I hiked with the young adults today. What a beautiful thing. Nine guys, many of whom have travelled a very bumpy road in their lives, walked through the woods of Sope Creek. They talked, they laughed, they teased, they argued. For the most part, they enjoyed themselves. I’ve worked with groups of adolescents and young adults for quite awhile now, and one thing that’s always noticeable is the group’s mood. When things are tense, you can feel it in the air. When conflict is brewing, you can usually sense it. Today, the mood was relaxed and conversational. It was really cool. Later, at lunch—an unexpected location change, I might add—the group lingered for almost an hour after eating. A few guys played arcade games, and a couple of guys laughed over something they were looking at on an iPad. Most just sat and talked with us and with each other.
How did we get here? These individuals have been struggling in their lives for a range of reasons, but one common factor has been the misunderstanding and/or lack of tolerance of others. Peers have rejected them for their awkward social communication skills. Schools have rejected them for their stress behavior. They make mistakes—sometimes the same mistake again and again—and are isolated, punished, removed or rejected.
The Community School does something different. We do our best to not reject people for their mistakes. We accept people for who they are, and celebrate the best that they can bring to the table in any given moment. If their emotions rule their decision-making (as I would argue that it does for all of us, but I won’t make that complete argument here), we try to empathize with those emotions, support the expression of those feelings, and continue to work with them, respecting them as well-intentioned individuals.
It is challenging for all of us, as human beings, to create and maintain these kinds of communities for ourselves. I want The Community School to be that kind of community, not just for our students and young adult participants, but for the staff, the siblings, the parents, and the extended families. The road is bumpy sometimes for all of us, just like for the people we support here at TCS. Sometimes we even create our own bumps, which add to the challenge. But in the long run, the acceptance, the tolerance, the caring, and the desire to support happiness can win out, if we let it.