It has been a busy week. Therefore, I am sharing a short story from this past week that highlights our philosophy perfectly.
T had found a container of sight words handwritten on cards on the shelf in the Seedlings Room. He took all the cards out and copied the words onto blank cards. He was being very systematic and refused any help. (I will also note that this entire project was completed in the middle of the Seedlings Room floor while other kids were engaged and busy with their own activities.)
With no pushing or coercion on our part, T has shown a great interest in language and reading over the past few weeks - after being fairly indifferent. I anticipate huge strides over the next several months as he explores the amazingly complex world of written words and language - on his own terms.
Photo Dump from DRC Canton - lots of outside sledding action, cooking, baking, and a Kitchen Sink Science experiment making lava lamps.
And a Photo Dump from DRC- East - lots of action over there with two new members.
This DRC True Story comes from Q a brand new kiddo at DRC-East. I spoke with them via phone on Wednesday afternoon to take notes so I could write their learning plan - this quote was their response to my final question - is there anything else you would like to add?
We are happy you have joined the crew, Q. Welcome to DRC!
Two Notes of Gratitude
Thank you to everyone who stopped by our table to say "hi" and create art at the annual Kids Expo at SUNY Canton on Saturday. We had fun meeting you all.
In our current educational system, the concept of building a safe, supportive, inclusive, and vibrant community gets lost in the push for academic rigor. I will always argue that establishing an environment where everyone feels comfortable being themselves - (absolutely) has to be the precursor to scholarship.
I spend my days surrounded by kids who all have the agency to build their (very own) community. They understand that supporting each other with kindness and encouragement, in the end, helps them all.
In addition, DRC kids understand that the staff trusts and respects them - period - full stop - no contingencies. With that knowledge, they extend the same regard to their peers. And then, together, they feel free to explore the world on their own terms.
No, it isn't all rainbows and unicorns. You bet there are days that we get on each other's nerves and get royally ticked off. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, because the foundation of our community is solid - we talk about whatever pissed us off, and then we move forward.
This exact scenario happened this past Thursday - it was one of those bad-vibe days. Everyone was in a mood, and it felt funky all around.
E was feeling it particularly hard. He needed a fork to eat his lunch - so he stomped over to the utensil drawer and yanked it open. The force pulled the mechanism off the tracks, and the drawer fell on the floor with a crash - the front breaking off. Everyone in the kitchen stopped whatever they were doing in utter shock. It was silent for ten seconds. Then without any prodding, E bent down and started picking up the contents strewn across the floor. Without hesitation, several other kids joined him. No one criticized or nitpicked - they simply helped.
I filled the sink with hot sanitizing water while he transferred all the utensils. He swished everything through the water and placed them in the dish drainer to rinse with hot water spray. While he was doing that, we talked calmly about dealing positively with the consequences of actions - even when they are mistakes. In those few moments, he learned the people you trust and respect are the ones who will always have your back, even when you mess up - a life lesson that will remain with him forever.
Weekly Creative Meditation
As mentioned, Thursday was a crazy energy day at #DRCCanton. A came in from playing outside with the younger kiddos and pulled the snow out of his hoodie pocket with a huge grin on his face. This particular quote highlights how the DRC multi-age environment fosters content kids who happily engage in cooperative play and take care of each other - while building community.
We are trying to institute a Summer Program in Massena at our DRC-East Center that is free for the kids who live in subsidized housing. To do so, we need businesses and organizations to sponsor the program. Please share this information.
Registration for our Imagination Station Canton Summer Program - the last three weeks of August is open. Click the button to the google application form. Space is limited.
Enjoy these photo galleries from both Centers. Our kiddos were happy to be back after our mid-winter break.
And finally - one more way you can support our kiddos. Visit our Amazon Shopping List here.
I was sitting here on a day off, staring into space, thinking about at least ten ideas for blogs and social media posts over a half hour. Then when I took out a piece of paper to make a list of all those ideas, they vanished - poof into thin air - I couldn't remember a single one. Conveniently my inability to hold anything in my brain for longer than a nano-second is now the inspiration for this post.
Until June of last year, I would beat myself up when any of the six million traits related to ASD and ADHD disrupted my day, and my honest intentions of behaving "normally," not melting down internally, and not losing an entire day to time sucks.
The clues were all there my entire life - the sensitivities that overwhelm me and send me over the edge - sounds, tastes, smells (all of them), the feeling of bunched or ill-fitting clothing and socks or hair in my eyes, clipping my fingernails (OK, that is a weird one), heat or cold, disorder and visual messiness, lists of information or instructions, too many texts or emails coming in at once, anything that has a hint of suspense (I always read the end of a book first to make sure everything turns out OK), not to mention socializing and "reading" a room and feeling all of the emotions - being around people is too much, in general. Yes, the list is endless.
Masking the desire to crawl out of my skin or under a table to hide - every damn time I experience sensory overload is utterly exhausting, as is unconsciously turning on the mental "don't do weird sh*t" switch whenever I have to interact or be in public.
When I figured out (finally clued in) that I am neurodivergent during last year's Liberated Learners Conference, I no longer felt like I was the crazy weirdo who never fit in. In one neatly wrapped package, it explained everything I had struggled with for 57 years and tried to hide from the world.
