More Than Just a “Fair” Brother!

At Cherokee Creek Boys School we proudly claim that we are the small school with a BIG heart. One of the biggest hearts on our campus belongs to our Operations Director, Phil Fairbrother, who recently celebrated his 10-year anniversary with us.

Phil Fairbrother, Operations Director, Cherokee Creek Boys School

Phil Fairbrother, Operations Director, Cherokee Creek Boys School

Phil is a multi-talented individual with a background in engineering, construction, business, teaching, and outdoor adventure. So when he learned about our desire to holistically blend academic learning and therapeutic counseling with outdoor recreation and nature, Phil was intrigued and attracted to the school.  After coming on board in September of 2003, Phil, his wife, and two others operated the school for a few months (just the four of them!) to bring the dream to fruition.

In the early days Phil taught Math to the boys and served as a second shift counselor. A year later when he was invited by Sports Illustrated to complete a project for them at the Summer Olympics in Greece, Phil still committed to stay connected with the boys by teaching them through an interactive curriculum program.

Throughout the years Phil has taken on the challenge of various roles and responsibilities. In his current position as Operations Director he oversees such departments as Bookkeeping, Human Resources, Nursing, Maintenance, and the Kitchen. Each Thanksgiving, he is in charge of roasting the turkeys using his special pit-cooking technique. On top of all of these things Phil also serves as the community water safety officer for our area.

Watch as we sing Happy Birthday to Phil!

Watch as we sing Happy Birthday to Phil!

A little known fact about Phil is that he has earned a couple of black belts in martial arts. He enjoys studying the Katana, which is one of the traditional swords made and worn by the samurais in feudal Japan. Phil gave us a martial arts demonstration once that impressed all of us, but especially the boys!

We’d like to thank Phil for his many years of hard work and dedication. Cherokee Creek Boys School is a better place because of Phil, and countless numbers of students have been impacted because of his academic instruction, his wisdom about life, his joy of nature, and his example as a positive role model.

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To Boldly Go Where No Man Has Gone Before…

Spencer Palmer joined the Treks team at Cherokee Creek Boys School in September 2012 having just finished a summer stint as an expedition leader for Deer Hill Expeditions in the Four Corners area of Colorado. While in Colorado, Spencer led extended backpacking and rafting trips with adolescent clients. He’s a 2012 graduate of Toccoa Falls College, with a major in Outdoor Leadership and Education.

Spencer Palmer - CCBS Trek Manager

Spencer Palmer - CCBS Treks Manager

Spencer’s involvement in the outdoors has been lifelong. He was active in Boy Scouts and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. He was an avid hunter and fisherman growing up in the Toccoa area with his two brothers. At the local Y Camp near Talullah Gorge, Spencer was assistant adventure director, working with campers on outdoor trips and rope course activities.

In 2008, Spencer “thru hiked” the Appalachian Trail, taking just under five months to traverse the mountains from Georgia to Maine. “Thru hikers” usually adopt a nickname for notes and sign-ins along the trail. Spencer’s moniker was “One Flop”. Since he is a stickler for details (something that continues to shine through in his work at Cherokee Creek), he walked every foot of the trail and made sure that every side trip began and ended at the same spot on the “AT”.

Spencer also brings a love of wild water to complement his overall love of the wilderness. He’s an experienced kayaker, paddling Class IV water all over the Southeast. He shares his organizational talents with the paddling community by helping to organize festivals on the Tallulah River in Georgia and the Ocoee River in Tennessee.

We are blessed that Spencer is able to bring all of these talents and passions to bear on the whitewater canoeing program at Cherokee Creek.

As our new Treks Program Manager, Spencer hopes to create new outdoor activities for the boys, continue to maintain our enviable safety record (like all our Trek staff, Spencer is a certified Wilderness First Responder), and further integrate our PATH work into the outdoor curriculum. Right off the bat, he’s instituting new methods of staff training and development so that everyone involved with the Trek program is on a continuous path of self-improvement.

Everyone at Cherokee Creek is looking forward to working with Spencer. He brings a wealth of knowledge and a passion for the outdoors to our students.

Thanks for being on our team, Spencer!

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A Fond Farewell to a Long-time Employee

David LePere and Clarence Robinson

David LePere and Clarence Robinson

At Cherokee Creek, our mentors come in all sizes, shapes, ages and genders! We recently said farewell to one of our senior mentors, Clarence Robinson, who dedicated 8 years to our boys as a night shift counselor at Cherokee Creek Boys School. Last week we held a retirement party for him and it was a grand event! Our students made a bright yellow 16 foot long poster. The kitchen served up a fancy lunch and added desert, which is rare on our “limited sugar” campus.

We gathered all our students and staff and Clarence’s wife to host an Honorable Closure ceremony for Clarence. This event honors community members for their contributions, the relationships they built over time, the stories that were shared, the knowledge that was created, the healing that has taken place and the work that was accomplished. It is a time for everyone to say goodbye and for the honoree to leave with dignity, respect, a sense of their own value, and their value to the community.

