Where Serendipity Meets Design

Jimmy on the front porch with B-Shoc

Jimmy on the front porch with B-Shoc

Serendipity is one of those great words in life: five beautiful syllables to say “luck,” “chance,” “fate,” “fortune,” kismet.” It makes you sound really smart when you use it. Lots of people have to go look it up after hearing it used. And I personally enjoy making people look up definitions — it’s the Language Arts Diva within me!

“Design” is its opposite. Things that happen “by design” are most definitely not serendipitous. It takes a process to make it happen. It needs a grand plan, a blueprint, or a complicated drawing. Like a house. The boys’ therapeutic work here at Cherokee Creek is a very good example of a well-designed plan. There is a “PATH” they must walk. There are processes they must go through. It is a long and sometimes arduous journey of self-discovery. They graduate with new skills, new self-concepts, and a new vision for their future.

Toward that end, this quarter in the classroom we have studied the Way of the Visionary. We have talked a lot about whether we make things happen or whether things happen to us. We studied people who made a difference in the world and discussed how to become a person who makes a difference. We talked about careers, college paths, and causes. And we talked about their personal plan.

In the same quarter, I had the good fortune (here’s the serendipity part) to meet two gentlemen with an inordinate amount of musical and technological talent. Neither is my forte, so these are indeed good people to know. One of the gentlemen, Shannon Chiles, offered to share his skills with our boys to help them voice their visions of themselves. The process went something like this:

First we came up with the “hook” to a song. One of our boys then took on the task of writing lyrics. Shannon next came to campus and taught a lesson on how to storyboard a video. The boys went to work filling 4.5 seconds with their personal stories.

Some music chords were then chosen as the backbone for the song. Shannon took these pieces to his friend, Bryan Edmonds – also known as B-Shoc– and the two mixed it all together to record it. Three trips back to the school with a camera, and there was enough footage for a music video.

It’s a wonderful thing when serendipity and design come together to create beautiful and meaningful outcome. We can’t wait to share the music video with our families next week at Family Seminar, and then with the world on our website.

Consider for a moment where serendipity and design come together in your life. Where does your plan meet up with chance or kismet? How does your vision for the future change when that occurs?

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Change, Please?

Steven Graduates

David celebrates a student's graduation.

If there’s one things that’s predictable, it’s that things are going to change. And when a change occurs, there is often a transition that follows!

Another predictable thing is that changes create a time in between the ending of the old and the beginning of the new. Cherokee Creek Boys School calls this space a “neutral zone,” a name adopted from William Bridges work on the process of transitions.

We have all felt the “neutral zone.” It can be exciting or confusing. It can feel like chaos or be filled with anticipation. Whatever the feelings are, they are stronger than when things are just routine or predictable. I am a creature of habit as much as anyone, and those feelings that are associated with change sure can make me uncomfortable.

The question I hear (and sometimes ask myself) is: How can I get out of the neutral zone and into the new way of being? Another way of asking this question could be: How can I get past all of these uncomfortable and magnified feelings quickly?

Since change is happening all the time, chances are that you are in a neutral zone in some area of your life right now. What are you being challenged with in the neutral zone? Here are a few questions you can ask to help turn the neutral zone into a place of self-discovery…

What must I put down in order to move forward?

What point of view is shifting?

What is it that I believed that no longer fits me?

Before we are in a rush to the new place, let’s see what can be learned while we are in the neutral zone!

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” – Robert C. Gallagher

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Blessings and Brotherhood

The Brotherhood known as the Gold Team Crusaders

The Brotherhood known as the Gold Team Crusaders

Service is a  “real and true”  lesson taught at Cherokee Creek. We feel that  contributing time, gifts and talents to our community is a foundation of good citizenship. Giving builds an “other orientation” which may be unfamiliar to middle-school boys. We create activities on campus and in our local community that give students a chance to see themselves as builders, contributors and helpers in the world. Learning to give back and to help others builds character, strengthens developing social skills and builds a sense of pride. One of the great joys of giving is when someone thanks you for your efforts and you can see how you have touched others. We are pleased to share a letter that the boys received from Master Chief Jeff P. Johnson, United States Navy. We are very proud!

