By Katherine Michalak
Everyone has that voice in their head that whispers, "What if?" once in a while. Most of us sit with that question, but Jennifer Lester Lingvall usually answers it—out loud—by declaring "Well, c'mon. Let's see!" She actively pursues life in the present tense. "Yeah, I'm ALL about experiences ... jumping out of planes ... trying something new," she admits. Jennifer proudly proclaims that she lived a bit of a nomadic lifestyle in her 20s. A "Happy Wanderer," she has always moved with the ebb and flow of an inner tide. She heeds the pull, guided by a curious soul and a compassionate heart.
Her wanderings eventually led her to Atlanta in 2008, where, just as in the other places she'd lived, she quickly made a tight group of friends. With her natural energy and enthusiasm, she always seemed to turn any occasion into a celebratory event and she found a way to use that talent, coming together with a few friends to start planning events professionally. They launched their business, A Social Mess, and began creating parties and festivals throughout the city.
One Saturday night in January 2012, Jennifer relaxed at home, watching a movie with her then-boyfriend-now-husband Erik Lingvall. Fidgeting on the sofa, she stretched, shifted in her seat, scratched the side of her chest and stopped. She felt something "weird"—a lump that she'd never noticed before. She examined herself further and started to panic. This was a holiday weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. Day on that Monday, so she couldn't get in to see a doctor for several days. Once she did, they immediately scheduled the diagnostics that confirmed breast cancer: Stage one infiltrating ductal carcinoma, at age 31.
As Jennifer gathered her strength for the fight ahead of her, she began talking to friends and asking questions. She'd spread so much joy and love to others over the years that now her community rallied around, ready to support her. It seemed that everyone could connect her to something or someone who could offer some kind of help or guide her toward new information. From doctors and therapists to gifted healers and nutritionists, her friends helped her build a network of resources, and they often anticipated her needs before she recognized them herself. In a little over a year, she'd conquered the cancer.
Once she'd fully recovered and allowed herself time to process all the different ways various people had accompanied her on this dramatic journey, she sat in awe of the displays of kindness, concern and generosity shown to her again and again. She pondered the mystery of how we form friendships, how we gravitate toward one another in a manner that seems arbitrary but becomes meaningful, how we choose our community—how we create our tribe.
It was that idea of a "tribe" that resonated most powerfully to her. She'd been graced by this network of dynamic people surrounding her and nurturing her when she'd needed strength. They'd been her spiritual shelter ... her wigwam.
By 2014, Jennifer decided to share her "wigwam" with others. She wanted a broader circle of people to come together to share knowledge and expertise with others. She wondered what other new ideas were out there to which she hadn't been introduced and what other experiences could heal someone else. She mapped out an idea to put together a festival that would allow others to learn about different types of activities, philosophies and treatments—all with the overriding goal of encouraging each participant to become, as Jennifer says, "the best version of yourself."
Once again, all Jennifer had to do was to ask. Her tribe was eager to help throw this new kind of party she was planning. This one would be a celebration of life and learning and encouragement. Word spread and soon the vision was realized. In 2015, the inaugural event unfolded at the Chattahoochee Nature Center and returns to that Roswell location again this year on April 22 through 24.
The setup of the festival might feel familiar—as at a typical music festival, there are various stages to visit and audiences enjoy being introduced to a variety of new artists; at a food festival, different chefs and restaurants present a variety of foods and guests enjoy tasting new flavors. However, at Wigwam, the talent is completely unique. This is a festival of experiences with wellness experts and inspirational speakers, foodies and fitness instructors, artists and adventurers, all with spots on the agenda. Participants and presenters alike wander from stage to stage, workshop to workshop, activity to activity customizing their own schedule to suit their interests and curiosity. Finding new facets of their best selves ... and meeting new members of their tribe.