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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The Best Thanksgiving Anywhere…Ever

Phil gets the bird's ready for roasting.

Phil gets the birds ready for roasting.

“Wow, that was the best Thanksgiving dinner anywhere…ever.”

That comment was overheard and much appreciated by the students and staff who started the preparation 14 hours earlier; and reflects on a tradition that started when Cherokee Creek Boys School opened eight years earlier.

From its first year, Cherokee Creek Boys School was committed to celebrating the traditional Thanksgiving feast with our own special flare. We wanted our students to feel the joy and excitement that comes with this holiday and to be able to create rich memories that they could take with them when they graduated.

The central ingredient of any Thanksgiving is the turkey. At CCBS we decided to create a ritual around the preparation by pit-roasting the turkeys.  This is a fabulous ritual that is present in cultures all over the world.  At CCBS we start with selecting student volunteers for a special “turkey team” who prepare the pit in advance of cooking the turkeys. Then at 1:00am early Thanksgiving morning these boys wake to build a bonfire over the pit and continue to feed a roaring fire for the next four hours. At the end of that time the pit is full of red hot glowing embers.

Once we have this bed of coals, we bury the turkeys (this year we had 5 turkeys) surrounded on all sides and top and bottom by at least 6 inches of coals. Then the pit is covered with dirt which seals in the heat and allows the turkeys to slow roast. Just before dawn, the turkeys safely roasting in the pit, the boys head back to bed, tired, a little smokey, and full of satisfaction for a job well done.

Six hours later, the “turkey team” is back to carefully uncover the turkeys. This is no time for a stray shovel blade to pierce the wrappings, so the students proceed with archeology-type precision. Once uncovered, the turkeys are brought to the kitchen where they are carved and presented as the central piece of a grand feast.

It is remarkable to watch the transformation as these boys take ownership and pride in this monumental task. They spent the night growing in friendships and memories, they see the spectacle of the feast and the shining eyes of those gathered to help celebrate, and they take pride in hearing the words of praise and knowing of their part in this meaningful tradition.

For more  about the process of pit roasting turkeys at Cherokee Creek Boys School, click on  Bear Tracks Newsroom for photos of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday celebration.

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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 for more information.

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