The Courage to Change

I’m a guy who likes routines; steady reliable routines.  So you may imagine that I could get overwhelmed working at

Phil Fairbrother

Phil Fairbrother

Cherokee Creek Boys School which presents changes to any given routine each minute of the day.

I only need to remind myself the same thing I would remind any of our students: that change and transition are a part of life.  As with anything else that is a part of life we have the choice to resist, which generally makes us miserable, or accept, which allows us to see the wonder of possibilities.

When a student first arrives and is exposed to this new environment, he often has a lot of resistance and struggles.  Empowering a child with the knowledge of choice is an interesting process.  It seems always to be easier to blame others for the uncomfortable situations in which we find ourselves, but there is incredible strength that comes form accepting circumstances and recognizing we have a choice in making our decisions.

Each of our students work through this process each day, and sometimes while focusing on the struggles of today, we miss the changes that are happening over time. However, I was recently reminded of how wonderful change can be.  A few of our students are getting ready to graduate and are setting up their own transition room in the bunkhouse.  Moving into the transition room means more responsibility for managing behavior with less supervision. This is exactly the environment they will find themselves in once they leave our school and rejoin their families.

The boys moving into the transition room were eager to help set up their new space.  They were focused, responsible and pleasant.  I had wonderful conversations and exchanges of ideas with these boys, and I was able to assign tasks knowing they would be done without supervision or redirection.  These boys were coming to the end of their journey with Cherokee Creek Boys School, and in looking back over their time with us, the changes were remarkable. They had truly taken the opportunity for showing leadership and responsibility.

We are now in the quarter of the Warrior when we encourage the boys to “Show Up and Choose to be Present.” Our boys in this transition room have made that choice and we are delighted to send them home as the responsible, courageous and empowered Warriors they have chosen to become.

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How Our Wounds Help Others

Group Horse Therapy lends many opportunities for passing lessons learned to a friend.

Group Horse Therapy lends many opportunities for passing lessons learned to a friend.

“Wounding and healing are not opposites. They’re part of the same thing. It is our wounds that enable us to be compassionate with the wounds of others. It is our limitations that make us kind to the limitations of other people. It is our loneliness that helps us to find other people or to even know they’re alone with an illness. I think I have served people perfectly with parts of myself I used to be ashamed of. ” Rachel Naomi Remen

I asked my boss to forward this quote to me after she read it aloud at a recent meeting. WOW! If I didn’t believe in this idea wholeheartedly (as the poster child of incredibly wild mistakes) I would likely be in someone’s closet by now curled up in the fetal position. Not a day goes by when I don’t pull out a perfect example of “Don’t do what I did, kids, it was REALLY stupid!” Sharing an experience then shaking our heads when they do it their way anyway is what we get to do as wise grown-ups. But there are the occasional days when the boys listen to my experiences and sidestep trouble, which makes the wound of having made it in the first place worthwhile.

Realizing that something we’ve overcome provides us a unique ability to help others is indeed part of our own healing process. Our gaffes are what make us human and sharing them with others helps increase the survivability and recoverability of each one.  If you can’t eventually laugh about the lesson you learned, perhaps you just need to repeat the story one more time. Trust me, they get funnier as time passes.

Using one’s past to rise above a situation repeats itself throughout history. Some notable examples include Moses, who was accused of murdering a man before leading his people out of Egypt. Bill Wilson, a noted alcoholic in the early 1900s, went on to found Alcoholics Anonymous. And we’re all familiar with Alexander Fleming’s big scientific oops that became penicillin. There’s an example of healing in its most literal form. To say these three men made a significant contribution to others despite mistakes in their past is a drastic understatement.

It’s easy, as adults, to think of someone who makes the same mistakes over and over and – like a train wreck – there’s little you can do to stop them. So at CCBS, we begin to teach the boys to reflect on their past behavior and learn something from it. Then as their time with us increases, they can take their lessons and pass them along to those not so far along the PATH. They become empathetic to the limitations of others and those moments we observe among the boys are priceless and dear.

