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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Holidays and Best Wishes for an amazing New Year from everyone at Deep Root Center.
By: Maria Corse
When I talk to people about DRC, one of the first things I mention is how the entire community completely and immediately enfolds anyone new who joins us. It is absolutely seamless and not instigated by any of the adults. If you come to visit tomorrow, you will not be able to tell who started last Thursday and who has been a member for three years. Our kids – all of them – bring inherent strengths and challenges to the community. They simply, know that DRC is a safe space for everyone, and to uphold that sense of refuge, we (they) use our (their) talents and skills to support everyone to feel welcome, taken care of, and free to be themselves, as well as comfortable to work on the things that will move them closer to where they ultimately want to be.
I could tell you a million stories – several from just last week. However, to save us all a bit of time, I will merely say, I am blown away by their intuitive kindness and compassion towards each other, every single day.
See, we humans are designed to be helpers. It is in our DNA. Our ancient ancestors would not have survived if competition was built into their basic biological coding. You can look at it from both an evolutionary and cultural standpoint - those hominids who lived in community cooperatively, caring for each other and sharing all of their resources and skills, lived to pass on their genes. Those who were selfish, greedy, and cruel jerks, were often shunned from the group and most probably did not. In this way, the ideals and concepts of reciprocity – sharing, kindness, and compassion were passed on throughout human history.
The cool thing is – we now recognize this exact same trait in other species besides our own. It is proven that chimps and other primates take care of each other, as do elephants and whales, as well as a host of others in the animal kingdom. But wait --- even trees have been found to communicate with each other.
In traditional, tribal Africa, the concept of Ubuntu, the rule of the land, exemplifies all of this perfectly. “I am who I am because of who we all are.” In other words, I cannot be any better (smarter, richer, or more virtuous) or worse (dumber, poorer, or more unethical) than the entire community (tribe, family, or clan). We are all in this together.
This philosophy, I believe, should still be the very foundation for all of society. In the end, as human beings, we are all equals. Privileges and prejudices related to ethnicity, religion, economics, gender, sexual orientation, health and disease, etc., are all solely distractions – things to fight over. I’ll say it again, loudly, for the people in the back - we are all human beings – we are born into this world and then, when it is our time, we die. And, as the old axiom says, “you can’t take it with you.” Whatever power, privilege, and wealth you have amassed in this life stays right here.
So, what went so horribly wrong? I believe that the driving force behind all of the hate currently being spewed and our disconnection from other humans is driven by our overwhelming reliance on capitalistic principles. Which in essence, instructs us that helping equals cheating and those that need the assistance are weak, lazy, and unmotivated. We are actively teaching our children, through a system that uses reward and punishment, as motivators, that winning is more important than helping. And, that survival involves taking care of Number 1. Consequently, those who are greedy, power hungry, and privileged “win,” and those who are not “lose” – the complete opposite of our biological and cultural beginnings.
I find it completely fascinating that kids, who have the opportunity to be in a place where competition, quite intentionally, does not exist, spontaneously, revert to back to reciprocity - what I like to think of as the natural order.
And, I would like to be very clear – this concept (way of being) is not part of a lesson – none of us teaches a class or hands out an instruction manual called, “how to share and be kind.” Upon entering this space, you can literally feel the collaborative spirit – it has weight and mass and it exists because everyone here understands, on a profound level, the true meaning and value of kindness. I would like to believe that what we have created here, is what our future looks like.
Thank you to everyone who came to our House Warming Party this past Thursday. We had a ton of fun showing you around our new home. For those who could not make it, you are welcome to visit anytime. We would love to see you. Just let us know when you plan on stopping by.
At DRC, we are focused on providing an educational opportunity for those who would otherwise be left behind. These are kids who were so deeply unhappy that they could not envision a positive future. In doing this work, we hope to support a generation of youth to be inspired to stay, here in the NoCo, and use their skills to build a positive, economically viable place for future generations to thrive. Yes, it is a grandiose goal, but one I believe to be doable. If we can raise the money required to keep DRC functioning and sustainable --- which means providing not only the funds for basic operations, but also salaries to pay our dedicated staff a livable wage --- we will be successful.
