Reflections of Gratitude
This past week, I have been thinking about what to write in this last blog post of 2019, and, of the entire decade - no pressure there! I started reflecting on how far we have come over just the past year and the immense gratitude I feel towards the people who have invested an astounding amount of their time and talent, physical energy, positive vibes, and financial contributions - not to mention, the incredible families who trust us with their children’s education.
With all of that love and confidence standing solidly behind us, we are literally doubling our facilities and staff, and tripling our programming over the next week!
Looking back to the beginning of this academic year (as I have mentioned here before), I knew we would need to open a new facility – sooner or later. As the Fall progressed and we continued to add kids to our waiting list, it became apparent that it would have to be on the sooner end of things. Nevertheless, as with most things in my life, I trusted that everything would fall in to place, exactly when and where it needed to be. And, that is exactly what transpired – all starting with a spontaneous visit this past August.
One of our parents, happened to meet a friend at the local gas station. The friend was commiserating about how miserable her kids were in school. This parent said, “come with me, I have to show you this place that my kids love!” They showed up with kids, a grandparent, and a puppy in tow, during our Summer Programming. I gave them a quick whirlwind tour and then got on with my day of facilitating projects with the Summer Peeps – and in the process completely forgot the friend’s name.
Flash forward a couple weeks – Loretta, a Grandma (Mema) called to check out DRC for her grandchildren. We were full at that point, but I offered to meet with her to discuss options. Two amazing, in person, conversations, of marathon length, later, I discovered that her son owns a home in Lawrenceville that is massive, and upon inquiring, is open to having DRC use it as our permanent facility (we will use the Lawrenceville Fire Station short term until, it is ready for us). But the kicker of this whole story is, a month later, after finally putting the pieces together, I realized that the friend (Erin) who came by with the parent in August, is the one who told Loretta about us. And, after listening to Loretta expound on her many talents, I offered Erin the After-School Staff Position, which, I am thrilled to say, she accepted. I am excited to see how she, and our After-School apprentice, Ryan, bring this new program to life.
In this round about and inextricably, wondrous and serendipitous way, we now have a new center, an after-school program, and a lead staff person for each (not to mention, several more student members) all from that one spontaneous gesture!
This all would not have been possible without Chris. I really can’t begin to express my appreciation for my “sidekick” Christopher Raymo, who, like all well-respected sidekicks in the super-hero world, is the backbone and, let’s be honest, the magic behind the daily functions of DRC- Canton. He is the main reason I have been able to sequester myself in the office to focus on these expansion plans, as well as all the other admin. “stuff,” and the, essential, mentoring sessions with members. He, quietly and patiently, holds everything together, including the physical space. There is a reason I "secretly" refer to him as the “kid-whisperer.”
I am also thankful to have Chase Villeneuve as our apprentice at DRC- Canton. He has learned a ton over the last couple months and I anticipate awesome things from him, when we rely more heavily on him during the remainder of his tenure.
Trish Pielnik, has agreed to be our new lead staff for DRC-East in Lawrenceville; however, she is no stranger to DRC. After randomly picking up a DRC brochure from the Potsdam Food Co-op and “cold calling” one day, in February or March of 2017, to inquire about volunteer opportunities, she started spending one full day at the Center each week. Trish’s passion for the outdoors led us to begin the Water, Woods, & Wild Wonders in Sept. 2017, with her as our volunteer coordinator of that program. I am beyond grateful to Trish for not only making that initial phone call and her friendship, but for the amazing levels of empathy and compassion she brought to our kids each week in that role, and her leap of faith in accepting this position. I am super excited to witness the growth and accomplishments, as both she and our student members at DRC- East explore all the possibilities, and find their footing in that new facility.
While this post has been focused on the DRC staff, please know that this note of gratitude extends my deepest thanks to everyone (see the list above) who has had a role in getting us to where we are right now! I am beyond grateful and forever in your debt.
I look forward to exploring, with an open heart and mind, the many new serendipitous adventures and friendships this New Year (and decade) will bring! Onward!
* You will find the official bios of our inspiring staff (all 6 (!) of them) by following this link. *
Happy New Year to you all!
Two days left in 2019. Don’t miss out on tax-deductible contributions this year. You can donate online here.
Building a Case for Hibernation
Over the millions of years of human evolution – we, modern Homo sapiens, have only recently, lost our propensity for hibernating. No, it isn’t that the physiological or psychological needs went away – we are simply forcing our bodies to live as if it is perpetually summertime to keep pace with the modern world and expectations for busy-ness.
Nevertheless, our DNA carries that ancient memory of hibernating. Increasing darkness and colder days trigger that intense desire to curl up in a snug lair and sleep – just drowse away the days. Only waking long enough to fuel the body and the fire. We physically need those intervals of dormancy to allow for spurts of intense growth and renewal. In this crazy world of GO - GO - GO, we forget that new ideas, concepts, theories, and creative ingenuity are born in the still and quiet darkness.