The lessons of the Medicine Wheel are evident when we share our life lessons with others. We show not only, “I am wise,” but also, “I am resilient,” and sometimes, “I am forgiven.” But most importantly, when we admit our mistakes and make it part of our healing process, we show “I am authentic.”

What part of your past can be used to show someone your authenticity? How can a wound in your life become a healing story for you and those around you?

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Earthlore Lessons

Mark Warren determines appropriate bark for making cordage.

Mark Warren determines appropriate bark for making cordage.

Recently, I observed the intense curiosity and active engagement of the boys as they listened to a story about the Cherokee Indians. It was presented by Mark Warren, naturalist, composer, writer and Director of Medicine Bow, A Primitive School of Earthlore in the North Georgia Mountains. Warren showed the boys their unique relationship with nature through the Earthlore (stories from nature) he had accumulated by the Native Americans. After engaging the boys in a discussion of Earthlore and nature, the boys went outdoors to experience hands- on activities that connected them to the spirit of Cherokee Indians who lived and walked the soil where the Cherokee Creek campus now sits. Mark then helped the boys experience nature as a source of food, medicine, craft materials, fire, tools, weaponry, play and shelter. Learning through the patient methods of the American Indians, the boys had an incredible opportunity for academic as well as spiritual growth. They encountered their masculine spirit through the rituals of an Indian Warrior. These rituals included learning how to hand drill a fire from wood, stalk without being seen, and make cordage (rope) from tree bark. For me, the day was a “real and true” demonstration of the living and practical messages of the medicine wheel –the warrior, visionary, healer and teacher. He showed us how our Cherokee ancestors lived in harmony with nature. But the day went beyond Warren’s lessons of Earthlore. It was a poignant demonstration of the power of mentoring. He shared not only skills and knowledge but also the important message for all males, “I am wise, strong, loved, and a man.Jane Barker, LISW, is the Clinical Services Manager at Cherokee Creek Boys School, located in the upstate of South Carolina.

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Turning It Around

Denise Savidge with Sam and "driver" Nick - too cute!

Denise Savidge with Sam and "driver" Nick - too cute!

Next week marks my one year anniversary of joining the Cherokee Creek Boys School staff as Academic Dean. It’s been an amazing journey of growth, self-discovery, and relationship building in what I call fondly, “The Greatest Job Ever.”

There will likely be those who ponder how big a (choose from suck-up, butt-kisser, brown-noser) I am by writing a blog so blatantly complimentary to my colleagues. But you have to know them. When you’re as delighted as I am to come every day and work with these folks, you feel the need to spread the love on a little thick now and then.

Two years ago I was homeless and jobless. Who wouldn’t feel lucky to have a job — any job — given those circumstances? Somewhere close to MLK day 2010, I was packed up and halfway home to Pennsylvania to live in my parents’ basement. That’s the absolute truth. Well okay, the basement is actually unfinished. I probably could have scored my old bedroom. Thanks to the miracle of modern smart phone communication, an email was delivered offering me a job to make just-above-poverty-level in the local school district. It was enough to get by. It was also a foot in the door, and I turned around and drove five hours back to where I’d started.

That fortuitous email was the beginning of a much needed walk in faith and fellowship. The friends and relationships I’ve formed since turning around that day make life before that point look like a scrimmage against myself. I had been losing no matter what, questioning every decision and second guessing every move. It was mental torture I was inflicting upon myself. Does this sound like something our boys have experienced?

Each move I made after my personal decision to turn my car around brought me closer to finding CCBS one year later, where I finally feel at home. Every perceived misstep I took gained me a skill set I’m using daily in a giant montage of job freedom and creativity. It’s good, hard, rewarding work with payoffs every day – always based in being able to witness and be part of the “turn around” the boys do while they’re here. It’s a team effort in which there are no superstars claiming MVP, just team players acknowledging the other guy’s part in the process.

