Many years ago, one of my first students, who happened to be four and a half years old at the time, said that she wanted her school to feel like home. That honest sentiment, offered straight from the heart of that very young being, has remained with me, and inspired me to work hard to create an atmosphere of “homey – ness” in every single educational setting I have been part of.
However, a feeling of comfort, coziness, and congeniality were difficult to forge in some of the more sterile, utilitarian, and frankly uninspiring (ugly) environments I found myself in. Now all these years later, DRC inhabits an actual house - a very old house with tons of character and warmth (read – wonky, slanted, and scarred wooden floors, old-time porcelain door knobs on solid paneled doors, a nicely weathered front porch, weirdly placed outlets and light switches, original plaster and lathe walls, narrow farmhouse style stairs, southern facing windows, a centrally located large kitchen, and old-fashioned wooden outside doors that allow in a hint of fresh air, around the edges, from the ½ acre yard). Yes, indeed, 48 Riverside Drive is a place that we are all incredibly proud to call home.
The people have not changed, everyone who enters is still sincerely welcomed, and the mission and philosophy are the same; however, this permanent home has made an immense difference. It no longer feels borrowed or transient. And, that feeling of ownership permeates the space and influences how people behave here. I believe that emotional connection is the key.
The formally, self-described, grumpy twelve-year-old, now makes a point of gently bumping my hip at least once a day to say, “I am happy to be here today” and voluntarily heads up the kitchen cleaning crew at the end of the day. The six-year-old, previously defined, spinning dervish, who, on Friday, calmly sat and stacked paper cups, and then placed them on a stuffed toy giraffe as hats and mittens. After that independent exploration, which took up a good portion of the morning, he then headed outside to the backyard to shovel the fallen leaves into a pile and build stick houses, for hours, with the two - 10-year-olds, a 13-year-old, and 8-year-old, who, for the fourth day in a row, were captivated by their imaginary games and stories in the brisk air. The 13-year-old, who said she was interested in trying digital art, took a pen tablet from the art room closet and spent the entire afternoon figuring it out (playing with it). The, nearly, 16-year-old and 17-year-old spent a couple of afternoons working on our new “Respect” sign in the art room while giggling together and listening to music broadcast from a blue tooth speaker. The 16-year-old happily sprawled in any available space to draw, write, do her math, play the guitar, and create her web cartoon, and, who interrupted those tasks to offer whomever walked in the door a smile and a hug.
Friday, the 18-year-old and I spent time sorting through one box - one piece of furniture, at a time, to determine what we are going to use to put together a creative space in the cellar, where he wants to build costumes and other elements related to his interests in Viking History, Mythology, and Super Heroes. We made significant headway, by setting up work tables and arranging craft items on the shelves down there, as well as organizing the boxes of skates, boots, snow pants, and other outdoor gear for our Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders explorations.
Those are just a few vignettes, from the four days we have been here, before we are even completely unpacked. There are still tables and boxes of assorted “stuff” on the porch that don’t have a place. There are innumerable cartons filled with books, waiting for bookshelves to be built and installed, stacked in the upstairs hallway and inside the classroom closet. The Seedlings Room has not been completely unpacked nor has the music room. The garage is in state of disarray - filled with more tables, shelves, assorted cabinets, and various boxes that we really have no idea where they are going or if they will even fit in. Nevertheless, even with all that disorganized clutter, it, simply, doesn’t feel incomplete or unsettled.
Ownership gives us the license to invent the home we all envision, in whatever amount of time it takes us. Each of us has our own definition of home; therefore, this community is built from a combination of all of our individual characters and ideas. And, the beauty of Deep Root Center, is that the vision grows and changes as new stakeholders are welcomed and enfolded into this awe-inspiring amalgamation of unique personalities.
Thank you to the Canton Unitarian Universalist Church for supporting Deep Root Center with their Social Action Shared Offering yesterday. It was great to catch up with old friends and meet new folks who were interested in learning more about DRC.
Join us December 6th from 4-7pm.
We are busily working on getting our fall funding appeal out in the mail. While you are waiting for your paper copy to arrive, you can read it below and then drop on over to our website to easily make your donation on-line.
