Why Adult Programming Was a Must Have for This Rural Learning Community
Q&A 01 July 2021
By Dr. Jenny Finn, Springhouse, and Sarah Merfeld, Springhouse
This adult programming is important to us because we can’t raise healthy teens and youth if we don’t have healthy adults and elders.
Dr. Jenny Finn
Head of School, Springhouse
Q: When and why did Springhouse decide to include adult programming in their suite of educational offerings?
Jenny: Springhouse opened its doors seven years ago and did not have any formal adult programming. We were strictly serving 7th-12th graders. However, during our second year, we organically started having a handful of young adults in their mid to late 20’s come to Springhouse, hang out, and be of service simply because they wanted to be there.
Ezekiel Fugate (Springhouse Co-Founder) and I looked at that and decided we needed to design young adult programming that reconnected people to their lives and what was standing in the way of them living their lives. We call this ecocentric—meaning wholeness is at the center—human development. Our first program was The Well, and it has gone through many iterations. It’s been an eight-week program, a semester-long program, and a full-year program.
This adult programming is important to us because we can’t raise healthy teens and youth if we don’t have healthy adults and elders. By “healthy,” I mean adults who have moved beyond the adolescent stage of their psycho-spiritual-emotional development. It’s where we move beyond ego being at the center to a deeper wholeness that is at the center of our being.
That ecocentric, healthy human development is what creates regenerative, life-giving culture. We can’t pass down to our young people the skills, knowledge, values, and ways of being we’re not embodying ourselves.
This isn’t about any adult doing anything to or for young people. It’s not like we are only teaching them and they are only learning from us…It’s reciprocal.
Dr. Jenny Finn
Head of School, Springhouse
With that being said, it became very clear early on, with the vision of Springhouse to build regenerative culture, that we needed to have spaces where adults could heal, restore, and develop beyond egocentric ways of being in the world.
And, before we move on, I want to clarify what we mean when we say “ecocentric development.” Right now in our culture, the pathway to “growing up” is egocentric. It couldn’t be more out of alignment with what is needed to build regenerative culture.
If I’m a teenager and I want to really become who I am in my adulthood, I need to be given the space to wander. If I’m not given that space and I have to choose a path very quickly, I’m usually going to choose something out of fear.
Maybe it’s something my parents want me to do or that I think my culture thinks I should do. We’re not really listening to our inner compass, and we’re not getting the chance to do that along our usual educational paths. Springhouse wants to give young people and adults the opportunity to do that, to wander.
Q: Why did you choose to tackle adult programming so early on in Springhouse’s development?
Jenny: My conviction. In that moment (during our second year), I knew we couldn’t proceed without tending to adult development. Even though it was going to be complex and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be an utter disaster, I knew we had to do it. I didn’t know why, but my gut was telling me we had to.
It is only just now that I’m beginning to have an awakening around why we needed to do it then. Every adult on our staff has been through Springhouse adult programming. And, all but one have been through The Well in some form.
I hear over and over again how powerful the Springhouse staff are. Folks ask, “Who are these people? Why are they so committed?” Every member of our staff began working for Springhouse being paid nothing or next to nothing.
That type of determination and commitment comes for their souls. They strengthen their souls through their connection to The Well, which has allowed them to serve Springhouse in the way the Springhouse demands. Working at Springhouse and tending those waters is not a job—it’s a calling.
The Well was created, unknowingly when we first started, for the current staff. We could not be doing what we’re doing today without the staff that we have at Springhouse.
Q: Sarah, in what ways did The Well impact your life trajectory?
Sarah: I participated in The Well in 2017 and thought I was just doing it to gain some sort of clarity about what my next steps in life were going to be. I was wrapping up an 18-month fellowship I had with the Allegheny Mountain Institute in Virginia and having met Jenny a year earlier, during which time I was struck by the way Jenny spoke to me in this very direct and intuitive way, I decided to follow my own intuition and move to Floyd to participate in The Well.
