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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You Can’t Have it Both Ways

As the rain continued for the FOURTH day in Westminster, SC, I chuckled at a friend’s Facebook post saying, “Hey! Quit grumping about all this rain when just a few months ago we were grumping about the drought and low lake levels. You can’t have it both ways.”

It reminded me of how often my parents used that exact phrase. It always drove me a little bit buggy to hear it (and usually was followed by a big long argument beginning with BUT WHY CAN’T I…?). This was my parents’ phrase for teaching me that life is full of choices and choosing meant something had to be given up as part of the bargain. I spent the better part of my 20s learning and relearning that I can’t expect to have my cake and eat it too.

This lesson, along with providing opportunities for our boys to rethink actions once given the consequences, are two of the primary  steps for teaching good choice-making here at Cherokee Creek Boys School. Life is full of choices. Life is full of consequences  —  both natural and man-made. Navigating the waters of life involve consistently making better choices for ourselves and our families. It’s not an easy task and it seemed like I’d barely gotten the hang of it before it became my duty to impart it to my children as a necessary task. Talk about feeling barely qualified!

My daughter Grace, who is six, came to me the other day wanting a piece of her sister’s birthday cake. It was the pre-dinner hour. I said she could have it right then or she could have it for dessert. She of course chose right then … because she is six and there is no “later” to six-year-olds. So she had the cake and ate her dinner. Of course everyone knows what happened after dinner: Big tears, wailing, flailing and drama that there wasn’t going to be a dessert piece. I held my ground, shuffled her off to the bath, and tucked her in shortly thereafter. The big pouty lip was still there as I tried to explain to her why she couldn’t have both pieces of cake. We talked about how sometimes waiting a little bit made things even better when you finally got them. She seemed to understand as I pulled out the piece of perennial wisdom, “Sometimes you have to choose, Grace. You can’t have it both ways.”

She nodded, pulled the covers up and – as only a six-year-old can – said, “Okay. I’ll have two tomorrow to make up for it.” I sighed. Thank heavens for more tomorrows to impart the lessons of choice.

Academic Dean and Mom Denise Savidge explains choices.

Academic Dean and Mom Denise Savidge explains choices.

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Holiday Videos

Holiday Web Greetings (click here)

Dear friends and families… The spirits are bright at CCBS as we approach the holiday break and the boys return home for family festivities. The team and I want to wish you all the very best of the holiday season and blessings for the new year! Please enjoy our “home made” holiday video… With love and joy! Also please be sure to view and “like” our new video that was recorded during our last family seminar. We have some movie stars in the making! We hope you enjoy it as much as we have and share it with others in your life who may need to hear a message of hope.

CCBS: The Small School with the Big Heart

All my best to you and your kin, David

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Making Movie Memories

One of my accomplishments at Cherokee Creek is to have avoided authorship of a blog for well over a year. And if you

Will's blogs are rare, but always have great advice!

William's blogs are rare, but always have great advice!

decide to read this modest contribution, you may end up hoping that I quickly start another streak of avoidance, procrastination and outlandish excuse-making!

Once I was backed into a corner with no apparent means of escape, my plan was to write something easy and brief. I decided to create a list of  “approved movies” for the upcoming Holiday Break!.  But I began to sense trouble when my list of recommendations quickly surpassed 50 movies. I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I feverishly began organizing my gargantuan list into subsections. I knew I was really in trouble when I began considering which were the best Samurai melodramas to include. After all, what list is complete without including “Zatoichi – The Blind Swordsman, Volume 7”? I’m not kidding, it’s great ’60s cinema from Japan with a strong message of morality and justice. Think Hopalong Cassidy in a kimono and swinging a sharp sword.

I really went overboard with sports movies. I know it’s a ‘guy’ thing, but it was no problem coming up with three dozen sports movies everyone should be able to quote around the dinner table. So I’m asking you to ‘take one for the gipper’ and consider my baker’s dozen list of off-beat and value-laden sports films. I’ve tried to stay away from the most obvious choices (“Hoosiers”, “Friday Night Lights”, “Field of Dreams”, etc.) and you might wonder at my loose definition of sports (chess and spelling are included), but I hope something on the list will spark your interest. I hope that you will watch  them with your son. And, mostly, I hope you enjoy the time together.

