Do You Want to be Right, or Do You Want to be Happy?

Boy, did I ever hear that a lot growing up.  As most teens fresh out of puberty, I had plenty of opinions that were Phil - website portraitnon-negotiable.  I was right and that was that.  My parents (and any other adult for that matter) didn’t have a clue and were obviously, hopelessly out of touch.

Then, by the magical humor of the universe, before I knew it I had teenagers of my own.  Now I understand some of what my parents had to deal with, and their gracious patience and understanding.

Fortunately, I also work at Cherokee Creek Boys School and have the advantage of seeing middle school behavior in generous supply.  Our school is a learning environment both in academics and social skills.  I could see what great effect we were having on the lives of our students here at school, and I decided to try some of the same techniques at home.

First, I recognized the division of labor…hey, I really don’t have to do everything AND know everything.  My teens  were developing their independence for the first time … they were supposed to act as if they knew everything.  I remembered that as a young teen, I had just enough years under my belt to feel like I had a handle on all of life’s difficulties.  It wasn’t until I added a couple of decades that I began to realize how much I didn’t know.

So, with my own kids, I changed my approach and my role.  I realized that they were in a transition phase and needed to form their own opinions and reasoning.  I changed from telling them how they were suppose to think to asking them why they thought a certain way, and I tried to help them form more fully their own thoughts.  I was happy to see the openness that developed between us when they were able to express their own thoughts and feelings.

After all, I reasoned, I’m not going to be able to make decisions for my kids their whole life, nor would I want to. So I changed my approach from telling and demanding to asking and listening. My role switched from dictator to mentor and coach.   I realized that they were in a transition phase and needed to form their own opinions and reasoning.  They were trying out new ideas for the first time and developing the ability to express these fledgling ideas to their peers and to adults.

I decided to be happy and enjoy my kids … let them take on the anxiety of being right. It is a rite of passage we, as their wiser parents or teachers, must allow them. It is a rite of passage they, as young warriors, must be allowed as they discover what is Real and True about the world around them!

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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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“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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Save Money This Holiday Season!

David LePere

David LePere

How many times have you heard this recently:

Save money this holiday season!

Really, it is possible. Let’s push the pause button on the rush of the season for a few minutes and think about what kind of toys our kids would do well to have.

As we prepare for the holidays and gift-giving for our children, our current culture would have us believe that more is better or that electronics lead to happiness. But I recently read an article that reminds me that it isn’t always glitz and glamor and bells and whistles that capture the attention of our children.  Imagination and interaction are the most fun part of toys.  And that what brings happiness is the thoughtfulness of the gift, not the price tag.

I was struck by the simplicity of the wisdom in this article from “WIRED” magazine about the top 5 toys of all time. When you read the article, I hope you smile as you remember all of the fun you’ve had playing with these toys yourself!

So, what are the top 5 toys of all time?? My children are 10, 7 and 5 years old and If I were to get all 5 of these toys for each my sons, I could probably spend less than 10 dollars on my entire Christmas and create hours of family fun! I’ll give you a hint…much of it can be found in your backyard or in the garage.

Enjoy the article, it’s great fun! What would you add to the list that would help us “discover what is real and true?”

The 5 Best Toys of All Time

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Plan Q Ain’t So Bad

Oconee State Park is one of my sacred spaces. There is nothing fancy about it, in fact, quite the contrary. It is plain and purposeful with living history at every bend in the trail. Perhaps it is the history that feels like a warm blanket and serves as a reminder that this special place has seen generations of families pass through its gates.

A few Saturdays ago I walked into the meeting room at Oconee to prep our most recent Family Trek. I took a moment to inhale the scent of wood smoke, antiques and Murphy’s Oil Soap. I thought about the Family Trek 2 years ago that challenged every fiber of my Type A being over the course of 4 days, taking my “Plan A” on a journey to “Plan Q.” In November 2009, our Family Trek was intersected with the remnants of Hurricane Ida and the Swine Flu. The rain came down unabated, the river rose to flood stages and a few folks found themselves isolated in their 80 year old cabins sans internet, TV or phone connection to the outside world.

Plan A was quickly discarded for Plan B, and so on, as our team of staff adapted to the changes in weather and circumstances. Plans B through G were out too and continued problem solving down the alphabet until we arrived at a very creative Plan Q!