Now that I know, I am much more aware of how profoundly my neurodivergence has affected my behavior and life choices. I can (mostly) embrace all the quirks as uniquely mine and avoid or find new ways to deal with the sensitivities that would normally shut me down. I can now intentionally use those traits that were once a burden - that I felt I needed to keep hidden, as hacks to capitalize on my creativity and unique talents.
And, I realized a few days ago that the switch I used to unconsciously turn on is now very deliberate - and it is no longer about masking my weird sh*t but maximizing positive and vital connections with people.
We are each unique individuals navigating through our lives - with distinctive hacks and tools that work for us - devised from experience - whether we identify as neurodivergent or not. Additionally, accommodations and accessibility aids (every one of them) should be normalized and readily available for anyone who needs or wants them. No one should have to fight and wait years to get them.
My point is that our society tends to pathologize anything that isn't "normal," turning it into something weird that needs to be fixed. I am here to say none of us is broken - only different, which can only be good.
Diversity is the thread woven into the fibers of society designed to keep us strong, resilient, and connected to one another. Because those relationships are what bring out the best in each of us.
Weekly Creative Meditation
No photo galleries from this past week. We have been on break but will be returning tomorrow.
This quote is from a while ago. I am pulling it out now because it highlights what we mean when we say "free range learning" (and we are on break, so I don't have any fresh quotes). Kids are "doing" all the "things" all the time innately while they follow their interests. This kiddo happens to be passionate about role playing. It is unnatural to separate math from science from social studies, etc. As adults we don't do that - so why should we force our kids too?
Time and again, I am struck by how incalculably stupid (yes, I said that word --- the one a five-year-old once told me I should never say) we are as a society. Anything that requires thinking outside the box and flexibility (an open mind and the ability to pivot instantly) is immediately assessed as risky. As is any new idea - that doesn't look "normal" or "mainstream."
The number people (bankers, insurance folks, and accountants), middle managers, and the folks who make up administrative policy are infamously risk-averse. Bring something fresh and new to these folks and watch their brains explode while excuses fly. "But we've always done it like this." "I am just doing my job." Or the old standard, "We have never done that before."
We are so inured in risk avoidance that even the dictionary defines risk as something to avoid: a situation involving exposure to danger: the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen: and the possibility of financial loss.
Nonetheless, follow my thinking here - without risk, there is no learning or growth, which means a zero chance for a diverse and equitable society. I certainly don't want unimaginative hacks making decisions about my future.
We could argue that resistance to risk and change is what should be classified as dangerous. Maybe even go so far as to proclaim that we will not survive as a species for much longer without taking all the risks involved in following the streams of brilliant creativity that are shot down every day.
Positive change and forward motion require us to envision all the possibilities, work together to embrace the unknown, get imaginative, generate new ideas, jump in, make mistakes and adjust (or scrap and redo) as needed, and stun the world with what we can accomplish - all by simply exploring the artistry inside each risk - one at a time.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This is a direct quote from the 7-year-old, explaining to the new 11-year-old, that she didn't have to follow everything the 5-year-old told her to do while playing dolls in the Seedlings Room. This is just one more example of kids playing freely in a multi-age setting on their own without direct adult intervention or direction - taking care of each other naturally. No-ones feelings were hurt. The 5-year-old peanut understood that she couldn't be a bossy pants (in this instance), the 7-year-old (who for the record, can be bit bossy herself) said it without malice or ill intent, and the 11-year-old was forewarned and willing to stand up for herself.
Both Centers are closed this coming week for mid winter Break. Here a few scenes from this past week:
Deep Root Center is founded on the belief that all young people deserve a safe, educational environment where they feel like they are part of a community. And where they are free to explore all the possibilities. Learning can only happen when kids intuitively understand that they are secure, accepted, and trusted to make decisions, make mistakes, and explore all their interests to achieve their ever-evolving aspirations.
When this mission statement was first articulated, I didn't quite realize how antithetical it is to what most of our kids experience in their school life.
I talk to dozens of young people and their families every year. The piece consistent across the board is the trauma these kids have experienced in school. In most cases, it is because the authorities in the school environment are not given enough freedom within the structure of the overarching curriculum and rules to be flexible and understand that one size does not fit all. Kids are not standardized, and neither should their educational experience.
Now - why I cried (again) this week.
As mentioned, I speak to a ton of kids every year. I write all of the NYS-required documentation for kids who come to the Centers and for those whom I consult with. To do that, I need to have an in-depth conversation with each child. For everyone who does not come to the Canton center, they are via phone call.
This past Tuesday afternoon, I was curled up in my cozy chair at home talking to a very cool and sweet 12-year-old who was joining our DRC East crew. His mother had explained earlier that he had recently been diagnosed with low-needs autism and had fairly severe anxiety and depression. This year he was punished with in-school suspension - and expulsion, too many times to count. The school authorities did not know how to interact with him (within their framework) and ended up escalating every interaction to the point where he was overwhelmed, frustrated, and became "violent."
This kid was extremely articulate - he knew what he wanted to explore for each subject. He was engaged and super happy to be switching to DRC. The conversation was natural and free-flowing and went longer than most. As I was winding things up, I asked, per usual, "is there anything else I should add to your plan?"