Learned helplessness is probably the most common, the least recognized, and definitely the most frustrating affliction I encounter among the young people who join DRC. Some of them come to us with medically diagnosed or institutionally identified designations, which they proudly own. While others have been bullied and come away with damaging epitaphs, which, strangely, also become points of pride.
Those of you who read this blog regularly, know that I despise labels, in their many forms, with a deep passion. As indicated above, they often become profoundly held convictions that are used, ad- nausea, as excuses or crutches.
Sometimes, learned helplessness is subtle, it may take me a while to realize what is going on, and at other times the metaphorical, huge, red victim sign is worn prominently around their necks – one that quite literally weighs them down. (The posture is unmistakable.) The entire world can see it without investigating too deeply. Blame and defensive attitudes are automatic and unconscious responses, which become justifications in every situation.
These kids are frequently commitment-phobes. They have no idea what interests them, and even if they did, they don’t want to (won’t) take on anything new or make their own decisions. Mainly, because in doing so, they ultimately have to take responsibility for the positive results, which totally ruins their closely held personal story of inadequacy, as well as their mistakes (they can’t blame someone or something else).
And, are they ever afraid of making mistakes! Each student understands that errors are to be avoided at all costs – they equal a bad grade or, even worse, a public reprimand.
Yes indeed, the coercive system of conformity, competition, one-size fits all, and high stakes testing has taught them well.
You can probably understand why I deem learned helplessness the hardest and most infuriating obstacle for us (them) to overcome. What these kids understand about themselves and about the world is the absolute antithesis of all that holds true of self-directed learning.
At DRC, during our mentoring sessions, we consistently ask our students what they are interested in – what lights their fire, and what they want to take on, including their aspirations. We want them to make clear choices with confidence, and we expect them to make mistakes because we recognize that blunders are the foundation for real learning.
Ultimately, what these kids need to shed this self-perpetuating and crippling label, is time to decompress – something some of them don’t have a lot of, considering they often join us as older teens – as well as, kindness, over the top encouragement, and endless patience.
Don’t be fooled – even though we don’t (won’t) tell our kids what, where, how, and when to learn - providing the elements and place for self-directed education is an exhausting and daunting task. But, oh man, it is, so very, worth it when another one of “my” kids smiles at me and says with self-assurance beaming from their eyes, “hey, can I …?” Or, when they offer an authentic and spontaneous gesture of kindness to someone who is obviously struggling. And, when they agree to take on something that I know they were previously deathly afraid to do.
These are all the transformational moments of pure hope and inspiration that I live for. In reality, I can’t empower “my” kids; however, I can give them the tools and unconditional support that helps them to discover and revel in their very own superpowers.
We Are In!
This past Thursday was our first day at 48 Riverside Dr. Through the intense excitement of finally being in our new home, comes the realization that we still have a ton of organizing and setting up to accomplish over the next couple months. Trust me when I tell you that the view of the crammed full garage is a scary sight indeed. We promise to keep you updated on our progress. Maybe, someday soon we’ll even have a photo of a completely set-up carpentry shop in that garage.
UU Church Shared Offering
Next Sunday, November 11th, the Social Action Committee at the Canton UU Church has designated DRC as the recipient of their SASO (Social Action Shared Offering). The entire collection for that day will be donated to DRC. I will be speaking briefly during the service about our work. Please join us for the service at 10:30am. We appreciate our neighbor’s recognition and support of our mission.
Join us December 6th from 4-7 for a celebration of our new home and all of the folks who contributed their time and financial resources to make this dream come true. We hope to see you there!
Joe Cocker’s cover, from his debut album in 1968, is my favorite version of this song, which was written in 1967 by Lennon and McCartney as a vehicle for Starr. Cocker’s rendition, with a more complex intro and traditional 60’s style female back-up singers, feels raw, rough, and gritty – more real - like he literally would not survive without the help of his friends. Which perfectly describes DRC’s situation over the past six and a half months.
Purchasing 48 Riverside Dr. has always felt inevitable; however, without a ton of help from our community, we would not have been able to jump through all of the (ridiculous) hoops and hurdles placed in our path to get where we are today.