Turning around is a BIG theme here at CCBS. Our boys come to “turn it around.” Our families get to take a new course along with them. And we’ve grown so much as a school since about this time last year. We all manage to grow and change on these healing soils – from the trees to the people to the school itself.

This week, we were told we would again be recommended for accreditation by SACS. We can’t reveal most of the contents of the study until it’s published, but suffice it to say we were showered with some pretty amazing and heartwarming Commendations. To have strangers walk onto your campus and immediately recognize the warmth, camaraderie, cohesion, and respect among students and staff is a pretty big accolade.

Have you ever wondered about our claim to be “The Small School with the Big Heart?” Even first time visitors see it. Next time you’re in the area, turn around for a quick visit with us. It’s always rewarding to see the good work going on around here.

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Announcing the Family Center!

Members of our most recent Family Trek in November: Beth Venable is center among CCBS students, parents, siblings, guides and staff.

Members of our most recent Family Trek in November just after completing a zip-line canopy tour: Family Center Director Beth Venable is center among CCBS students, parents, siblings, guides and staff.

Hi folks…we are terribly excited to share this press release that is going out today to our extended “learning community” of parents, alumni, educational consultants and industry professionals. We have always been proud of our family focus and we hope, if you currently have a boy with us, you feel the care and dedication we offer to both the child and the entire family. The Family Center is a long-held dream of Founder Beth Black. Her experience as “the mom” of a struggling child in a therapeutic program and her commitment to serving the whole family is directly reflected in our mission statement to “challenge boys…and their families…to discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.” While we have been serving families from the beginning, we have grown to a place where we can launch our Family Center and have a focused, coordinated program for the entire family.

Press Release:
Cherokee Creek Boys School is pleased to announce launch of the Cherokee Creek Family Center. This new department will be headed by Beth Venable, formerly Marketing and Communications Director. She will report directly to Executive Director David LePere.

Beth was selected because of her excellent experiential education and program development background and deep interest in family-centered healing. She was the founder of our weekend CCBS Treks program for students and the Family Treks program for our parents and siblings. She will continue to manage marketing and communications duties during the start up of the department. Once the Center is fully up and running, marketing and communications will be assigned elsewhere within the organization.

“Establishing the Family Center has been a long-held dream for Cherokee Creek,” stated LePere. “Serving the whole family is a key part our mission. The Family Center lets us take our commitment to boys and their families to the next level. Not only will we bring the design and implementation of our current family services under common management, we are also adding new programs and activities.”

Beth Venable adds, “We are proud of our numerous existing services, including Family Seminars, Family Treks, sibling activities, Women’s Retreats for CCBS mothers,  Father/Son events, and our Alumni Weekend. The new Family Center will allow us to make these programs even better and to introduce several new elements such as Alumni Treks, Parent Coaching, Transition workshops, and skill development workshops to address the needs and interests of our boys and their families.”

What’s first? “Two ‘Women of Courage’ Retreats for CCBS moms, the quarterly Family Seminar featuring a special ‘Boundaries Boot Camp’ skill-building workshop…all in February!” says Venable. “We are excited and ready to get started!”

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The Burpee Challenge

From Left: Rick, Dain, Academic Dean Denise Savidge, Executive Director David LePere and Jackson all participated in the Burpee Challenge today.

From Left: Rick, Dain, Academic Dean Denise Savidge, Executive Director David LePere and Jackson all participated in the Burpee Challenge today.

A day after New Year’s, a friend of mine told me he was starting a 100-day Burpee Challenge. Thinking this would have something to do with growing plants, I asked, “Does that involve vegetables, or flowers?” He laughed, then without any explanation, did something that caught me completely by surprise. My friend squatted down, kicked his legs out behind him, did a push-up, brought his legs back in and from a squatting position jumped up with his hands reaching for the sky.

“That’s a burpee!” Excitedly he continued, “My brother and I have just started this great workout plan. We do one burpee on day one, two on day two, and so on until on day 100, we do 100.” He waited until he saw that I understood and then asked, “Want to join us? We’re on day 1.”