A scan of the letter with the seal

A scan of the letter with the seal


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic Boarding School for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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The Power of Tradition

The team at about 1:00 AM Thanksgiving morning.

Five members of the team at about 1:00 AM Thanksgiving morning. From left: Jon, Adrian, Daniel, Calvin and Drew.

It’s 12:30 AM Thanksgiving morning; it’s cold, dark and most people are sleeping. But 6 Cherokee Creek Boys School students are slowly waking, dressing and making their way into the dark to our turkey roasting pit. These 6 boys are the 2010 Turkey Roasting Team, who have eagerly volunteered to stay up all night feeding logs into a bonfire  to create a massive bed of coals. The fire must be carefully tended and fed for 5 hours to create enough coals to cover five turkeys…the main course for the coming Thanksgiving feast for CCBS students, staff and guests. Once the turkeys are covered with coals, the entire pit is covered with dirt to seal in the heat and allow the turkeys to slow-roast for another 5 hours.

It’s a lot to ask of any teen to give up sleep, be fully attentive and be self-managed throughout the night, but our team meets the challenge  with determination, enthusiasm and a large amount of fun. Pit-roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving has been a tradition since we opened CCBS…a ritual that has been passed on by each generation of students.

There is something comforting and meaningful that keeps us returning to the same traditions every year. Rituals, traditions and celebrations have the power to strengthen and unify families…yours, the CCBS family and the society at large.

At CCBS our mission is to, “challenge boys and their families to discover what is real and true about themselves and the world around them.” I imagine that, while quietly staring into a crackling fire, the members of our Turkey Teams have discovered something about themselves. No doubt they have thought about their families at home. And, maybe their thoughts were also that they are stronger than they thought, more focussed than they thought, or just more sensitive to the world around them than they thought. Their normal markers and priorities are shifted during this night-long vigil and they become more in tune with the rhythms of the world.

It is remarkable to watch the shift in myself and our students as the night slowly creeps along. This “CCBS family” tradition seems to feed our souls as well as our bodies. Just before dawn, with the job completed, these 6 boys make their way back to bed tired, happy and full of a sense of accomplishment.

As most of our boys prepare to return home soon for the holiday break, I challenge you to reflect upon the “real and true” traditions and rituals that define your holiday season and add meaning to your family’s celebration. And I wish you a wonderful celebration of discovery!

Check out this link to the CCBS Bear Tracks Newsroom for more pictures of the Turkey Team in action: Pit-Roasting Photos

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Practicing Joy, Peace & Inspiration

David LePere

David LePere

Thanksgiving can be a year-round holiday!

The food is great, for sure, but there is a more compelling reason for the sprit of Thanksgiving to be celebrated all year!

I started my weekly all-school meeting with the middle schoolers of Cherokee Creek Boys School with a statement I hoped would get everyone thinking. “Thanksgiving can make you happy for a whole year.” Some of the students reacted at first with a “huh?”, but once I connected a few dots, everyone was on board.

“Do any of you know someone with a big challenge in their life … something that you think is sad, scary, overwhelming or defeating, but, in-spite of it all, they just have the best attitude about it?” I asked. Lots of hands went up, and one boy shared that he had a cousin who was paralyzed, and had a better attitude than everyone around her. We all probably know someone who has challenges we can hardly imagine, but through it all is fun to be around, and really enjoys life.

What do they have that is so powerful, that even in the face of true difficulty they can smile and laugh and enjoy? It is the attitude of  “Thanksgiving!”

Being grateful for what we have instead of resentful about what we don’t is one of the biggest choices we have. And that choice is in front of us all the time, continually presenting itself.

Lots has been written about the power of gratitude and a having a positive attitude to elevate your spirits, heal and bring positive change into your life. Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “The Power of Positive Thinking”, MJ Ryan wrote “Random Acts of Kindness” and “The Attitude of Gratitude”. Dr. Martin Seligman, Director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, is the founder of Positive Psychology, a field of study that  has been able to empirically demonstrate that such things as positive emotions and  strengths-based character make it possible to be happier, to feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and probably even laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances.  Hooray for that!