From the very start, there have been an amazing array of folks who, upon hearing our organizational mission and goals for the future, stepped up (or, in one case, stepped aside) to make it happen. With your indulgence, I am extending this prolonged sequenced account of our journey in thanks and deep gratitude to every single person who went out of their way to make this dream a reality. To those I have, inadvertently, missed, please know we are deeply grateful for your contributions.
First of all, I cannot go any farther without recognizing the pure brilliance of Christopher Raymo, the DRC Seedlings Coordinator and Music Director. He provides an ever-present, unflappable, calm energy to our days. He listens to all my crazy, out-there ideas, and works tirelessly along-side me to see them through. He is also our handy-man and heavy-lifter (even though he is not supposed to). For Chris, DRC is not just a job, or a place to go every day (for the past three years) – it is his home and he is deeply committed to our success.
Back to my story - in March or April, the, completely awesome, DRC Board (probably, hesitantly) approved my request to seek out a house as our permanent facility in Canton and suggested I contact Gail Abplanalp from Pat Collins Realty. After viewing several other properties, with repeat visits to 48 Riverside over several months, it became apparent that it was a perfect fit. Gail, our agent, was acting as intermediary between Phil Collins of LaValley Real Estate, the seller’s agent, and me to discuss potential terms. Very quickly, she decided that it was in our best interest to step aside and let Phil and I speak directly.
After Phil advocated for us by explaining the work we do with very few resources, Dale L, the owner, who had already indicated that he would hold the mortgage for any potential buyer, was open to selling to us. However, he was requiring 20% down – a total of $14,500, which we did not have. At this point, already 2 months in, I was ready to give up. We simply didn’t have access to that amount of money.
In stepped Trish Pielnik, DRC’s Water, Woods, and Wild Wonders Coordinator, and Larry McGory (who features prominently later in this tale). They were determined that we could not abandon our efforts because 48 Riverside felt like the ideal place for DRC. They each decided to loan us some of the down-payment. With that amount promised, I was able to contact my in-laws, Bonnie and Fred, to ask them if they would consider lending us the remainder of the down payment. By the end of June, thanks to their positive response, we had the entire down payment in our Savings Account. Dale kindly accepted our offer, mostly, because Phil impressed upon him the importance of the work we do.
I then began to research the zoning requirements for purchasing a property and quickly realized this was going to be a lesson (crash course) in small town governmental procedure. I learned that we needed to go before the Village Planning Board to plead our case, but that process was not entirely transparent. I showed up for the scheduled meeting with Christian Exoo, our then board president, as well as Diane Exoo, another board member, literally thinking that we would present our case and walk away with approval.
Ha – not so much. I want to be clear, Barry Walch, the chair, as well as the entire Planning Board, was incredibly supportive and understanding. But, because DRC is an animal unto itself, the exception we fit into for the R-2 district was the last category “similar …,” Barry went out of his way to speak with me over the phone and through email to ensure he completely understood the essence of what we offer and could present it clearly to the community. After a second meeting, in which neighbors were invited to ask questions, the Planning Board approved our zoning exception with a list of requirements.
Unbelievably, we learned two days later that someone from the community was potentially planning to challenge that decision. Because of that perceived threat, we ultimately ended up waiting an additional 60 days from the zoning approval before we could close on the house.
This is the point in the story where I need to inject an enormous thank you to Christian Exoo, the Board President during this incredibly stressful time. He listened to my (nearly daily) rants and calmly talked me down every single time. Christian, you are a Rockstar and I will be eternally grateful for your kindness and wisdom.
Finally (it almost felt anticlimactic after the preceding months of chaos), on September 26th, I wrote a couple of very large checks and we became official owners of 48 Riverside Drive.
Over this last month, we have been working hard, with so many incredible volunteers, to clean, move everything from 7 Main, make the house safe for our kids, and satisfy the requirements of the planning board.
The Friday after closing, parent volunteers, Cora and Shannon, as well as a couple DRC students cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom.
The next day, Larry, from above, replaced the handrails, installed a bookcase as the upstairs railing, and made some repairs to the stairways. We also had Mike Corse, Trish, Diane Exoo, current Board Pres, and Juliet B – cleaning all the walls and floors, replacing batteries in smoke detectors, and removing an old carpet, as well as a washer and dryer.