Que the heartbreak... he whispered, "can you put in there that I just want to make friends?"
I mean, &*#@, how do I respond to that question? Through the ginormous lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face, I barely spit out - "oh, buddy, I don't think you are going to have to look very hard to find friends at DRC. The kids are really going to like you."
For some reason this kid really got to me. The remainder of the week emotions lurked just below the surface. On Friday, I sat in the office with another teen in personal crisis - that extended conversation ended with a mutually needed long hug and more tears.
The DRC mission is lived every single day in every single way. Most importantly, our kiddos quickly comprehend that they are each a valuable and unique component of the whole. Their differences are what make the community strong, and together, they are pure awesomeness.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC True-Story - fifth in the series
A few weeks ago we instituted a "tip jar" in the "chill space." Kids can add suggestions and ideas, at any time, and when I see a note inside the jar, I pull it out and read it to the group during our daily morning check-in. The quote from today's DRC True Story was inside the tip jar on Tuesday. The 11 year old who put it in volunteered a story about a time in her life when she felt that way every day. From there a five minute conversation ensued - with several of us adding tidbits of our own experiences.
I hope her willingness to share something so real, raw, and poignant with the group will instigate more philosophical questions inside the tip jar that get us all thinking and connecting on a deeper level.
It was a happening week at both Centers this past week.
Sh*t happens. In my experience, it often hits with no provocation or even explanation. In many cases, we simply happen to be in the way - literal innocent bystanders covered from head to toe in splash-back. Other times, no matter how hard we try to avoid (escape from) drama, it finds us and pulls us dead center into the stinking heap of someone else's histrionics.
Unfortunately, I have found myself in both scenarios over the past few weeks - trapped and covered in other people's cr*p. It does not matter that I was not responsible for any of the circumstances. I dealt with it all professionally and calmly (hopefully, no one could see or hear my thumping heartbeat and splitting headache), with an extra large portion of empathy and kindness.
Did I keep all the raging tantrums internalized and hide my desire to throw up my hands in utter despair? Did I feel like my head and heart were going to explode? And was my smile pasted on the entire time? You betcha!
I can assure you I went through all of that and more. But in the end, I know my integrity and reputation will always rely on my thoughtful, compassionate response more than anything else. If I pitched fits, accused, retaliated, and smeared the person responsible for each situation or even took a stance of the victim, I would not be farther ahead, and no one would be served.
No matter how you find yourself in unsavory circumstances, you are fully accountable for your response - and it is what will be remembered by you and others.
Time reveals true character - good, bad, and ugly. Patience, as they say, is a virtue.
Weekly Creative Meditation
* To learn more about supporting DRC through our Sponsorship Program please get in touch.
The fourth DRC - True Story in the series. This quote can't be attributed to any one child. I hear, "are you OK?," asked several times a day. It is older kids asking younger kids, but it is also the five or six year olds checking in on the teens.
When people ask, "how is it possible to integrate 5-19 year olds in one space?" I am able to pull upon millions of examples. DRC creates a family like atmosphere. There is no hierarchy - everyone takes care of each other. And - "are you OK" - is just one of the many ways they do that every day.
And as you can see, the kiddos at both Centers are happily cruising along - connecting with each other through their individual interests.
I had a blog post written and ready for today's posting on Thursday evening. Since then, the news cycle has exploded with more sh*t. Therefore, I feel compelled to save the piece entitled Sh*t Happens for another, more appropriate time...
I am absolutely sickened that we live in this era of oppression and brutality. And as the details of each incident (near and far) unfold, we learn that not only are the authorities OK with the status quo, but they are standing firm on coercively inhumane policies and tactics.
To be clear - this scenario isn't only happening in more populated and ethnically diverse places or even foreign countries. It is happening right here, in the NoCo, too.
The playbook has not changed throughout history. When authoritarians feel threatened, they double down on harmful practices. Intimidation, threats, harassment, and violence are all tools of the trade.
We see it everywhere, and I hear about it daily from kids and their families who reach out to me for help. It is utterly heartbreaking and exhausting.
I obviously don't have the answers to our massive list of societal ills; nonetheless, I know that coercion, persecution, punishment, and outright brutality are not what we need more of.
In the end, I guess, I can only go into battle in my little corner of the world each day, fully prepared to snuff out inequity with radical inclusion, threats with unconditional support, and intimidation with my own brand of fiery kindness.
Weekly Creative Meditation
The kiddos at both Centers were fully engaged - creating, playing, and building community. However, as you can see, only the DRC East staff in Massena managed to document all the coolness. (Thanks, Karen G.) The Canton staff will try to do better this coming week.
This third DRC - True Story is more about a general life learning experience than the actual quote.
B asked to go to the post office to get a package when we went to the library to pick up some books on hold. After some of us went to the library and came back out, B was not outside waiting for us. I went into the Post Office to see what was taking them so long. They had provided the tracking number, and the post office employee was looking for the package. Come to find out, it was misaddressed and ended up at SUNY Canton. Long story - short - B navigated all of the twists and turns of the saga on their own (I was only there to provide transportation) and successfully collected their package that held the all-important paws that completed their cat costume.