Those of you who have been on a Family Trek know that at Cherokee Creek we ask the boys to reflect on three questions,   “What brought you Joy?  What brought you peace? What inspired you?” Our mentor, Angeles Arrien, calls these “tracking tools,” a way to touch in daily with the joy and beauty of the day and what we have to be grateful for. These are the lessons of gratitude that can be seen in every position on the Medicine Wheel… the Warrior who chooses to stand and be present in life… and the Visionary who speaks the truth without blame and judgement…and the Healer who does what has heart and meaning...and the Teacher who is open to outcome and therefore able to be grateful to whatever is in front of him/her.

My challenge to you is to begin spending time practicing your “attitude of gratitude” and respond to our three tracking questions. You will need just a few minutes. Take those few minutes and think about what brought joy, peace and inspiration to you. Do it once a day, or even more if you dare. I believe that the spirit of Thanksgiving will be present with you throughout the day!

An excerpt of Dr.  Martin Seligman’s recent presentation on the state of positive psychology can be viewed below (approx. 20 minutes).

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in upstate South Carolina. Visit www.cherokeecreek.net for more information.

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It’s Never Too Late

Shaler Black Cooper, our Fire Keepers Circle Coordinator, proves it's never too late to say, "Thank you."

Shaler Black Cooper, our Fire Keepers Circle Coordinator, proves it's never too late to say, "Thank you."

It wasn’t until recently that I realized how much impact my time with Sally had on my life.

In 1996 I was a high school freshman who had just left the comfort of an 8th grade class of 28 and entered into the massive hallways of the public high school where I was one of close to 1,000 other freshman. And if that change wasn’t enough – my family was in crisis. My brother had just left for a therapeutic boarding school in Idaho and we were trying to establish our new “norm” with a missing family piece.

That’s where Sally comes into the picture. Sally was a delightful, kind and gentle counselor. My parents strongly encouraged (aka made me) meet with her on a regular basis during my freshman and sophomore years of high school. I wasn’t all that enthusiastic about going to see a counselor. This painfully shy girl thought it was easier to fly under the radar, as I had been doing for so many years, than it would be to talk to a stranger about my feelings. But nope! The family needed a tune up, both as a family unit as well as each individual member, and that’s what we got!

Sally listened, talked and coached me through my anger, guilt, sadness, confusion, tears, triumphs, joys and successes.

Fast forward to August of 2010; during the August Cherokee Creek Family Seminar I helped to facilitate a “Siblings of Cherokee Creek Students” group discussion. During this discussion, many parents and siblings asked what was most helpful for me during the time my brother was away at school. Time after time I thought of sitting in Sally’s office in one of the white wicker chairs. This was a time of enlightening “ah-ha moments” and of blossoming self-confidence. I remember being allowed to be angry and cry and not feel like those emotions would place any blame or judgment on another family member. It was my safe place where I could say anything.

I had no idea if she would even remember me after 15 years, but I decided it was time to look her up, thank her and tell her about the positive impact she had om my life. So that’s exactly what I did. And she definitely remembered me. Afterwards, I received a lovely message from Sally thanking me for reaching out to her…and that it was a gift to hear that our time together had changed mt life.

I was grateful to find her and I learned it is never too late to say, “Thank you. You made a difference.” As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a wonderful time to refelct on the gratitude we feel for the many people who have touched our life.

Who has made a difference in your life? Have you told them? Are you living in a way that will make a difference to someone else?


Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, in Upstate South Carolina.

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The Sounds of Silence

Beth enjoys the sounds of silence on Mooselookmegunic Lake

Beth enjoys the sounds of silence on Mooselookmegunic Lake

At the end of summer I went camping with my two sisters, niece and a friend on Mooselookmegunic Lake (yes, really!) in Northern Maine. After we arrived at our campsite, set up the tents, created our kitchen, collected firewood…we sat! It was stunningly beautiful. And it was blessedly quiet.

Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist, has traveled the globe for more than twenty-five years recording the vanishing sounds of nature. He reports that the average daytime noise-free interval in our wilderness areas and national parks has shrunk to less than five minutes!