Okay, I’ll stop digressing and actually get to the list of my favorite PG and PG-13 ‘sports’ flicks:

St. Ralph” (2005, PG-13) A low-budget, indie gem from Canada. The story of a boy who spends most of his time confusing fantasy and reality and magically thinks that running the Boston Marathon will help his mother recover from illness. Very touching, very funny. WARNING – there’s one scene that might make you uncomfortable when the hero’s sexual fantasies get a little out of hand.

Finding Forrester” (2000, PG-13) This movie features Sean Connery, literature and basketball. And if that’s not enough, there’s a wonderful message of connection, kindness, truth and redemption. I can’t recommend this one enough.

Searching for Bobby Fisher” (1993, PG) One of my favorite films about learning to love your child and not the aspirations you have for him. It’s about chess tournaments, but it could be about any sport.

Akeelah and the Bee” (2006, PG) How do you spell HEARTFELT? If you haven’t seen this movie, watch it. It’s a great story of determination and making good choices.

Bend it Like Beckham” (PG-13) The dance scene at the wedding party is worth the rental. The story of an Indian girl in the UK finding the balance between a traditional family and a non-traditional love of football.

Believe In Me” ( 2006, PG) Another great girls basketball film, this one set in Oklahoma. Lots of sports films take more than a little liberty with the truth. This one, by all accounts, is solidly based in fact. And more inspirational for it!

The Black Stallion” (1979, G) I’m somewhat of an expert on equestrian cinema, due entirely to my daughter’s love of horses and riding. And I can safely say this is one of the best of that genre. Made by Coppola between the first two installments of “The Godfather”, the first half is a beautiful dreamlike sequence about the connection between animals and children. Mickey Rooney helps make the second half equally moving.

Forever Strong” (2008, PG-13) Bad choices lead a talented rugby player into serious trouble. But with some value-laden help, redemption is possible. Your son will probably relate to the clear demarcation between the good guys and the bad ones.

The Winning Season” (2010, PG-13) It never hurts for a great high school basketball movie to be set in Indiana. This one pairs a looser of a dad with a struggling girls team. Together they restore faith and values to one another in equal measure. A very sweet film.

Eight Men Out” (PG) John Sayles is one of my favorite directors and his retelling of the Black Sox scandal is both accurate and moving.

Sixty Six” (2010, PG-13) This one stretches the sports theme a bit, but it’s worth considering if you can find it. It’s the actual story of the film director’s bar mitzvah, which happened to coincide with England’s last , and totally unexpected, world cup championship. Funny and poignant.

The Perfect Game” (2010, PG) The true story of a Mexican team that unexpectedly made it to the Little League World Series in the late ’50s.

Galipolli” (1981, PG) My list wouldn’t be complete without an entry from down under. This is the story of two young, aspiring track stars (an early role for Mel Gibson) in Australia who run off to World War I. It’s the story of friendship and the tragedy of the ill conceived Dardanelles campaign where so many ANZ soldiers perished.

Here’s hoping you find some time during holiday visits and vacations to enjoy one or more of my favorites! There’s nothing that encourages “real and true” discussion than a good flick and a big bowl of popcorn.

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Living in Gratitude

Dear Friends and Family,

The year is quickly drawing to a close and I’d like to take a moment to extend my greatest blessings to everyone and share a quote from Living in Gratitude: A Journey That Will Change Your Life by Angeles Arrien.

Thanksgiving is a time to harvest, appreciate, and celebrate those things that have come to fruition in our lives during the year, in both external and internal ways. Perhaps a valued relationship has deepened. We may have seen a project through from the idea to reality, become confident in a new skill, or noticed that we have integrated an important experience that has made us wiser. As we answer the question “What are you thankful for today?” it is important to appreciate the work we have done to bring us to this point in our journey. This is the time to celebrate our sustained intention and efforts, for they have borne fruit.