Your business or organization can support this vision by sponsoring a DRC student. Please share the following information with your employer – if you are the owner of a local business, please get in touch. Thank you!
Plan on joining us this coming Thursday, December 6th from 4-7 for DRC’s House Warming Party to celebrate everyone who has helped us make this dream a reality. We will provide the snacks and tours. You will also have the opportunity to meet our staff, some of our students and their families as well as our Board of Directors.
by Maria Corse
Self-Direction, when applied as a pedagogical philosophy, is often severely misunderstood and (let’s be honest) completely baffling for those deeply inured in the system. They simply cannot begin to conceive that kids (especially the students they know) are capable of taking charge of their lives and education.
These misconceptions run the gamut from: (1) If it doesn’t “look” (or come labeled) educational, then it isn’t. (2) If the activity isn’t part of a lesson plan devised by an educational professional, then it is not valid. (3) The curriculum determined by the State is all there is to learn and will produce educated, well-rounded citizens. (4) Playing is, well, just playing – it has zero educational value. (5) Seat-time equals learning time. (6) Kids are lazy and will not self-determine if they are not coerced and told what to do. (7) Punishment and reward systems actually work. And, inciting competition is a rational motivational device. (8) Test results determine what a child understands (how smart they are) and will impel them to do better. (9) The more time a child spends in school (detention, longer school days, and longer school years) the more they will learn. (10) And finally, there are smart kids, and, then, there are the low achieving, learning disabled (L.D.) kids (who have been labeled so they know who they are and so they can be recognized, as such, by everyone they encounter throughout their lifetime).
When spelled out – some will recognize how absolutely ridiculous the above statements are. We can obliterate all of these myths with this easy to understand self-directed education philosophical counter punch. All humans are brilliant --- our individual genius is completely unique to each of us. We were all born natural learners, and, as such, are all innately motivated to develop new skills and acquire new knowledge (unless, of course, we have learned to hate learning). Learning, quite literally, happens everywhere --- through boisterous play, experimentation (making mistakes), unrestricted exploration, quiet contemplation, a supportive community, respectful collaboration, and even during sleep. Every single life experience is an individual moment of valid, authentic, and deeply personal enlightenment.
The key to all this is passion, which is one of those words that is often conceived as pretentious --- one which engenders the impression of over the top expectations and rigidity. Some would go so far as to claim it is a bit ridiculous to allow a young person to follow and investigate their passions now instead of waiting until they are finished with high school. When in fact, it opens the doors of possibility by allowing each child to explore their burning obsessions right now --- to use them to discover everything they will ever need to thrive in this world. And, the cool part --- once they are tired of, or, have outgrown one interest, it, without doubt, leads to the next, and the next, and so on. This, folks, is what self-driven education looks and feels like.
Now here’s the kicker, the one all those doubters and naysayers latch on to – what if a student doesn’t have a grand passion or interest? What if they have no aspirations or goals? What if they are just plain old lazy?
Ah, yes, the lazy card! This is the question I will be responding to till the end of my days - the one I hear in my sleep. The one I always want to answer in my snarkiest tone --- Hello! Have you ever considered that their behavior and abject outlook is a product of their environment and experiences? Inertia, disenfranchisement, ambivalence, defiance, and overpowering sadness are all direct and logical responses to the systemic coercion, intimidation, and competitive conditions they have been dealing with for years. Yes, indeed, hello!
What I actually say is --- well mostly that --- only without the attitude, which, I freely admit, is usually simmering just below the surface. Every single time, I can only hope it doesn’t begin to boil over and show in my expression.
Most students come to Deep Root Center profoundly wounded (three in this past week, a total of eight since September). These are kids, who could mistakenly be described as unmotivated, lethargic, and shiftless, are in the process of sloughing off the pain-filled negative influences and are growing scar tissue, all the while soaking up the kindness, and the affirmative optimistic energy that surrounds them. This process is painful, frustrating, and at times disheartening. It usually involves one step forward and ½ a step back. Progressive motion, whether physical, emotional, or both, is never easy, and we recognize that.
We, quite simply, believe in each of them. We trust that they will all discover a passion --- a calling that pulls them out of their ambivalent state --- one that leads them to the next interest and blossoms into aspirations and goals, and, yes, even hope.
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