On this day after winter solstice, I bestow upon you the gift of permission (not that you need it) to join me in hibernation. Pause - take a nap (or two, or three). Slow down, feather your nest with the coziest of blankets and pillows, a few books, (in my case, a Macbook) and a cat (or dog) or two, let go, allow your mind to meander wherever it chooses, be with your deepest self, and dream! Take as long as you need to replenish the reserves of mental and bodily strength and creativity that you will need to continue on your journey of growth, as you pursue all your aspirations. Rest well!
Holding Space for Curiosity
You were born curious. All humans come into this world with an innate desire to explore – taste, touch, hear, smell, and see everything within our reach. To be as succinct as possible, we are all, every single one of us, natural scientists.
No! Despite cultural evidence to the contrary, science is not a separate, exclusive, elusive field where brainy researchers conduct baffling experiments in rarefied environments.
Play is our fundamental mechanism for experimentation and every part of learning. At the end of the day, our inherent passion for information drives that playfulness. Science is art. Art is science. Curiosity is the key!
Without the desire to explore the possibilities there is no innovation, ingenuity, or revolutionary ideas. Science is life. Life is science. And - curiosity is the key!
Imagination, vision, individuality, and poetic genius, cannot exist without the compulsion to create. Life is art. Art is life. And, wait for it – curiosity is the one, and only, key.
Tragically, the coercive systems within our society are designed to obliterate all sense of inquisitiveness to, purposefully, produce obedient, compliant, docile citizens, who are not provided the tools or environment to learn how to think for themselves or create change.
When you take away the opportunity to question, explore, and create, not only do you remove the artistry and eloquence of science, but, eventually, the beauty and intentional merits of life itself.
You can make a difference by investing in DRC – the environment deliberately designed to instigate curiosity and creativity, and to generate outside the box - free thinkers. Thank you!
We are thrilled to announce that Erin Teirnan will be the lead staff person for Exploration Station – which opens January 6th. Stay-tuned to this space for her complete bio. Register online. We anticipate the limited spaces filling up quickly.
Free Choice ...
… is the one thing we, humans, prize above all else, and the ideology that this country was founded on. Nevertheless, if we are being utterly truthful, we clearly have very little choice in a large portion of the decisions that determine much of our lives. And, when you look closely at those allowed little or no privilege, never mind, a voice or opinion, including: people of color, women, single mothers, LBGTQ individuals, the impoverished, the traumatized, the isolated, rural, and marginalized populations, the sick, and most startling of all, our children - the stark reality of how few options exist for an enormous cross-section of the population is damning.
No! This is not a politically charged post. Except to say that governance should have everything to do with allowing people to live authentically, with common senses and decency – within a culture dedicated to kindness, equity, and above all the freedom to choose the best options (in all matters) for themselves and for their families, without judgment (criminalization), or blame.
As I have mentioned before, many people around the world are choosing various forms of self-directed education (SDE) for their children. Not only are local families flocking to DRC (as indicated by our growing waiting list), it has become a worldwide phenomenon. Kerry MacDonald, an economist and a founder of the Alliance for Self-Directed Education, who un-schools her own children outside Boston, MA, has become an important voice for the SDE movement. She has written a book called Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom and she also writes articles for various online formats, as well as renowned periodicals like the Wall Street Journal.
She wrote a recent article for Forbes, entitled - Closing the Choice Gap in American Education, with the image of “mind the gap” that you find in subway and train stations, directly under the title. This particular article and photo caught my eye and my imagination, because here in the NoCo (an enormous geographically, rural area), besides DRC, two Catholic schools, and a small, rural non-public private school, there are no other accessible educational alternatives to the public system. And, now, I just read that St. Mary’s in Canton will be closing at the end of June.
But, as someone recently pointed out, this constricting phenomenon, in impoverished areas around the country, but especially here, doesn’t only apply to education. It carries over to health-care, including mental health, housing, food, and durable good choices, which encompasses a scarcity of retailers (No, the sudden proliferation of the Dollar General stores in rural hamlets do not count as a viable choice.), and on, and on, and on …
I firmly believe that this endless list of free choice deprivation is the driving force behind the ubiquitous ills that plague St. Lawrence County. I won’t enumerate them all here – however, I think we all understand that the resulting traumas are what we encounter and try to deal with on the daily.
I am a proud native of the North Country; born in Potsdam (fun fact: my daughter, Kenzie, was born in the same room at CPH- 32 ½ years after I was). I grew up in Norfolk, Brasher, and then after living out-of-state for ten years, returned to raise my children in West Potsdam and finally built a home and settled off-the-grid in Pierrepont. I may playfully threaten to move someplace like, oh say, Vermont; in spite of all the teasing, as you probably guessed, I am profoundly committed to staying right here.
