As human beings, we all come into this world as scrappy, fierce, and focused little sponges ready to soak up, and, yes, even do battle for every bit of skill and knowledge that we crave. This phenomenon, we call self-actualization or motivation, does (will) not disappear at any point over our lifetime - unless we are actively taught to hate learning.
I see it over and over – kids who have spent their first - four or five years joyfully discovering new concepts and ideas through play and independent exploration, suddenly grow to be morose, disengaged, needy, and completely unmotivated. Either they quickly submit to become obedient cogs within the coercive system purposely designed to teach them the bare minimum to survive in said system, or they rebel, resist, and otherwise “misbehave.” Whichever, the result is the same; the process, effectively, extinguishes their shining little lights.
All the “new” technology, methodology, pedagogy, along with their acronyms, despite the hype, have not changed the basic system. Providing STEAM and STEM activities and opportunities, which are designed and presented by teachers and other professionals, doesn’t make kids more creative or “smart.” After you look beneath those bright and shiny (expensive) bells and whistles, you will find that kids are still limited by explicit directions and rules. Nothing new here folks – they are still learning to color inside the lines and following conventional thought patterns.
No, a thousand times, no! Our schools are (were) not devised to provide what these kids need to thrive and become unique, happy, productive, and compassionate citizens of the world.
Over the years, I have heard parents say – “if we can get him beyond this rough patch, he’ll be fine.” Or, “she is going to school now, we’ll just keep pushing her to finish.” What they don’t understand is that by forcing them to participate (until they absolutely refuse or create serious behavioral trouble) in a regimented system that does not recognize their true brilliance or allow them to be original and innovative, or seek out information in their own way – they are smothering that inner spark.
As a consequence, I have students who find their way to Deep Root Center in their mid to late teens – many of whom despise learning. Their inner fire is barely smoldering. They resist new ideas, concepts, and change. They are shut down creatively. And, possibly the most disheartening result, they refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. In some cases, it literally takes years of mentoring support in our safe, non-coercive environment before that tiny remaining ember of curiosity begins to glow again. Only, then are they able to recognize the barriers they have erected and begin to tear them down one misconception - one illusion at a time.
Let me be clear, the challenges the NoCo faces (see Trajectory, last week’s blog) are not, necessarily, about the lack of educational opportunities. Instead, I believe this closed-minded culture of apathy, disengagement, and disenfranchisement has been created, by allowing our children – our bright, inquisitive, passionate, imaginative little stars - to effectively be contained and constrained within societies tiny little box of paltry expectations.
by Maria Corse
I am sure, the scientists among you have a complicated definition (formula) for trajectory. However, for these less than scientific purposes, my understanding will work just fine: Each of us is on a personal trajectory or track, which is determined by the decisions (big and small) we make every single day, as well as our personal ambitions.
Most of you, undoubtedly, have a pretty good idea where your life-path is heading. You have probably made innumerable decisions that have propelled you toward your aspirations, and can, most likely, count on that trend continuing, even though, chances are, you have made a couple of doozies that have sent you into a brief tail-spin.
I wonder how many of you, actually, regularly, consider how your particular privileges have influenced the trajectory of your life (and, in some cases, saved your butts). You often forget that when you have (or feel) the luxury to consider multiple positive options --- you are, quite simply, far less likely to fail, merely, because you have a built-in back-up plan and the world is indisputably wide open. And, as luck would have it, your children have similar advantages.
Unfortunately, many folks, here in the NoCo, as well as other economically depressed areas of the country, are working within the confines of limited options, with absolutely no safety-net, making their life decisions based on pure economics (how many dollars are in their pockets at that very moment). They are literally choosing the best from the intensely poor selection abject poverty provides. These folks are failing, not because they are lazy or not working hard enough, but rather because they don’t have built in immunity from the ill-fated decisions they are being forced to make, or, for that matter, the confidence to make changes. This cycle seems never-ending - passed from one closely spaced generation to the next. Indeed, the babies are having babies - just one more blinking light that we are ignoring, along with the devastating drug culture, and reliance on corrupt industries for jobs, on the dashboard of a broken, irreparable system.