We know that kindness, affirmation, and encouragement create space for positive change. I could talk about the chemical cocktail that runs through our bodies - that makes us feel good - when we are supported, which, in turn, feeds our intrinsic motivation to be our best. Or I could provide scientific data which indicates comfortable, intentionally creative environments and empathetic responses can begin to heal ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) and trauma.
In any case, whichever way we look at it - positivity affects how we feel, behave, and connect with others. Negativity will affect all those things in the opposite direction.
Change can not be forced - it can only be nurtured through modeling and mutual care. Developing a culture of mutual respect is at the core of every authentic relationship.
We each have the extreme power to make or break someone's day simply by how we engage with them. When we expect to find "awesomeness" and goodwill, we will discover them. And when we seek things to criticize and judge, we will find them too and, in the process, will only generate a defensive mechanism that builds walls instead of the connections that lead to authenticity and excellence.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We have some pretty tight-knit crews at both Centers.
This is the second in the series of "DRC - True Stories." E was developing a creation while talking about building a Lego set and following the directions at home. He explained that he likes taking the different elements from different sets that are all jumbled together in our Lego box and imagining new ideas.
I have at least one conversation a day that invokes the sentiment - "young people these days are lazy and don't even know how to..." Fill in the blank - with read cursive, write (by hand), spell, do math without a calculator, etc. (the list really goes on and on...)
Let's first consider what I believe are indisputably the top ten necessary qualities of any successful person.
Now let's examine all those "should-s" dictated by society. Many of them are relics of a bygone age before we had the world in our pockets. Do young people need to know how to read cursive - no. But they can if they want to. Do they have to memorize spelling words and grammar rules? Nope! I am miserable at spelling and grammar despite eight grim years of those detested spelling drills, but I still write prolifically - without (many) mistakes. Do they need to learn about - x,y, & z? Not unless it is something they want or will need for what they plan to pursue - in the future. And even then, they can study those things when they make that determination.
Our lives are brimming with adaptive, assistive technology designed to allow us to do the things we otherwise would not be able to - with new stuff coming out daily. We can calculate anything, travel anywhere, anytime in history (virtually) to learn the culture, create cool stuff, listen to music or books, watch anything we desire, and look up random sh*t - just because we are curious. We no longer need to rely on some informed individual disseminating the info from the front of a classroom, to be memorized and subsequently regurgitated on an exam and then forgotten.
Anyone can acquire the knowledge they need and want - in any modality that works for them - from anywhere. There are no restrictive boundaries. The only requirements are to have the skills listed above and the flexibility to adapt.
The world will always be evolving, despite the folks who shout from the rooftops, "but, but, but they need to learn... because I had to."
To them, I want to say, "did you learn to sign your name by spitting chewed-up pigment around your hand to make a hand print?" No, because we big-brained humans developed new technologies throughout millennia - and we will continue to do so.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Kiddos at both Centers continue to cruise along happily exploring new ideas in the new year.
"No" is a complete sentence. We, as a society, seem to (mostly) understand this concept - as it relates to consent and respect in general. However, we have difficulty comprehending that children should be afforded autonomy too. They should be able to make decisions based on what feels right to them - at that moment.
I believe that when a child has autonomy, they are more aware of not only how the decisions they make will affect them personally - but the repercussions for others. Because they discover that their actions have direct consequences. Within that lesson, they learn responsibility, and their innate determination shines through.
When, instead, we tell kids what, when, how, and where to do something - because we want them to learn accountability and motivation, instead they only learn that they do not have to think for themselves. They become anxious, don't know how to problem solve, and are deathly afraid of making mistakes, which quickly leads to learned helplessness.
When you give kids the authority to say "no," you are telling them you respect them and trust that they will make decisions based on what is best for them. Within that, they quickly discover what they want to say "yes" to, that mistakes are just one more learning tool, and that their authenticity is something to celebrate, not hide.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We are delighted that Christopher Raymo has returned to the DRC family. He is a musician and NoCo native who grew up in Raymondville. His return has been seamless - he spends his days at DRC with the Seedlings Crew and in the music room facilitating musical adventures.
The Peeps at both Centers are happy to be back after the Holiday Break. We have once again increased our numbers substantially - with four kiddos joining Massena and three in Canton.
And finally, a fun story from Friday - this kiddo told Chris that he brought his plunger with him to DRC because he wanted the plunger to feel happy - like him.
My one wish for your 2023 is that plans become secondary to the delights found in spontaneity.
Your wildly authentic Spirit depends on you to follow the serendipitous threads of creativity wherever they may lead. Don't be afraid to jump into the unexpected, new, and untried when the voice of inspiration whispers, in your ear, "let's do this!" Simply trust that you will be pleasantly surprised by where you land.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Both Centers will be open January 3rd - and we are excited to welcome several new student members to our crews. If you know someone looking for a different kind of educational experience, have them get in touch.
Happy New Year from everyone at DRC!
Thank You to everyone who has shared their time, talent, and financial gifts with us this year. We are deeply grateful for our NoCo Community.
Merry Christmas from the entire Deep Root Center Crew.
...is worth a pound of cure, is one age-old adage that I wholeheartedly agree with, especially when placed in the context of societal ills.
Instead of supporting and nurturing our population, we expect folks (mostly the marginalized) to suck it up and "pull themselves up by the bootstraps," even if they are walking around barefoot (metaphorically or not).