Everyone was invited to share a favorite memory and wish Clarence well in his retirement. And, Clarence told a few stories about his times here. The most famous story…now a legendary part of our school history…was about the time he walked around the corner of a bunkhouse in the middle of the night and came to nose-to-nose with a black bear! The bear scrambled up the hillside, leaving claw marks as evidence. We’re not sure who was more alarmed, the bear or Clarence…although he claims to have lost a few years of growth! While we never saw the bear again, Clarence proved his dedication to our school by coming back to work the next night.

Clarence also gave the boys some advice. In a straight-shooting grandfatherly way he gave us a few “real and true” nuggets of gold…

“When I was a kid, any black kids were thought of as bad kids. What I have learned is that we are all the same, it doesn’t matter if you are white, black or purple.” Clarence grew up in rural South Carolina in the 50’s.

“You will always have a boss, someone who tells you what to do. Learn to respect the authority that your bosses have.”…he playfully winked at his wife on this one…

“Your parents love you. I hear you sometimes moan and complain that they won’t let you do this activity or buy you these shoes, or whatever. But I’ve got to tell you, your parents love you. In fact, they tell you ‘NO’ because they love you. They want you to learn to work for your things and be responsible for yourself.”…couldn’t have said it better myself!

Congratulations Clarence! Thank you from all the members of the Cherokee Creek community. Your hard work and wisdom have helped many students to “…discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.”

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Reflections on Mentoring

At August Family Seminar, Beth Venable mentors parents on how to develop a village of support before their students return home.

At August Family Seminar, Beth Venable mentors parents on how to develop a village of support before their sons return home.

As I prepare to leave CCBS and take the next step on my career path, I find myself reflecting on all I have learned here and the power of mentors throughout my life.

Mentors are people who help reveal “what is real and true about you and the world around you” by role modeling, teaching, and, as Dan Rather once said are people who” believe in you, who tug and push and lead you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called “Truth.'”

Dr. Beger, my high school mentor & teacher, taught me that I had a power and purpose that was innately mine. She taught me how to access my courage, even when it was buried near my toes. Jane Condon, my high school’s principal, showed me that leadership can be a class act, that teams of people are happiest when they know why you have picked them. Shelby Hicks, my first boss, taught me about service and gave my my first lessons in business as she taught me to keep the books in a pencil ledger, the same way her father had before her. John Degan, a college professor who became a dear friend, taught me that no man need be an island, that exceptional performance is a rare treasure and that I could work my fanny off and still get a “C.” Ellen Richard, who hired me fresh out of college at the Roundabout Theatre, taught me that all the Southern charm I can muster will have little result if I don’t do my job well. She also taught me, rather painfully, that everyone is replaceable. Suzanne Youngerman, the Program Director at Young Audiences at the time, taught me what program development is and how to do it well. The “Duenas” (my mother’s close girlfriends) taught me how to return to my authentic self, when I had all but lost any thread of her. Jack Wise, with whom I once sunk a boat, taught me about accepting “what is” and moving ahead whether you like it or not. Beth Black, who founded Cherokee Creek Boys School, taught me the value of orienting your business, first and foremost, by its mission and values and about what it really means to put form after function.

Though none of these folks are my immediate family, their impact on my life has been profound. These are some of the greatest mentors I have intersected in my life. Beginning at the age of 13 and continuing on to today, they have presented themselves as catalysts for change throughout the years.

Some of them were great inspirations, others have made me wince with the raw reality of “real life.” All of them were invaluable and changed my life for the better. I would not trade any of these relationships for a life of ease and riches. I believe the most interesting tapestries are the ones with an abundance of colors, a rainbow of stories and even a few knots.

We all need mentors who help us uncover our authentic self and move toward discovering and living out our purpose. I want to express to all parents that your sons have wonderful mentors at CCBS. They will be blessed by their experience here and remember their favorite staff with affection…as will I. Thank you to everyone who has touched my life while at Cherokee Creek…you have added a stitch to the tapestry of my life.

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Coming Full Circle

Getting to know each other on the front porch

Getting to know each other on the front porch

Charlie walked up the steps to Cherokee Creek Boys School on his first day…eyes averted, head down, anxious and awkward. “Hi, I’m Josh,” said one of the veteran students as he walked up to Charlie with his hand held out in greeting. Charlie gave a half-hearted hand shake and mumbled his name. Josh said, “Hey, look, let me show you around some; we can shoot pool or something.” Within 30 minutes Josh and Charlie were talking, shooting pool and becoming fast friends.

Josh was filling the role of “student mentor,” who helps orient a new student to his surroundings. Cherokee Creek Boys School is “the small school with a big heart,” and Josh was doing one of the things that helps to make a new student feel safe and comfortable. A student’s perspective of what is important to know is often different from a staff’s perspective. A student can relate well to another student, which in turn helps ease the transition into the new environment.

Coming full circle, here was this confident and reassuring mentor who just 14 months earlier was the awkward, scared and unsure new student himself.

Whom do you mentor, and who mentors you?

Phil Fairbrother is the Operations Director at Cherokee Creek Boys School, a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys ages 11-15 in Upstate South Carolina. Phil has been with CCBS since 2003.

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