I looked at my watch. 3:40pm. Then I stretched out on the rocky beach and listened. I heard the “whoosh” of the wind through the pine trees…the lapping of the lake on the shore…the mournful call of the loons…I was thoroughly relaxed and falling asleep. Then came the ROAR. A huge jumbo jet interrupted “nature’s silence”. I looked at my watch and it was 4:30. It had been 40 minutes of bliss. We were really out in the wilds of Maine!

After a week of listening to nature’s soundtrack, I was starkly aware of how little time I spend in “nature’s silence”. The week had been restorative, as if nerves had calmed and I was in synch. As Angeles Arrien says, I was “in nature’s rhythm, which is medium to slow!”

Cherokee Creek intentionally chose the woods for our campus. Our boys hear birds when they wake up, not traffic. And their days are uninterrupted by television, loud music, cell phones, texting, video games and other technological distractions. Their free time is filled, instead, with time outdoors, play, wilderness outings, reading and quiet time. It is real and true.  Nature calms. Nature restores.

“Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything. When you’re in a place of natural silence, you’re not alone, and you can feel it. Whether it’s birdcalls from miles away or the proximity of a giant tree whose warm tones you can feel, there’s a presence. It’s a quieting experience.”    Gordon Hempton

In this autumn season of the Teacher – a time of letting go, introspection and stillness – I am becoming more aware of the beauty of nature and “the sounds of silence.” 

Still discovering what is real and true about the world around me…

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Write About It!

David LePere

David LePere

“Why do we have to write in our journals,” complained one of the teenagers during our 6-day backpacking trip.

“Because,” said my co-leader, “all of these lessons you have been learning out here translate into lessons for your life back home. You need to dig to find them…and that happens when you journal! Look, the challenges are pretty obvious out here. We can see ourselves for who we really are when we’re challenged by a physical task…we have to figure things out and respond. And, we can take this great self-discovery and do something positive with it.”

He continued, “Back home we get busy and distracted and just don’t take time to ask ourselves questions like, ‘What did I learn from this?’ or, ‘How might this help me in the future?'” He capped off his speech with a declaration, “So, if we are going to go to all the trouble of carrying these big heavy packs, sleeping on the ground, getting tired and being rained on, we ought to take the stories, insights and lessons out of this trip and use them for the rest of our lives. Now take your journals, and go find a quiet spot with a good view and do some writing!”

Journaling is a discipline. Journaling is also a tool of self-discovery. At Cherokee Creek Boys School, we know that chronicling interesting events or personal observations helps boys develop emotionally and gain insight. Journalling offers a time of quiet refection and an opportunity to come face to face with yourself…something that is often missing in our busy lives.

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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Who Am I?

Devon lights the fire from the East at a recent graduation. The East is the position of Insight - how appropriate!

Devon lights the fire from the East at a recent graduation. The East is the position of Insight - how appropriate!

Six months ago, a fourteen year old boy’s life was changed. He was part of a wilderness expedition in the Blue Ridge Mountains that lasted 6 weeks!  He has given me a journal entry of his from the expedition to help make a point about how important it was for him to have space and time to discover what is real and true…It is printed below:


 I love like a rose, without any thorns
I am strong like a bull, without any horns
I fight like a soldier, without a gun
I am not the moon, nor the sun
I am both of these, mixed into one
I am yin and yang
Brother and sister
Misses and mister
I am not the question, nor the answer
I am not the song, nor the dancer
I am not the tree, nor the plant
I am not the can, or the can’t
Who am I?
A soul from heaven
I am God’s child
My name is Devon

WOW! What deep insight from this young man! When I asked Devon if I could share his poem in this blog, I also asked him what he had done to arrive at this point of clarity. His answer, “Well, I was in the wilderness for a long time, and I didn’t have any video games, and the trip leaders gave me time to write about what I was learning.”

 Devon’s formula: Time plus Natural Environment minus Distractions plus Reflection equals Insight!

Right on Devon! What is Real and True is available for all of us to discover.

In what ways are you able to reflect on your life lessons and gain some insight? What can you do to find your time and space and write about what you are learning?

Seek and ye shall find!

Cherokee Creek Boys School is a therapeutic boarding school for middle-school boys, ages 11-15, located in Upstate South Carolina.

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