The formidable SLU Softball Team did some amazing heavy lifting during the SLU Make a Difference Day Event. Their coordinated teamwork while moving most of the very large items (down those 25 stairs) was awe-inspiring to watch. Randy, Sami, and Jake Russell contributed to that day’s efforts by providing their bread delivery truck and additional manpower. And, Diane, once again, showed up to help move and provide pizza for the crew.
After a closer look at the upstairs electrical situation by Larry and then Josh Pitts, we were devastated to learn that we probably had to re-wire the entire upstairs, at the potential cost of a couple thousand dollars. When Josh came back a few days later to measure, he discovered that it was actually all modern wiring – all he had to do was replace the old fuse box with a circuit breaker and ground all the outlets. Phew! He returned to do that job, on a Saturday, no less, and donated all of his time, as well as the materials!
Which brings this saga of gratitude to this current moment, in which we are awaiting determination by a representative of the Planning Board and the Canton Code Enforcer, as to whether our Herculean efforts meet the requirements and we can acquire that, all important, piece of paper, otherwise known as a Certificate of Occupancy. Stay-tuned!
PS – This story would not be complete without thanking Mike – my ever-loving and supportive husband - the guy who listens to every single one of my certifiably insane ideas and worries, which then lead me to spending most of my awake moments either thinking about or doing something DRC related. He is the one who picks up the countless balls I drop at home and makes sure, among many other things, we have freshly made bread and yogurt, wood for the fires, and that the pets are fed and loved up.
On Friday, I was trying to explain deschooling, the spontaneous and natural upheaval every kid has to go through when they leave public school, to two deeply committed parent volunteers. After a few minutes, one of them said, “Oh, like detox.” Yes, exactly! I was grateful to have her translate my incoherent babbling into that one simple statement, which explains the process our kids go through so very clearly.
This past Spring, I had severe bronchitis for the second or third year in a row. After taking the prescribed meds, I was still coughing uncontrollably. That is when I finally went to an alternative practitioner, who after taking one look at me said, “you are one tired and stressed out lady,” and proceeded to suggest a particular Chinese Herbal Detox. Within one day, I was no longer coughing. And, after the full course (15 days), I was significantly less exhausted. Considering stress and tiredness are (for now) inherent components of this job, I remind myself every three months, or so, to detox with the herbal compound. It literally scrubs the toxins from my internal organs and allows me to function.
Unfortunately, there is no magical formula to facilitate or eradicate the deschooling process. Every single student who has been in the system, whether for one, two, nine, or 13 years, has to go through it. It looks and feels completely different for each person. And, the amount of time it takes to “detox” varies greatly. Sometimes it correlates to the number of years in school, but occasionally it does not. It frequently depends on the severity of crises the young person has endured and how much emotional damage was inflicted upon them.
This particular detox takes time, patience, and understanding, as well as strategies - including a mentoring presence, which provides kindness, unconditional support, suggestions, and gentle encouragement to reach beyond their comfort zone to tackle things that they are afraid of. We also try to point out and hype up their innate talents and positive traits every single day – sometimes, that may be only one single thing – but we will always try to bring positive attention to it.
I have to remind myself regularly (like a hundred times a day), when I am feeling particularly frustrated, and really just want to metaphorically (or otherwise) kick them all in the butt, that everyone at DRC, students and adults, are somewhere on the deschooling spectrum. Their only frame of reference is the philosophy and methodology of a state run, compulsory, and coercive educational system, where each student follows the uniform, finite curriculum, and is told what to do from the moment they walk in the door as a 4 or 5-year-old.
My students are kids who are struggling mightily with the concept of taking charge of their lives and education. And, we adults, who went through the public schools ourselves, are disconcerted and, frankly, uncomfortable to observe them so deeply engaged in this intensely emotional labor. Which, at times, appears to be a whole lot of uninspired lazing around and “doing nothing,” balanced with other days where it takes on the aura of a three-ring circus - filled with noise, play, a multitude of projects, classes, music, art, and animated discussions.
Detoxing from school is hard, emotionally charged, and exhausting work for each person here. For me to judge it as anything else, negates its honesty and value, and will only extend the amount of time it will take for them to come out the other side – to shine brightly with confidence, motivation, and newly discovered or developed talents and aspirations.