Personally, few experiences have offered more growth in such a limited amount of time. The lesson? “Be open to outcome,” the same lesson we study every fall in our Learning Community at Cherokee Creek. Learning how to let go of the things you cannot control and becoming more flexible, trusting and resilient. Our Family Trek is designed to offer opportunities for these lessons to be experienced.

I can’t deny that it feels great to end on Plan A, because it feels awesome! There is an incredible sense of power when it all comes together exactly the way you envisioned it. However, being faced with adversity and meeting it with resilience is different – it is empowerment. And it is through resilience and empowerment (and quite a bit of flexibility) that we learn about equanimity and balance to grow the strong roots that see us through the storms.

It is my most sincere hope that each of our participating families discover the real and true depth of their resilience, their flexibility and feel empowered as they discover the new plan.

I look forward to seeing some of you in May! Until then, enjoy the slideshow below of the last Family Trek at the beginning of this month:


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No Longer This Person

Ben heads to graduation, mask in hand

Ben heads to graduation, mask in hand

On Friday we celebrated Ben’s graduation. As always, it was a solemn, sweet, fun and meaningful experience filled with several rituals that intentionally fill this rite of passage. One of the early actions a graduate takes during his ceremony is the burning of his mask. The mask is symbolic of the person he used to be. Like a snake leaving behind its skin, he burns the mask to represent he is no longer this person.

Ben’s graduation was filled with comments about his attention to detail. So, it is fitting that the process showcased here of creating (and destroying) a mask reflects Ben’s simple yet detailed reflection on the person he was and has grown out of. There are two short videos below. The first is of Therapist Carla Shorts applying the plaster casting to cast a mold of Ben’s face. The second is a quick slideshow of the complete journey from casting to burning.

Congratulations, Ben! We are proud of you and the hard work you have done on your journey of self-discovery!

Video of Ben’s mask being created (1:12):

Slides of the whole process (:29):

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Ripples in the Water

May 2011 FT Group

Twice a year at Cherokee Creek Boys School, about 10 families get together for a very different experience. They come together for 4 days of adventure, fellowship, family time, peace, fun…and a little bit of chocolate mixed with marshmallow mixed with graham cracker.

The outomes of the experience are like ripples on the water. They pulse outward extending far beyond 4 days of activities. Our May Family Trek just wrapped up a couple of weeks ago and a couple of unexpected ripples have made their way back to us. One of our dads, Jack, sent a link to his blog post inspired by the event (provided below).  Jack gives a wonderful perspective as a parent navigating through the experience of parenting a son at a therapeutic boarding school. And Oconee State Park, where the event is based, sent a thank you note for food donated at the end of the trip. The note was signed by all of the members of the prison work crew the food helped to feed in the days following the Family Trek.

You can see from the video below that, most importantly, our Trek family had a great experience filled with Love, Courage, Truth and Wisdom.

Stay-at-Home Dad: Kudzu

Slideshow of highlights:


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Divine Comedy

Phil works with an early CCBS student on a building project

Phil works with an early CCBS student on a building project

“I hate you.  I’m going to run away.” That was my son at 7 years of age – willful and independent – pretty typical, I know, but then I added, “Good. I’ll help you pack.” I stood there while my son stuffed his red Elmo stuffed toy and other essentials into his small daypack and headed for the door. I was slightly amused, but also amazed and ashamed that this little powerhouse of energy was able to put me in that emotional spot so easily.

In another instant I was remembering myself as a child that age and shouting that same thing to my parents, righteously justified and utterly convinced of the injustice of my life. I also remembered the blessing uttered by parents and grandparents everywhere, “May you get one just like you.”

I often find that the universe has a sense of humor – like a perpetual April Fool’s Day.

I love my parents completely and unconditionally…a gift from the universe that was hard wired into me at birth. However, the deep love and fierce sense of protection I feel for my son is a gift from him. There is just no way I could have reached that level of emotion and devotion on my own. I needed the help of another soul, one who at times is helpless, at times is independent, but is almost always a true reflection of myself.

At Cherokee Creek Boys School, the small school with the big heart, we are entering the Visionary aspect of our Lessons of the Medicine Wheel; a time when we emphasize Truth and the lesson, “Tell the Truth without Blame or Judgement.”

For me, truth is always mixed with a little humor. And the truth is that the love we feel for our children can make fools of us all. Learning to laugh at ourselves and see our own reflection in our children is a real and true gift.

Happy April Fool’s Day

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