Wilderness Leader Empowers Young “Warriors”

Christy Swafford, CCBS Assistant Admissions Directorby Christy Swafford, Assistant Admissions Director at CCBS

As we enter a new academic quarter, we are focusing upon what it means to be a “Warrior”. A Warrior makes a choice to “show up and be present”. There are four “I am” statements we teach at CCBS that coincide with being a Warrior:

I am a leader
I am courageous
I am responsible
I am powerful

There are different assignments the boys at Cherokee Creek Boys School are given as they learn about and live out each part of the CCBS Medicine Wheel. One of those assignments includes journal questions for personal reflection. The question that most stands out to me is “Who are the leaders and people who have inspired me, and how have they been sources of empowerment in my life?”

Liz Lucarelli - Wilderness TherapistA few boys had the opportunity to take a trip to visit their wonderful wilderness therapist, Liz Lucarelli. It was a perfect day for them to be Warriors and to focus upon one person who has been powerful in their lives. Each of these boys have said repeatedly that she has been a powerful person in their lives. She has influenced their therapeutic growth. She has empowered them on their journey of healing. She has helped them and find the best version of themselves.

Liz Lucarelli - Wilderness TherapistHere are a few quotes from these boys about Liz:

“Liz has impacted my life in so many ways. She has made me more courageous when I stood up for myself.”

“She has inspired my creativity.”

“Liz has empowered me when she pushed me to succeed.”

“She related to my emotions. She taught me unique way to cope with my sadness and anxiety.”

Who have been the leaders in your own life that have inspired and empowered you? Be sure to tell them thank you.

Here’s to a great 2017!

posted by Morgan Arnold in Discovering What is Real and True and have No Comments

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.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comment (1)

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.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (10)

“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.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (2)

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.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (2)

Women of Courage…

Women of Courage: CCBS Founder Beth Black, CCBS Manager of Clinical Services Jane Barker and 8 wonderful ladies who participated in this the innaugural Women of Courage retreat.

Women of Courage: CCBS Founder Beth Black, CCBS Manager of Clinical Services Jane Barker and 8 wonderful ladies who participated in this the innaugural Women of Courage retreat.

My dear friend Rick Stone wrote a wonderful book called The Healing Art of Storytelling. In it he says, “Telling a story, especially about ourselves, may be one of the most personal and intimate things we can do. Through storytelling we can come to know who we are in new and unforeseen ways. We can also reveal to others what is deepest in our hearts, and in the process, build bridges.” And when women gather in healing circles to tell their stories, extraordinary things happen!

In early February, 8 amazing Cherokee Creek Boys School moms gathered from around the country to attend “Women of Courage,” a retreat I hosted with Jane Barker, Manager of Clinical Services at CCBS. For two and a half days we read, wrote, talked, laughed, cried and ate great food (thanks to Beth Venable). We wove our stories into a beautiful “blanket of support,” creating a safe environment to share the vulnerable and authentic parts of our lives. We discovered, challenged assumptions, shed unnecessary burdens and made new commitments. And we laughed…a lot!

We began our retreat with a Rumi poem:

A Community of Spirit

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
If you want to be held.

Sit down in this circle

Our CCBS Medicine Wheel places Courage in the position of the Warrior and challenges us to, “Show up and be present.” The ten of us showed up fully with delight, passion and maybe even a bit of disgrace! We did, indeed, create a community of spirit. With courage, we opened our hands and arms to one another and sat in a circle of new friends.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in Discovering What is Real and True and have No Comments

River Lessons (Part 4)

River Lessons is a series of blogs from our students’ perspectives. Students recently reflected on their Treks experiences through writing and made connections to the Lessons of the Medicine Wheel and the 4 aspects of self they learn to explore while enrolled at Cherokee Creek: the Warrior, Visionary, Healer and Teacher.

Student: Mike
Aspect: Warrior
Statement: I am Courageous

“The Warrior is someone who shows up and chooses to be present. The I am statement courage was used more than any other skill on Trek. I used courage when I set up my tent in a difficult staking area, hiking Tallulah Gorge, sliding on the rock and talking to two girls, Danielle and Stephanie, and was able to ask for Danielle’s number in front of a big group of people. I had many self-confidence struggles before I came to CCBS and feel I made a huge change in one social conversation.”

Don’t you just love Mike’s courage and the way he stood up for himself!? He so clearly defines a rite of passage when he describes the, “huge change in one social conversation.”

Where do you stand up for yourself and declare your own value? When have you had to gather every drop of your own self-confidence to address a situation?

Lessons of the Medicine WheelCherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

posted by Shaler Black Cooper in River Lessons and have No Comments