“Sure. That sounds like fun! I do need to get in shape for a sea kayaking trip.” I said quickly.

Doing 1 burpee was pretty easy so I later consulted Saint Google to see if joining my friends would actually get me in shape for a sea-kayaking trip I have coming up in the spring.

Apparently, over the course of the 100 days, we will do 5000 push-ups each…( and 5000 lunges… and 5000 squat thrusts!) …I love exercise, but the thought of those 5000 push-ups seemed overwhelming!

I’ve stuck with the plan and am on day 25 now. It is actually starting to become fun. The last few are always tough, but now that my body is adapting, the first 15 and even 20 were easy.  I’ve overcome my initial doubt that I could finish the whole challenge because all I have to do is “just do one more than I did yesterday”…and it’s not hard to do one burpee.

David, Rick and Denise in full burpee action.

David, Rick and Denise in full burpee action.

On day 2, I invited the staff and students of Cherokee Creek Boys School to join me in the challenge. During this quarter, we are studying the value of Courage in our classrooms, our outdoor treks, and in our PATH work. We already have PE every day before classes and many of our students are on the basketball team, so I just put the invitation out there. Eight courageous boys and one courageous Academic Dean embraced the challenge.

It reminded me that great goals are achieved one step – or pushup – at a time.  It’s a great message for everyone, but especially for students. By “exercising” courage to take on new challenges…and just doing a little bit more than we did last time, we can accomplish great feats in our lives!

If any of you who are going on the CCBS sea kayaking trip with me in April, it’s not too late to join the challenge? One burpee is really easy…

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“Just Try It, Buddy.”

Noah Climbs

Noah reaches new heights...after voicing his concerns.

My daughter’s school recently held a short presentation that included the best and worst phrases you can say to a child. There was a buzz about the room as the audience went through the list and reacted. We parents patted ourselves on the back for the many “Best” things we said frequently to our children. We cringed at some of the “Worst” things that had been said to us as children and sheepishly admitted that, yes, we had said some of them to our children, too.

Unanimously we all paused at the end of the list of the worst statements. The phrase, “Just try it, buddy,” rounded out the list.

Of course, it must be a threat, right? “You cross that line one more time and you’ll regret it. Just try it, Buddy!” A baited warning that mom or dad had met their limit…the final straw. I am certain this is how it was meant in my house growing up and can easily visualize the body language: pointed finger, hand on hip, raised eyebrow, etc.

And then our presenter clarified why “Just try it, buddy,” had made the “Worst” list. This phrase was NOT included because of its common use as a stern warning or threat. The context, we were informed, was the circumstance where a child is communicating or demonstrating real resistance to trying something we parents think they should be ready or wanting to try that, perhaps, they are unsure, unready or afraid to attempt.  What is called for in this moment is listening…not our well-meant coaching.

“Huh? Are we not supposed to encourage our kids to try things, to step out of their box?” we challenged. Our discussion continued, a circle of folks meeting the common parenting challenge of when to push and when to pause.

Of course, as parents, teachers, counselors and clinicians, we often have to give “our kids” a nudge when it comes to new things, new activities and new responsibilities. “Just try it, Buddy,” is used here as a cautionary tale. Sometimes there is real fear, real anxiety or another “real” reason that a child is digging in their heels.

In those moments I hope I remember to pause and listen and make the statement, “I will listen to your concerns.” Ninety percent of the time it will be followed by a pep talk about perseverance over fear and trying new things…but once in a blue moon it will be time to try something different…to say, “That’s OK, Buddy, let’s try this instead.”

At Cherokee Creek Boys School we study the Way of the Warrior in the winter months. The lessons of the Warrior include knowing the right language, time, place, etc.

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Way of the Parenting Warrior

A few of of the boys with Nali, one of our canine Trek staff.

A few of of the boys with Nali, one of our canine Trek staff.