As my mentor and teacher, I have learned many important lessons from Angeles. Reflecting on her blessing, I know that I have continued to grow in many ways during this year. One of my greatest rewards is hosting the Women’s Retreat twice a year and sharing heart-felt stories with CCBS mothers. We inspire and support each other and this is wonderful. We witness each other grow in courage, love, truth and wisdom in very real ways. I can see that my journey with my son has borne fruit that I could never have imagined so many years ago when we were in the throes of struggle.

As Angeles reminds us, “it is important to appreciate the work we have done to bring us to this point in our journey. The journey to Cherokee Creek has been a challenging one for most. I want to thank you for having the courage to bring your son to Cherokee Creek and being a partner in the process of healing. I am so blessed to meet and befriend so many of you. Happy Thanksgiving and may we all celebrate those things that have come to fruition this year!

With gratitude,


Beth Black, Founder of Cherokee Creek Boys School

Beth Black, Founder of Cherokee Creek Boys School

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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?

posted by jleslie in Discovering What is Real and True and have Comments (3)

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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Lessons for Living

“The key to living a truly satisfying life is nurturing your relationships…” I was startled by the tagline of the article in

Jake borrows Denise's jacket for a goofy pic. Just another good relationship at CCBS.

Jake borrows Denise's jacket for a goofy pic. Just another good relationship at CCBS.

October’s issue of Psychology Today. There was the R word again, RELATIONSHIPS, front and center, demanding my attention with a “How are yours going these days?” insinuation. And the teacher in me has to give an honest C+. I’m struggling. Or maybe closer to the truth: I’m juggling, and a few balls are getting dropped, especially in the relationships department

I’ve got a lot on my plate right now – Academic Dean, teacher, Soccer mom, choir member, Clemson University doctoral student, chef, maid, laundress, taxi, and tutor. Oh, and single motherhood, which is a full time job in itself. At our August Family Seminar, we were asked to introduce ourselves and reveal our secret superpower wish.  I rather flippantly answered, “Are you kidding? I’m a single mother. I HAVE all the superpowers I need.” You may notice there are a lot of jobs I have, but no mention of relationships in here. In other words, a lot of “whats” but not a lot of “whos.”

To make things worse, we create a life of busy and then throw in an unspoken infallibility factor upon ourselves. The “if you’re going to do it all, you better do it well without complaint” self-challenge. That’s a perfect setup for failure, shame, and doubt when something doesn’t go right. Keeping busy prevents us from reflecting upon how well we’re doing in the really important thing in life: Relationships. That’s a strange little paradigm, isn’t it? We stay occupied pretending to be too busy for platonic and romantic relationships that we might fail at, but become so busy we end up chastising ourselves for not doing a good job at things that may not be that important in the first place.

Here at school, we focus on teaching the boys that relationship is first and foremost, yet I’m not fully modeling the behavior. I may be driving my son to soccer, but I could do better just engaging him in discussion on the way to the game. I am singing on the Worship Team, but when we’re just talking and not practicing harmonies, my thoughts stray to what I have to do next. I’ve got the schedule down pat, but I’m not allowing my guard down to show vulnerability in the moment.

Vulnerability is a key concept in relationships. It popped up in an amazing TED talk last night in my college class. The segment featured Brene’ Brown, who is a research professor at the University of Houston and has spent the past ten years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. She seeks to answer the question, “how do we learn to embrace our vulnerabilities and imperfections so that we can engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness?” I know I have to give myself permission to be less busy and more vulnerable to engage in relationships that have – as we say at CCBS – heart  and meaning. And to accept no shame if I do it imperfectly.  The discovery of what is “real and true about ourselves and the world around us” means to render ourselves vulnerable and fully embrace the ride!