In the same vein, we know that school does not serve every child. There are so many bright, neurodivergent, hypersensitive, LGBTQ+, and fiercely creative kids who are not afraid to be authentic and who battle daily for space, support, and understanding.
Deep Root Center is here for them all - no matter their family's financial status. Please consider contributing so we can be that ounce of prevention for any child seeking us out - before they need a pound of cure and become another horrifying statistic, costing us all much more than you can even imagine.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Thank you to everyone who came to our open houses over the past two Mondays. We enjoyed meeting you and sharing our vision.
Both Centers will be on Holiday Break beginning Wednesday, December 21st (Winter Solstice) and returning Tuesday, January 3rd.
This is the time of year when budgetary reality hits (smacks us upside the head) - many of our financial obligations are due in January. We rely on you, our community, to get us over the hump. Especially now, as we build our three-year strategic plan with an eye on expanding into other NoCo communities that need us. We hear daily that our services are necessary to a growing number of young people - but we cannot do it without YOU! I am deeply grateful for every contribution. Thank you!
Best wishes for a peaceful holiday season to you all!
With love and appreciation,
For a while, I used "unschooling" to explain what we do at DRC - but I always stopped mid-stream to say that I didn't like that word because it says what we are not instead of what we are - but I would use it until I had a better word to describe everything we do.
Now I do! "Free-Range" immediately conjures a positive mental picture. Most folks know the term when applied to farming techniques. Therefore, with that underlying understanding, I think it is the perfect way to describe self-directed learning philosophy and methodology.
When we say free-range, we mean young people are following their interests and actively seeking the information that is specifically and vitally important to each of them. They are playing, creating, and learning important life lessons within our safe, supportive, and nurturing community - where they know they belong and are cared for.
You can support all of our amazingly creative free-range kids by contributing to Deep Root Center.
Weekly Creative Meditation
DRC #FreeRange T-shirts and Hoodies
We are placing our order this coming Tuesday. If you would like one, please let me know, and I will get it on our order. You can choose black or purple shirts and either the Canton or East logo.
T-shirts are $20 and hoodies are $35. Available in youth and adult sizes.
At this time, every year, my internal batteries begin to run low (read - in the dead zone), and I am utterly exhausted by overwhelming frustration, worry, and external stimuli. And every year, when my neurodivergent, introverted brain says, "please let me hibernate for a couple of months," I am revived with thoughtful comments, kind gestures, and gentle reminders that my efforts are appreciated by many kids and their families.
And just like that, I am jolted back to my "why."
As mentioned last week, DRC is on the cusp of growing to accommodate all of the families who seek our services. We do not refuse any of them - no matter their financial circumstances. This year alone we are on track to provide over 150k in fee reductions.
There are many ways to help -
Join us tomorrow, Dec. 5th, from 4-7, in Canton to meet our staff, board, and some of our student members. Bring your questions about our programs, and you will have the opportunity to make suggestions for our future growth.
And join us at DRC - East in Massena Monday, the 12th.
A Message from Maria
Deep Root Center Mission
At Deep Root Center (DRC), we believe that all young people deserve a safe, educational environment where they feel like they are part of a community - and where they are free to explore all the possibilities.
You can mail your contribution to:
Deep Root Center, 48 Riverside Drive, Canton, NY13617
You can also donate through Venmo.
Hope, imagination, enthusiasm, ambition, and gratitude are the cooperative team that has defined DRC's existence from the beginning. Together they create a sense of urgency and positivity that drive everything we do.
Nine years ago, after an overwhelming year of heartbreak, disillusionment, and tears, I was anticipating opening DRC's doors - hoping that this self-directed, non-coercive model would resonate with families in the North Country.
First, there was hope that there would be enough kids to attract other kids. Soon that hopefulness adjusted with the additional goal of attaining 501c3 status and legal identity in NYS. Then and now, our hope rests on keeping us fiscally viable to serve the many families currently relying on us - and all those who will reach out in the coming months and years.
Hoping keeps us alive. Imagination provides the goals. Ambition, commitment, enthusiasm, and joy in the work give us a reason to keep going for all the kids who call on us for support. And our gratitude keeps us humbly aware that DRC would not survive without the generosity of our community.
Hence, it is again the time of year we bring our message of hope to you. Please consider helping us build a sustainable future for Deep Root Center, where we hold space for the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all the young people who enter our safe, alternative environments.
You will find our annual funding appeal here.
And as always - thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Weekly Creative Meditation
Both of our crews are settled into a humming groove. They are confidently instigating activities, projects, and new learning opportunities daily.
Plan on joining us for light refreshments, to meet our staff, board,
& these awesome student members. Bring all your questions about our programs.
DRC Canton (48 Riverside Dr., Canton) - December 5th - 4-7pm
DRC-East (47 Perkins Rd., Massena) - December 12th - 4-7pm
We are happy to introduce Ashlyn, DRC-East's new apprentice!
The DRC-East Crew
And a Happy Canton Crew
We all have natural talents - things that seem to come easy. And those are generally the things we spend our time honing and perfecting - because they are fun, satisfying, and engaging. Then as we refine those skills, we discover other things that correlate and seek ways to learn more.
