [to do individually, with] frustration and now it was a labor of love that strengthened relationships."
The adults have tilled up a back yard, put up a huge trellis, pulled out carpet and the staples and laid a cork floor. They have painted (interiors, exteriors, also lawn furniture), roofed a garage and more. Their children got four adventure days with 10 kids-taking the bus to a public library to watch a film, riding a train, spending a day at a playground and going to the Science Museum. "They had the best day ever," Brendmoen said.
Were there any surprises? "The camaraderie and fellowship was not something I had expected or planned on but that turned out to be the thing that made it so wonderful. Working on projects really brings people together. It had this great, old-fashioned feeling of doing a work-project together."
The group's only rule is that participants have to commit to all four days. They found that the hardest thing to do is the scheduling. That, and it is always helpful to have an inventory of skill sets.
It works for them. The kids are anticipating the next adventure day as the adults talk about setting a schedule for their fourth year.
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