I disappointed my daughter today – her birthday, of all days. I’d promised her a dog after she tearfully approached me saying she missed our old dog that mysteriously disappeared in October. So I showed up early at preschool and took her to the local shelter. I’d secretly been doing recon on one certain dog for weeks and was confident he was still available three days since my last visit. Needless to say he wasn’t. I’d blown it. Someone saw him the day before and his sign read “I’m Adopted!!” I was crushed.

I can’t tell you how firmly my heart was set on that beautiful red chow mix. But Grace’s wasn’t – she had never met him. In her joyous, five-year-old exuberance, any old dog would do as long as we took one home then. I halfheartedly took a pretty, white, husky mix out to the dog run to play. Grace had a blast chasing him, while throwing the ball and Frisbee. He played along a little, but was more interested in menacing the puppy in the run next door and twice snapped his head around, annoyed at my daughter for interrupting that mission. Obviously, he didn’t come home with us and Grace was NOT happy. She stomped, cried, and generally made my life miserable all the way home as I attempted to explain we would try again another day. She wasn’t having it.

Upon reflection that evening, I recognized the mistakes I had made and how to fix them next time. First, I failed to set the boundaries of our visit – that we were looking for a dog, but might not take one home that day. Next visit I will remember to define the parameters ahead of time and come out the shining mom I know I am.

Second, I neglected to be consistent in my words and action. I told her she could have a dog for her birthday. That, to a five-year-old, means “dog on birthday,” so I broke my implied promise. Walking the talk is something I’m usually pretty good at when it comes to following up with consequences. I learned I need to be cognizant of saying what I mean and meaning what I say ALL the time.

Third, I forgot to conduct due diligence to see if the dog I picked as the perfect match for our family was still available. A disciplined check on the internet could have helped me avoid the whole situation. I’ve resolved that being busy isn’t an excuse for important information gathering!

This learning path I traveled falls nicely into our new quarter: The Warrior Leadership skills ask us to align our words with actions, be responsible and disciplined, and to respect limits and boundaries. When we disregard doing so, we fail ourselves and others, unintentionally or otherwise.

Not to worry, Gracie will get her dog, I will get over my disappointment, and the Husky may get another chance without distractions. Who knows? I may name him Warrior.

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In 2012 I Resolve…

A photo from our annual December retreat last week

A photo from our annual December staff retreat last week

Very often it is the wisdom of others that is the most inspiring. My list of resolutions for the New Year sound like an echo from last year..”lose a few pounds, get organized, exercise more.” I genuinely aspire to these life improvement challenges, but they are personal commitments and not terribly inspiring.

When my good friend Jack Levine – founder of the 4Generations Institute (www.4Gen.org ) and a professional advocate for children and families – shared his  “real and true” resolutions I said, “Wow, now that’s inspiring!” His pledges, if kept, would make the world a better place. A much grander plan!

With his permission, I share them with you. I hope you have had wonderful holidays and that these resolutions inspire you to begin the New Year with hope and optimism for the blessings to be discovered in 2012!


As we prepare to launch into the New Year, please reflect with me for a few minutes on who we are and where we hope to go in the 12-months ahead.

2011 was a year of changes, challenges and new responsibilities.  Life is about transitions, and as an incurable optimist, I believe the year ahead will open new doors and present valuable opportunities for all of us. I hope you agree…..

15 NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS FOR 2012
In 2012 I resolve….

— To appreciate my family, friends, and colleagues for who they are, what they mean to me and others, and to gracefully overlook some things they do (or don’t do!).  None of us is perfect and accepting that reality helps relationships flourish.

— To act upon wrongs that need righting, crass statements that require correction, and offenses that demand just responses.  We set a positive example by not accepting negativity in others.

— To be a valuable teammate and to trust others to do their best.  Each of us should know what position we play, and regularly practice our skills to be our personal best.

— To actively listen to the voices of children and elders. Accepting the wisdom of innocence and experience is both free and priceless.

— To accept that I don’t know everything. By collaborating with others who know much more, together we can create a great brain trust and blend expertise.