DRC’s dream is to break that pattern – to smash into oblivion. We offer our students an opportunity to look at life from a different viewpoint other than dejection, apathy, inevitability, and victimhood. DRC is where they can discover the pure pleasure of exploration and play, and where they learn that being open to new ideas and concepts can bring them great pleasure, as well as profound understanding of themselves and the world they live in. Our ultimate goal is that all of our kids comprehend that their aspirations are achievable because they are built from, not only, hard work, but also passion, creativity, and an unshakable belief in themselves and those around them.
Our message, to the masses of young people here in the NoCo, is that their trajectory is not inevitable. They can change the direction, as well as the ultimate target, simply, by taking charge of their life – all of the decisions - and not leaving it up to society, culture, or even their family to determine who they really are and where they are headed.
This past September, we at Deep Root Center, were honored to receive a ten-thousand-dollar contribution from an anonymous donor. This amount may seem blasé or even inconsequential to some organizations; nevertheless, for Deep Root Center, this generous gift came, dare I say, when it was most needed as an essential boost to our depleted bank account. This story and its ultimate ramifications extend far beyond a, seemingly, simple bank transaction.
This entire tale begins, as most do, with a conversation. This particular one was with an extended family member at his cozy lake house in the Adirondacks in the middle of August. I had not seen him in several years and he was interested in learning what was happening with DRC. Over the next hour or so, I brought him up to speed on the highlights of the past few years. Ending with the, then, hoped for purchase of our house, which was still, at that point, in serious question. About thirty minutes later, while balancing a plate of food on my lap in a rocking chair, and watching his one-year-old grand-daughter play with her birthday doll, he came back with an intent look in his eyes and squatted next to me and said, “so your biggest issue is money.” My response, without the snarky tone I usually reserve for that particular statement, was, “yes, exactly!” He responded, “I may have a potential donor. Send me a basic profile and budget for Deep Root Center and I will get in touch with him.”
Two weeks after that exchange, an email introduction, as well as follow-up emails, I received a lovely message from the donor himself. He told me that he would have his secretary cut the check and send it to us that day. He also clarified, in part, why he, a wealthy businessman and complete stranger, was willing to help Deep Root Center, a small self-directed learning center, that he had no connection to, in a remote area of Northern New York nearly 400 miles away from his home. In his words, he was touched and grateful for the work we are doing. He went on to explain that his son, who is now in his late 30s, has Asperger’s and struggled mightily to finish school. To this day, despite having found a job in a university library, he has not really discovered his true calling and continues to flounder socially. This weighs heavily on our patron knowing, despite his privilege, support, and advocacy, there is little he can do. I was able to read through the subtext and realized that he, like many others I have spoken with, wishes something like DRC had been available for his son during his teen years; he believes that it may have made a huge difference in his life.
Beyond the immense impact of that ten-thousand-dollars, I am completely blown away by not only the serendipity and astounding correlations of the entire story, but the enormous act of self-less generosity this man has offered us. When I asked about publicizing his gift through our website, social media, and local papers, he specified that he wanted no recognition and wished to remain completely anonymous. In this age of self-promotion, to find a human being who is, not only willing, but insistent upon offering sincere help without public acknowledgement is rare indeed. And, to know that our work right here at Deep Root Center, an organization he had never encountered until he was introduced by our mutual acquaintance (whom I will be eternally grateful to), has inspired that generosity, is beyond humbling.
In these waning days of 2018, we need your assistance more than ever to meet our budget. While the above donation was instrumental in keeping our doors open this fall, we continue to struggle to pay our monthly obligations because of our promise to accept any student who dares to take charge of their education and life – no matter their financial situation. I am asking you to please contemplate how Deep Root Center may have made a difference for one of your loved ones – then go to our website to donate. If you are not able to contribute yourself, consider starting a conversation with folks who might not know of us. As we have discovered, connections are made, and the seeds of new tales are sown in the most unlikely of places.