We, humans, are innate learners, and no amount of coercion will force us to absorb the things we don't personally find intriguing or practical. I am reminded of this four times a year when I talk to kids to document everything they have done over the previous ten weeks in their quarterly reports.
When we write their learning plans at the end of each summer, we discuss what they want to focus on based on the things they are naturally interested in and want to explore. In those plans, they often tell me things they think are required or that I want to hear, not what they really desire. This means when I talk to them in mid-November for their first quarterly report, we discover some things they haven't even touched because they honestly have no interest. Or if they did, they don't remember anything about it. Which only induces a sense of unhealthy guilt. All that self-condemnation only makes them feel bad about themselves. It certainly won't change anything the next time we sit down to discuss what they have worked on - in January.
This only speaks to my point that we can require certain subjects and topics - but that does not mean that anything will be learned longer than needed to pass the test - if there is no personal connection. And to be clear, we can't force that either.
I spend my days watching kids seek out the subjects, activities, and projects that feed and excite them. They are learning something new every minute of every day as they joyfully explore, engage, and connect with the nuances of their interests and talents and with the people who are happily doing the same around them.
And those are the moments documented in their quarterly reports - because those are the ones they will remember - forever.
Weekly Creative Meditation
There is a lot going on here these next few weeks. Our annual funding appeal is going out in the next week or so. Look for it here or in your mailbox. DRC is growing, and we need your help to support the families who need us. Please consider contributing to our goal of being able to help every child who wants to join us.
Please plan on joining us at one of our open houses in December. We are excited to share everything we have been working on and our plans for the future. You are invited to have a hand in determining our direction over the next several years with a hands-on activity that will be available for everyone who attends.
Please check out our website - we have been working on streamlining information. We welcome feedback and suggestions.
Our East Peeps - busy and engaged this past week.
And our Canton Crew!
On Friday, a group of kids took over the art room to make pillows and stuffed animals. They pulled me in to fix the sewing machine (again), and while there, I helped the seven-year-old redraw and cut out the pattern for the stuffed bear. As I showed her how to put the pins in to hold the two sides together, I said, "this is going to be a little more difficult to sew than a regular pillow because there are a lot of curves." She looked straight at me and said with a cheeky grin, "I always enjoy a good challenge." I just had to grin back at her.
After a few miss starts and receiving some assistance sewing around said curves of the arms and legs - she is thrilled with her (slightly wonky) stuffed bear that will get some facial features (personality) and clothing on Monday.
That afternoon, I peeked into the art room to find this same seven-year-old standing next to the sewing machine and patiently teaching the fifteen-year-old how to sew. Then, later on, the ten-year-old.
This story is about a particular seven-year-old; however, you could easily replace the seven with one, two, three, four, five, six, and occasionally an eight. We know that learning is absolutely natural but once these kiddos become integrated into our culture through indoctrination of the system - a good portion of them quickly lose all of that "boldness" and self-confidence.
In traditional school, kids often learn their curiosity is a burden to the adults who have to answer the never-ending questions (there simply isn't time in the day) and that mistakes are something to avoid at all costs. They need to fit in - not make waves - sit still and "shut up." These naturally inquisitive (wild) authentic beings are squished into conformity, compliance, and blind obedience.
At DRC, we find this to be true - by the time a child is nine or ten, they often come to us reserved and hugely afraid of making mistakes. They apologize constantly and are fearful of saying what they are interested in or taking on anything that is new or challenging. A few are actually mute.
This is why I celebrated this past week when a teen filled and turned on the electric kettle and made his own ramen alone for the very first time. When I congratulated him with a fist bump - he just stood there with a big grin of pride on his face.
It never gets old. Over this past year, I have watched this teen - who had been so fearful of screwing up that his apologies for asking clarifying questions were profuse - transform into one who confidently makes his own lunch and takes a couple of younger kids under his wing. To say it is awe-inspiring isn't enough to describe the goosebumps and tears that prick at the corners of my eyes every damn time.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We will be holding Open Houses at both Centers in December. Save the dates. Plan on joining us to meet our kiddos and bring all your questions for our Staff and Board.
Both Centers had a great time celebrating Halloween. The DRC- Canton Peeps honored Dia de los Meurtos - as well.
Do you remember two and a half years ago when collectively all we wanted, wished, asked, and prayed for was a return to normal? All these months later, now that we are (mostly) there (despite continued presence of COVID), we understand how much "normal" truly sucks.
I think we forgot in our distress that there is no normal. It is a construct of our culture to keep us in line, give us a false sense of security, and ensure compliance to keep a faulty system alive.
I believe what we were truly looking for back then was authentic and honest connections - the basic human need that drives our emotional health.
Unfortunately, normalcy requires we try to make those connections through superficiality and meaningless chatter. Deep, thoughtful conversations take time and openness - a willingness to be moved, changed, and enlightened - all things that are not part of what we consider normal.
I challenge each of us to confront the small talk, flashy half-truths, and sexy click-bait language with genuine, honest conversation. Take time to dive deeply into your authentic (weird) self, let the other person (people) know you appreciate their quirkiness, and ask questions that convey your interest and help you understand their point of view.
We will all be richer for the experiences, and normalcy will take a back seat to sincere engagement that builds connections and trust.