— To pleasantly surprise someone every day with a genuine smile and unexpected kindness in word and deed.  Life’s subtle gifts of compassion and concern are cherished.

— To respect and celebrate the diversity of faiths, feelings, and fashions. Differences are natural and honoring each others’ perspectives creates mutual admiration.

— To exercise artistic expression for its intrinsic value. The vitality of the instrumental, literary, dance, visual or vocal arts fuels the soul and expands the mind to new possibilities.

— To invest a thoughtful minute before I speak or act.  Regret is often preventable. Reversing harm is one of life’s most vexing challenges.

— To honor those who courageously sacrifice for us at home and abroad, care for our health, educate, protect us and perform the healing and helping arts so that our quality of life is improved.

— To share even if I think I don’t have enough. Setting an example by giving to others in need is one of the best lessons for children to observe.

— To protect, defend and advocate for people who rely on me. Give special attention to the needs of others of every stage of life who may not know how to find their own voice.

— To preserve natural environments for their beauty and bounty. Natural settings are home to plant-life and species which are too often victims of our wants, not our needs.

— To never give up on a person or a cause, despite the challenges we face. Perseverance is an attitude that exemplifies leadership, attracts allies, and creates meaningful change.

— To speak truth to power, but to be both polite and persistent. There’s a fine line between persistence and pestilence. Resist aggressiveness, but advocate with assertion, confidence and commitment to the cause.  Advocating for prevention policies and programs that keep bad things from happening is the most important of all investments.

Happy New Year!

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Powering Down

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

Academic Dean Denise Savidge

“You aren’t depressed; our brains just aren’t equipped for 21st-century life.” This quote comes from esteemed health expert Andrew Weil, M.D. from his new book Spontaneous Happiness. And since we really have no choice in which century we’re destined to exist, that statement sounds like it could be a major bummer … sending us all into a tailspin spiral of, well, DEPRESSION.

But wait, there’s more. “In my experience, the more people have the less likely they are to be contented. Indeed there is abundant evidence that depression is a ‘disease of affluence’,” he adds.  To which I breathe a huge sigh of relief, because everybody knows teachers don’t typically drive Maseratis and earn salaries in six-figure range. However, the population that does still has an out … specifically the outdoors.

Dr. Weil goes on to discuss the overload of information and stimulation present in the age of the Internet. Very few of us these days are far removed from our email, mobile phones, texts, televisions or tweets [information surfeit]. Meanwhile we’re missing out on very important time spent outdoors [Richard Louv has coined it “nature deficit”]. The combination is causing us problems. He further explains, “This kind life simply was not an option throughout most of human history,” and therefore the brains we’ve developed just aren’t equipped to handle all this chaos we’ve created.

Weil’s solution? Since throwing away the communication links would make it difficult for most of us to keep our jobs, he offers five Tips for Modern Life. Paraphrased, they are:

1) Bring more of your awareness to the present moment and train your mind and concentration on one thing.

2) Sleep in complete darkness. Try to be out in bright light during the day.

3) Reach out to others. Be social.

4) Avoid disturbing sounds. Try to cultivate silence.

5) Set limits on the amount of time you spend with modern technology.

His advice reminds me of the Cherokee Creek Medicine Wheel and many of our underlying philosophies for helping boys reach a state of good health. On campus one will often hear, “Be present in the moment.” We arrange outdoor activity for our boys numerous times during the day, including PE before class to prepare our learners to learn and even off campus wilderness Treks on the weekends. We live in social “packs” and advocate community-cooperation. And we severely limit television, video games, and internet usage. Using Weil’s standards, our therapeutic program is the perfect storm toward curing depression.

As adults, it’s important to remember that modern technology is a little like, “too much of a good thing,” kind of like a goose laying a golden egg every minute and a half instead of once a day. Soon we will be spending our time gathering the eggs and find we have no time left to enjoy the rest of our life! And that’s depressing.

In what area could you let go of a few eggs? And might there be platinum or rare jewels awaiting you in the outdoors?

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