If your gift arrives before midnight December 31st, you will be able to deduct it from your 2018 taxes.
Thank you to everyone who has followed Deep Root Center’s progress, cheered from the sidelines, and gifted us your ideas and talents, as well as offered financial contributions over the last, nearly, five years. I am deeply grateful to all of you.
Who would have believed, when I founded DRC in January of 2014, with one student, in that small, (let’s admit) dingy, (extremely) low rent, unheated space, which is now beautifully renovated and occupied by the Yoga Loft, how far we would come in these few short years?
This past year, in particular, has been mindbogglingly, amazing, (and admittedly, completely exhausting). We now own a, perfect for us, home and currently have twenty-one students. (A number which is totally organic and constantly changing – we added three new kids in early December.) All of this, I will add, has been accomplished with a minimal budget. It, seriously, has not increased much since the first year. The joke continues among our staff and board that I will, quite literally, pinch every single dime until it screams for mercy. Yes, we added Chris, our Seedlings Coordinator and Music Director, three years ago and the purchase of this house, which, while seemingly extravagant, is actually costing us about the same each month as our previous rent, with so many added benefits.
For the sake of transparency, I will say that we have been able to survive and maintain our small budget, thus far, because I was able to work without pay for several years and with a very small stipend over the past year, which I continue to forgo during particularly lean months. Chris has also willingly taken a small stipend since starting. (Yes, this guy is overwhelmingly awesome and I don’t think we (I) would have made it without him!)
As we have said many times, our budget reflects the realities of the people we are serving. We absolutely refuse to deny any child the right to an education of their choosing, regardless of their family’s income. Which means – we provide significant scholarship aid, equaling close to $70,000 this year alone, without a big pot of money to draw it from.
And, we are finding that there is an increasing population of young people in the NOCO who need us. They are fighting anxiety, depression, and, let’s be honest, apathy because they are disenfranchised from the Public-School System. The word is spreading and Deep Root Center has become a home, refuge, and safety net for many. They, simply, feel comfortable here, and with our mentoring support are able to make positive changes that will influence the remainder of their lives.
We are, however, reaching a place in our growth were not having a salary built into the budget
for the Executive Director, as well as a livable wage for our, increasingly overwhelmed, staff is not realistic or sustainable.
I never, ever, want to have to say to a family, who comes to us as their last resort, “sorry, DRC is full, we can’t help you.” It would completely break my heart. Instead, I want to see DRC grow even bigger, with additional facilities all over the St. Lawrence Valley, with full staffs, so we can help all those kids who are going to need us in the very near future. But, without reliable and sustainable funding the first devasting scenario is becoming increasingly more likely. This house is only so big and two staff members can only hold it together for so long.
Why am I pouring this all out now, in one of my last Blog Post of the year?
Apart from seeking your direct financial support, by asking you to consider donating to DRC to honor your loved ones (tell us who you are celebrating with your gift and we will send them a thank you, too) and requesting that you promote our corporate or business sponsorship opportunities (see the images included in this posting) - I am casting the net far and wide – seeking ideas and suggestions from the hive mind on how to grow our budget. We need to go far beyond what our limited (and handicapped) tuition base, an annual funding appeal, and small fundraisers throughout the year will gain for us. I also recognize that we need help with grant writing. Our (my) attempts have been abysmal (which, as a self-described writer, is a hard pill to swallow).
Please share your ideas with me or any of the Board Members (listed below). We are open to any, and, all viable, socially responsible, (and legal) suggestions that will not compromise our mission or philosophy. Thank you!
Best wishes for Happy Holidays – from the entire DRC Crew.