The electrical work is finished at our new home! I want to send out an immense thank you to Josh Pitts who not only donated his time, but the supplies to get a new breaker box installed upstairs and all the outlets grounded. Josh, you are completely awesome!
Getting that undertaking wrapped up brings us, oh, so close – we hope to be moved into the house this week. But, we need your help to finish up one last required project! A fence (barrier) needs to be installed to keep kids off the garage roof, which is on level with the backyard. We have vacillated about the type of fence and actually purchased most of the components for a chain-link fence, but realized upon further research, the complexity of installation is well beyond our personal skill levels. It will be installed eventually, when we have time to find someone, who knows what they are doing, to facilitate the many layers.
Josh, our hero from above, suggested building something simple and temporary with 2x4 posts and 2x8 slats. DRC will purchase the lumber, but we need help building and attaching it preferably tomorrow or Tuesday.
This is an "ALL HANDS ON DECK" call out - for the concerted effort which is needed to move everything that remains at 7 Main Street to 48 Riverside, this Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We also need to do some touch up painting at 7 Main and clean the carpets, before the end of the month. If you can help with any of these tasks, please get in touch.
Thank you to everyone who has provided physical, financial, and emotional support during this immense undertaking. We will be hosting a celebration very soon. Stay tuned!
Societal dictates define, confine, and restrict us within the approved box of predetermined normality – to: color within the lines, walk in a straight column, sit still, follow the rules, compete and win, go to college (whether it is right for you or not), get a job to make money to buy all the stuff you think you need, find a life partner, have 2.5 children, and, don’t forget, you must behave with absolute decorum at all times. Conformity is so deeply embedded into our cultural psyche that being identified (labeled) as weird or different is touted as the worst possible epitaph.
I have always questioned, and, to be completely honest, strained against these unwritten mandates. If it is true, as my mother told me when I was young, “we are all unique - life would be awfully boring if we were all the same,” why do we all feel the compulsion to imprison ourselves (and those we love) within that coffer of social acceptance?
Sometimes we invoke, oh so, polite phrases, such as: “he marches to the beat of a different drum,” “she is one card short of a deck,” or if you are from the south, “well, bless her heart” to indicate our discomfort or dismay when we are directly confronted with someone who doesn’t quite fit in to our communal definition of conventional. At other times, we use hate-filled, prejudiced, vitriolic, and malicious language to make sure there is no question that a person, idea, or group is strange (dangerous) and should be ostracized.
Because of this perceived threat of being shunned, I firmly believe that many of us work overtime to fit in - take on a role, and, as a result, lose our essential selves in the process. We have become automations, fulfilling the expectations of society without even comprehending that, in doing so, we are bankrupting our souls.
Imagine a world where everyone decided to break free to live their lives based on their own personal morals, ideals, and aspirations – where uniqueness and kindness were valued and everyone was actually encouraged to celebrate their individuality.
I challenge you to say, “thank you,” the next time someone calls you weird, as if it is an honor – an accolade and an indication of deep respect. In embracing our respective weirdness, we can (will) normalize it and make it a desired trait instead of one to be avoided at all costs.
We are so close! Thanks to the awesome SLU softball team for their tremendous help yesterday during Make a Difference Day. We are grateful to these strong, community-minded young women. They along with the Russell family, who provided their bread truck for transport, our board President, Diane Exoo, who also bought us sustenance, and Christopher Raymo, our intrepid Seedlings Coordinator and Music Director lifted, hauled, pushed, and pulled most of DRC’s stuff down that ridiculous flight of stairs, loaded it up, and then lifted, hauled, pushed, and pulled it all into our new home.
Thank you to Tyler, the manager of the Canton Pizza Hut, for making a cash donation when he heard about the volunteer work that was being done at DRC for Make a Difference Day.
DRC will be operating from our old location for this coming week with the bare minimum of furniture and materials while an electrician does some work in our new home.
We still need some help installing a chain-link fence in the back yard before we can officially move in.
Once we completely vacate 7 Main St., we will need volunteers to come in and paint some walls and shampoo the carpets.