However, in all honesty, if I spend too much time cataloguing the problems that exist here, I too become easily overwhelmed and exhausted by the enormity of the challenges they represent. This is why I have honed my focus to establishing a viable option for children. In creating a positive space for them to grow, learn, and play, where they can take the time to develop goals and aspirations – an inspiring, safe environment filled with resources, materials, and supportive mentors, we consciously provide them with the freedom to make individual choices that will guide them to be the people they were destined to be.
And, we are dedicated to, intentionally, “minding the gap” that clearly exists in educational alternatives, by opening Deep Root Centers in towns, villages, and hamlets throughout St. Lawrence County. I envision doing this by becoming an integral part of each community, by sharing buildings and spaces that already exist in other capacities. Thus, we are excited to announce that DRC-East, our second center, will be opening January 7th using the Lawrenceville Fire Hall as our temporary home until the permanent location is ready for us. Beginning with two days a week (T & Th), it will eventually be open every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. This expansion will allow us to accommodate most of the folks currently on our waiting list - however, we anticipate several new applications once we open this DRC on the eastern side of the county. We understand that this one new Center will not fulfill the need!
As with most not-for-profits dedicated to creating opportunities, we work within the constraints of an extremely tight budget. BY consistently keeping our promise to accept anyone who needs our help, whether they can pay the full fee or not, over the past six years, our staff and Board are constantly seeking ways to fill the budgetary gaps. The families waiting to join DRC are a never-ending reminder that the educational option we provide is an essential component of the North Country.
We are asking you to contribute today. By choosing to underwrite Deep Root Center, not only are you investing in those inspiring young voices who are bravely choosing to take charge of their educations with us, but in the process, you are helping to tackle the systemic problems, created by scarcity of free choice, which persecutes the entire region. Thank you!
Yes, there is more exciting news from DRC! Our afternoon program, which offers a much-needed option for after-school care, with the basic DRC philosophy of non-coercion and hands-on, interest-based learning, is opening January 6th. Click here for more information. Please share this opportunity within your network.
Who decides what excellence means, or to be more accurate, what it looks like? What are the criteria? These questions could continue for another paragraph or so, but, I’ll stop here because I think you know where I am headed …
Excellence, along with its alter egos - perfection, superiority, flawlessness, and grade A+, has created a culture in which we are never fully satisfied with our real and authentic selves. This discontent includes all of the superficial imperfections, as well as the limitations, involuntarily, determined by the labels placed upon us by others, and ourselves. As a society, we slot everything into predetermined categories and then feel the compulsion to harshly judge the “broken,” the “flawed,” and the less than ideal. We don’t allow ourselves to celebrate the awesomeness of everyday accomplishments, feel gratitude for the commonplace, or honor the beauty of individual struggle. We simply don’t see the superpowers behind the labels.
As a result, most of us spend our lifetimes seeking out that elusive ideal by engaging in a variety of activities, which only produce a temporary "high" but will never completely fill that void created by the feelings of discontent and failure. When you think about it consumerism (our entire economy) is fueled by this obsession for achieving excellence.
Many of you will recall my dislike – I mean my complete and utter aversion of using diagnoses to label someone. I truly believe that they do nothing more than provide people with excuses: 1) to treat the labeled differently, and 2) for those who carry the label to allow that diagnosis to determine their behaviors and hold them back from achieving the things they always wanted.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a teen, who knows this about me, look me square in the eye and say, “but sometimes those labels can be helpful because they give a name to the thing that someone has been struggling with and believed they were the only one.” Well, that certainly gave me pause; however, after contemplating her view for a long time, my stance remains intact.
Simply put, I look at it like this: as humans, we are all somewhere on the various scales of neurodiversity, mental, and physical ability. So instead of pigeonholing, condescending, or condemning, I am encouraging that on a broader level within our society, we intentionally create space, time, and support where everyone has the opportunity to fully explore and recognize their inherent abilities - their personal brilliance. And, then, work through their own challenges to figure out and develop the techniques and personal life hacks that work best for them - which may not be (are probably not) the same ones that work for others with the same diagnosis. This along with the understanding that our life, itself, is in constant flux, is necessary for our personal evolution. For instance, I always work with the underlying knowledge that as I grow and change, every single project I undertake can be revised, or, even scrapped and redone, at any time. In my mind, nothing I have worked on is ever completely "finished."
Envision a culture driven by the compulsion to encourage the strength and tenacity of individual talents and authenticity, where we would no longer have a large portion of our society who feels like their personal quirks and obstacles make them inferior. And, now, imagine a world crowded with enthusiastic people who acknowledge their innately flawed humanness, have the audacity to embrace their imperfections as their superpowers and use their lives to inspire others.
Annual Funding Appeal -
Please remember DRC in your end of year giving. We rely on your contributions to do our work.
Exploration Station -
We are super excited to announce that DRC is launching an Afternoon Program beginning January 6th. Space will be limited to ten kids. Details can be found here.
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