By Maria Corse
Meet the little sweetie pie, cuddle bug, and purr bucket - Libra (Libby Kitty), who came into our lives quite serendipitously, in exactly the right way, at the right moment. You may recall, we were intending on getting two DRC kittens - one black and one white - to be named Thunder and Lightning. When we went to pick them up Monday morning, we caught Lightening, but Thunder hid from us, so we left her behind. Lightening, immediately, lived up to her name by escaping as we were bringing her into the house from the car. Despite our best attempts at capture, she is still a renegade on Riverside Drive. (If you see a small white kitten with grey “eyebrows,” let us know. She has been eating the food we have out and leaving her tiny paw prints around the property.)
When four of us went back to get Thunder on Tuesday afternoon – Libby came out to greet us with purrs, face rubs, and cuddles while her sister, Thunder, avoided us by running into another area of the house. Yes, Libra, quite literally, chose us and we decided not to ignore the hint. She was destined to be the DRC Kitty.
It took us a couple days of brainstorming names and writing them on the white board with serious debate over each one – before we finally came up with Libra, at the end of the day Thursday, when we realized she was born at the beginning of October – into the Libra star sign. Then, upon closer examination, on Friday, we concluded that she is a true Libra – loyal to a fault, a peacekeeper, and completely unbiased. She shares her purrs and cuddles with everyone. She has that perfect combination of curiosity and caution. She is playful, yet, totally chill. And, in authentic Libra fashion she is a tad bit clingy and needy.
I believe that Libra came along when I most needed the reminder that everything is a balance between light and dark, equitable and unjust, excess and scarcity, healing and hurtful, or even, enjoyable and unbelievably annoying.
Yes, indeed, despite our best intentions – our labors of love – sometimes poor choices are made, sh*t really does happen, and life just s*cks. This past week has been a prime example. One challenge popped up after another – by Friday afternoon I was sorely tempted to plug my ears, like a toddler, and shout, “nanananana,” as loudly as possible to avoid hearing the latest piece of unpleasant news. (At one point, I may have even tried to hand off the “enviable” title of Executive Director to anyone who would take it.)
The difference between a self-directed educational center such as Deep Root and compulsory and coercive institutions is that we don’t judge behavior as “good or bad” and we don’t take a punitive approach to try to solve problems. Nevertheless, we sometimes have to be reminded that our one rule --- Respect yourself, each other, and this place --- exists for a reason. Besides being a cool talking point and pretty sign in our chill-space --- it, without question, sets the boundaries for our behavior. If anyone’s conduct extends beyond those margins of respect, it automatically becomes fodder for deeper examination through conversation. We want to help that person to understand the “whys” behind their detrimental behavior, take responsibility, and ultimately seek out ways to repair the relationships they may have harmed through their actions. We don’t want to make them feel guilty or bad about themselves – we do want them to learn from their mistakes and then move on.
As you know, most of the time I focus on the “awesomeness” here at DRC --- the amazing combination of distinct personalities that make this place practically hum with positivity and good humor. However, I now realize, I should also be honoring the dark and challenging times – the inter-personal issues, the pain, the struggles, and the straight-up disrespectful behavior. It all happens here. It is an essential piece of who we are.
I am mentally buckling my seat-belt for a rough ride. The fallout from the past seven days will undoubtedly guarantee plenty of profoundly hard and potentially life-changing conversations over the next week. Be that as it may, to sweep the struggles under the rug and only shine a light on the positive is to disregard the core of who we truly are, as well as the multitudes of opportunities for growth and understanding, born out of those hardships, that occur each and every day.
I have been told, by those in the know, that, on Friday, DRC will be honoring the Solstice with a traditional Viking Yuletide Celebration organized by the participants of the Viking history class. Anyone, who is interested in joining us, is most welcome.
The staff and students of Deep Root Center will be on a much deserved and highly anticipated Winter Break from Friday afternoon through January 6th. We will be back in session January 7th. If you need to get in touch, send an email to email@example.com.
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for an amazing New Year from everyone at Deep Root Center.