Invest 20 very worthwhile minutes to enjoy Brene’ Brown’s TED talk “The Power of Vulnerability” at this website address:

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Choosing Good Technology

Tommy, Gerhardt, Michael and Perry start a game of Heroclix

Tommy, Gerhardt, Michael and Perry start a game of Heroclix

Here in the woods of Westminster, SC, sits our little therapeutic boys’ school campus. The driveway is dirt and rock. The buildings are made of logs and mortar.  Three streams converge at the southern side and the trees are too thick to number. It’s peaceful and serene … we like to think its soil is healing … but it is rarely quiet. That’s because at any given free time, there are rousing games of Capture the Flag, Knock Out, pickup basketball, Yu-Gi-Oh, Heroclix, or Sorry going on. There is frequently piano music or guitar strumming. Sometimes, someone is singing out loud. And there is conversation – always conversation.

What’s missing here at CCBS is noise from the various media. The television rarely gets turned on, there are few computers, and cell phones don’t work unless the clouds part magically and the wind blows right. Our boys are learning healthy new skills for working with people through their teenage years, and our staff is stable and strong.

So in response to the Newsweek article of July 15th, “Tweets, Texts, Email, Posts … Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy?” we have to chime in our collective response: “We don’t know We are – dare we say it? – not the least bit crazy.” High tech just isn’t our thing, and therefore we’d be pretty poor test subjects.

This isn’t to say our phones don’t ring – they do, all day long. It’s not to say we don’t have piles of emails awaiting us at the end of the day. The pace is just slower – thanks to satellite-only internet capabilities – yet the work gets done. It gives us more time to reflect before replying to the pile, which is sometimes a good thing.

It was our founders’ belief that school moves just a bit too quickly for some middle school boys to handle. So at CCBS, we make good choices in technology usage and focus on relationship-building. Recent studies cited in the Newsweek article [and discussed in the “Powering Down” blog on the CCBS website] are pointing to a relationship between our connectivity and depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, attention-deficit disorders, and outright psychosis. The new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due out next year will include Internet Addiction Disorder in its appendix, tagging it for “further study.” Already, China, Taiwan and Korea accept the diagnosis and are treating it as a national health crisis, according to the article. Says MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle, “Technology can make us forget important things we know about life.”

We like to think the important things in life are building relationships with peers, communicating with parents and friends, and paying attention to what has heart and meaning.

Technology evolution has been a wonderful thing to watch occur in my lifetime. And it makes me proud to be the age where I can refer to a “broken record” and get the blank stares in return. Having these kinds of conversations is both satisfying and educational – because they usually occur out on the front porch, playing or watching a board game with the boys.

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Say What?

Davis and his teacher Nick Linscott use the Can-O-Phone in Physical Science Class

Davis and his teacher Nick Linscott use the Can-O-Phone in Physical Science Class

Cherokee Creek Boys School Science teacher Nick and student Davis rigged up two #10 tin cans with a long cord. They stretched it from one balcony to the other – far enough that they couldn’t hear each other in a conversational tone, pulled the cord tight, and started talking.

Having grown up in a time when phones don’t use wires, our students were stunned by how well this worked – and of course it naturally led to his science lesson for the day!

Some interesting limitations of can and string technology are that only one person can talk at a time, and the call quality is poor, so you really have to pay attention to hear what is being said. Sometimes you even have to ask the other end to repeat what they said. Also the string has to be taut in order for the “Can-O-Phone” to work.

There are at least three mini lessons in these limitations that can help us be better communicators…
1. In any conversation, the only way for understanding to take place is for one person to talk and the other person to listen. It is not possible to listen and talk at the same time. Our brains simply don’t work that way, even if our smartphones do.
2. Check for understanding. Carla Shorts, one of our therapists says the only way to be absolutely sure you know what is being expressed is to ask. She says use a phrase like, “What I’m hearing you say is…or …Do I have that right?”
3. You can only pay attention to one thing at a time. When I asked Mitchell, one of our students how he knew he was being heard in a conversation, he said, “When the person is looking at me and paying attention to me. If they’re checking their phone, I know they aren’t listening to me at all.”

The lessons of the “Can-O-Phone” serve as a challenge for all of us today as we tighten the bond between us when we talk and listen with each other!

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for boys ages 11-15. Located at the foothills of the blue ridge mountains in South Carolina, the school has been serving boys and their families since 2003.

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