Weekly Creative Meditation
This week's news leads with an "ISO" list.
A family donated a computer to DRC-East; we are now looking for a screen, keyboard, and mouse so the kiddos can get it up and running. Please get in touch if you have these things to donate.
After tearing down the DRC-Canton vacuum to figure out why it wasn't working, the kids discovered a few frayed wires in the motor. Needless to say, we are scrapping it. If you have a working vacuum that you would be willing to donate, please let us know.
You can also find a list of items on our Amazon Wishlist. You can order, and the items get sent directly to us.
Stay tuned for our annual funding appeal and an announcement of the dates for our open houses. We hope you will plan on joining us to meet our kids, staff, and families and to see our facilities.
A few scenes from this past week at DRC-East
And a some actions shots from DRC-Canton
What We Know
The grant I have spent the past few weeks writing (obsessing about) was submitted at 7:52 Friday morning, (a full) 16 hours and 8 minutes before the deadline. (Thank you, again, to the folks who offered feedback, expertise, and valuable input.) I can now admit there were a few moments of panic when my MacBook suddenly turned off when I was adjusting a few words while looking it over one final time before clicking the (big blue) "submit" button.
This proposal was written to fund a project with the big fancy name, Healing Through Free Creative Expression - something we provide daily in our non-coercive, self-directed, and innovative environment.
We know that access to open creative expression activities, such as art, music, free play, and movement, is the key to learning positive emotional expression for those who are neurodivergent or have had adverse childhood experiences. Research data supports these claims, and we witness it every - single - day, even for those who do not fall under the aforementioned categories. And our families agree; several of them wrote testimonials to attest to our affirmative impact on their family's lives.
We also know that kids who can express themselves positively - are more curious and are likely to find the natural joy in all their discoveries while learning everything they need to survive and thrive in this world.
This grant will fund additional staff for both Centers. This will relieve me from everyday facilitation to focus on investigating the possibility of opening new Centers in the NoCo for all the children who need us. As part of the grant agreement, I will also develop (with help) a detailed framework of the entire project that other institutions and organizations can use to replicate our methodology within their programs. It will also fund the abundance of supplies, materials, and equipment required for our kids to engage in all that free, open, creative exploration. We have also proposed a two-month summer program at both Centers at no cost to participants from the community who do not have the means to attend summer camps or other activities that come at an inaccessible cost.
We can only hope that the folks who read our proposal will agree with all we know and deem it a necessary project for the health and well-being of the children of the NoCo.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Thank you to the SLU Men's hockey team for coming to the Canton Center for their Make a Difference Day. They spent an hour and a half cleaning inside and raking all the leaves from the yard. We are grateful to be Community Partners with SLU.
We will be holding open houses in December at both Centers. Stay tuned for details.
Scenes from DRC-Canton - including a photo of the fox who decided our backyard was a great place to hang out for the day.
And from DRC-East
Yes, I know, it seems like we, collectively, have been doing nearly three years of the hard stuff - or maybe even farther back to six years. In any case, I am deeply into working on something overwhelming and just plain hard - with a solid deadline that is approaching entirely too fast. Yup, this creative storyteller is writing a grant with pretty significant potential for all of DRC. (No pressure!)
Thankfully, I have help - people who have experience in the fields we are focused on in this project, writing grants, or are skilled in the thing I really "suck" at (researching correlating data). With their support, I think we have a competitive grant.
I have mentioned a few times that I am a writer - but not a grant writer. Maybe, I have to revise that statement - I can write them as long as I am willing to feel completely overwhelmed and uncomfortable by the process and to spend large portions of time floundering in a sea of words that seem to move around at their own volition. And I have people behind me who are willing and, more importantly, not afraid to give suggestions and honest feedback (not platitudes).
We all come up against things we think are not in our wheelhouse. The stuff that makes our heart rate speed up, anxiety levels crest, and make us so uncomfortable we want to avoid them (at all costs).
My point today is that you can do the hard stuff - if it matters enough, you are willing to put in the work and time, ask for help, make mistakes, and if you are prepared to feel uneasy and awkward - maybe even make a fool of yourself.
How do I know this? I just did all that - and in my mind's eye, I am envisioning the email saying, "we are pleased to fund your project."
Weekly Creative Meditation
Both Centers have hit "cruise" mode. The kids are happily engaged, generating their own ideas for what they want to spend their time on.
We are always looking for volunteers to share their interests and talents with our kiddos at either Center. If you would like to spend time with some really cool kids - fill out the volunteer application here.
Scenes from our Canton Crew
Fun times at DRC-East!
As most of you have probably surmised, I don't like to be told what to do or how to do it. And the control I despise the most is manipulation that is so subtle - you have to be hyper-aware or "clued in" to notice.
This came up for me earlier yesterday when I realized I was feeling angry because a word game I play to relax (yes, I get the irony there) forces me (every weekend) to participate in a tournament I have no interest in. I am required to touch the screen to "win" stars to progress to the next word puzzle. It feels "ickily" scammy and unscrupulous (I feel resentful) - yet I choose to continue playing.
Then I began making a few connections. Our entire culture relies on similar manipulations to get us all to behave "normally." Do this so you can get that - sticks and carrots. Even when we could give a flying f**K about the reward - we still participate because it is expected. So much brilliance is hidden behind compliance.
DRC exists purely because I have always done the exact opposite of what is expected. (Yup, I know that means I should probably delete the word game.) My guiding mission is to support all the kiddos who, like me, want to buck the system - to reveal their brilliantly authentic selves to the world and shout, "ready or not, here I come!"
Weekly Creative Meditation
Five weeks in and the DRC-Canton Peeps are hitting their stride. We have a fairly stable schedule of offerings and they are happily engaged in independent (or group) projects and activities that they are interested in.
The DRC-East Crew is settling into their new home. They are creating a wish list of items that they would like to make the space as functional as possible. I will share that with you all next week.
This past week I had a lot of driving time - over to North Lawrence to pack up and drop off "stuff" to a Winthrop storage unit for DRC-East and home to Pierrepont, back yesterday to pick some of it up, deliver it to their new digs in Massena, and then all the way up "the" hill to home. Driving is my thinking time; therefore, last week offered plenty of opportunities to ponder.
Most of you will not be surprised to hear that I identify as a writer. I perpetually have ideas running through my head - even in my sleep (and when I am driving). Playing with words is one thing that makes me insanely happy. Yes, I am a neurodivergent word nerd on the highest level.
This means my brain is wired to get lost in the delight of weaving words together to sound "right" and tell compelling stories. It, however, does not remember grammar, spelling, or punctuation rules - for shit - which is why I write everything in Grammarly - from this weekly blog and social media posts to important emails. (Yes, it is an essential hack I use to keep from embarrassing myself.) The one downside is it flags most adverbs and many adjectives with "word choice." Sorry Grammarly, I like using descriptors. They are delightfully interesting and "chewy" words - you can sink your teeth and imagination into. In that way, I also consider myself an artist.
Will, a gentleman who helped us move the large items yesterday and fix a table, told me about the furniture he makes from repurposed pallets. He explained before he starts projects, he can see things in his mind's eye. Will understands this quirk as the ability to see in the 4th dimension. I told him he is an artist too. Which he immediately scoffed at - it was clearly a label he did not want to own. I am chagrined to say I was insistent on the point - even though he clearly defined himself as a woodworker - plain and simple.
I have to remember - not everyone in this world wants to be an artist. They are happy to imagine and innovate on their own terms - within their own definitions. This is precisely what we need more of in this world - people who are thoroughly, unabashedly, and delightfully themselves. Thank you for reminding me of that, Will.
Weekly Creative Meditation
Much of the week at DRC-Canton was spent in preparation of moving DRC-East - although we still managed to get most of our scheduled sessions in, too.
Spending out shouts of thanks to everyone who has helped to move DRC-East into their new facility. Between two large trailer and truck loads and several overburdened cars, most(!) of the "stuff" has been delivered, from various storage areas, to 47 Perkins Rd. in Massena. Now comes the fun of arranging it all into a space that seems like it was created just for us. Have fun - my East Peeps!
After writing about accommodations last week, I wanted to clarify a few details that occurred to me this past week. Adaptations, tools, and hacks are often viewed as excuses. Excuses are, in actuality, a defense mechanism and the antithesis of ownership. "No, I can't because" means "I won't try" or "I don't want to try."
Whereas adaptations or accommodations are the things that allow people to do "the thing" despite their challenges. These folks don't blame - they want to own everything - including their challenges, struggles, failures, and subsequent triumphs.
To be clear, "no, I can't" excuses are often based on pathologizing neurodiverse diagnoses, previous experiences, and conditioning - which makes folks believe that they sincerely cannot - it is impossible.
Victim mentality is a coping mechanism grounded in a negative view of life that influences everything and is usually a trauma response. Blaming someone or something for their inaction becomes unconsciously habitual. Which subsequently leads to perceived incompetence - "I suck at everything."
This behavior comes from an understanding that life happens to them, and they have no control over outcomes. Refusal to try is the only way to achieve autonomy and keep their internal dialog intact. It becomes second nature to accuse an outside force and to refuse responsibility. Consequently, they don't want to seek a way forward - because it may dissolve their foundational belief and closely held identity that they are incompetent.
Perceived incompetence is a learned behavior. And like anything else, it can be unlearned through hard work, awareness, and persistence. Allowing your true self to emerge without restrictions or masks - is the first step. Your labels and trauma do not negatively define you - they are simply another piece of you that make you uniquely awesome. Developing a positive mindset about yourself, others, and the world, in general, is essential. Instead of, "I can't because..." say, "I can try with these accommodations."
No excuses. I am purely me (and you are purely you) - responsible for setting boundaries, designing hacks and tools that work for me, and living authentically. Because, when more of us are accountable for ourselves and our behaviors and work through all of our "shit," the universe will respond with gratitude.
Weekly Creative Meditation
We have had a ton of fun and adventures at both Centers this past week. Karen and Trader are settling into DRC-East and getting to know everyone there.
DRC-East is moving from North Lawrence to 47 Perkins Rd. in Massena this coming weekend. We need people power more than anything! There are many moving pieces to this endeavor (we have things stored in various places). Please get in touch if you can join us for this opportunity that celebrates community, connection and FUN! Thank you!
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