During my experience, we had official meetings every Thursday night, but I was at the school every day. This meant I was always being mentored directly or indirectly. All of Springhouse was oriented around life or soul or mystery—whatever word resonates—in a way I had never been a part of before.
I can’t express how grateful I am for how transformative the first immersion was. There was so much within me that was so old and ready to transform. I was ready to shed stories and limitations and fear of my own power to the point where, after completing the program, I had gone from thinking I would do The Well and move on to buying land in Floyd and becoming deeply committed to this place.
Speaking more generally, I think The Well has served as a sort of litmus test for people who think they might want to join Springhouse as a staff member but after doing this level of inner work, discover it’s not actually the right direction to go. Our adult programming is really effective at illuminating who’s ready to move in closer to this Springhouse work or an entirely different path waiting to be discovered.
Q: How did The Well impact your relationship to and with young people?
Sarah: The Well’s proximity to the 7th-12th grade program was so powerful because we (adult participants) had this shared work with teens where we were showing up together every day to do something bigger than our own personal development.
For me, working with teens has always been really challenging. The Well brought up a lot of wounding from my own adolescence that I was able to process and work through with mentors and in community.
Teenagers bring this fiery, hot, passionate truth forward that I think can be really difficult to be with and why that age range hasn’t been well attended to—more often being suppressed and put into a box, rather than honoring what can come from that fiery time of life. There’s so much I’ve learned by spending my days with teenagers.
Q: Jenny, in what ways does Sarah’s reflection resonate with you?
Jenny: One of my teachers once told me, “Jenny, you’re living in a hall of mirrors. When you’re walking around and you see a 15-year-old in front of you who is struggling with their sexuality or their relationship with their father, it is a mirror back into the places that were hard for you as a teenager.”
For another adult, it might not be challenging at all. But, for me, it’s shining a light on something that I need to face to become more whole. So, this isn’t about any adult doing anything to or for young people. It’s not like we are only teaching them and they are only learning from us.
Young people teach classes and electives, they mentor their peers, and they mentor adults—just as adults do for young people and their colleagues. It’s reciprocal. We’re all learning and growing together.
Teens are seeing what’s possible in adults who are oriented around wholeness. We’re all in this hall of mirrors where we’re learning to become more whole—each and every one of us. Everyone is a mirror for somebody to come back home to their own wholeness. That’s how we build regenerative culture.
Q: What are you building today to continue evolving that culture?
Sarah: Springhouse’s youth programming has been largely focused on how we can support the development of holistic, ecocentric adolescents. And, specifically focused on what that means during that stage of development. What we also want to explore is what those answers look like for adults.
Bill Plotkin’s framework in Nature and the Human Soul has been really helpful. It’s in this stage of early adulthood where adults need to be cultivating their soul and connecting with something deeper than their ego. And, moving beyond just connecting inwardly, offering the gifts they discover to the world around them.
We have many ideas in motion that fit inside loosely defined buckets of soul-centric work, long-term immersive programs, and cultural liberation work. Although we took our programs virtually during the pandemic, we would like to focus our attention back to our local community and do most of this in-person for the time being.
Our soul-centered work includes (or might include) sacred dance, dreamwork, embodied writing, singing, and earth connection. These are practices, after being introduced to them, you can return to throughout your life. They support you in connecting with your wholeness.
Through these longer immersive experiences, participants will be invited to stay or they can complete their experience and build regenerative culture and community wherever they call home.
Director of Sustainability and Community Programs, Springhouse
Our longer term, more immersive programming includes launching a new iteration of The Well, a nine-month Cultural Design Fellowship.
The Cultural Design Fellowship is for anyone who is drawn to our vitality-centered design approach or have seen Springhouse in action and feel pulled to immerse themselves in our work more fully.
Fellows from the Institute will be immersed in the Springhouse culture and ways of being, while they apply their learning along one of two tracks: 1) Regenerative Farming or 2) Vitality-Centered Education.
When we moved into our new building, we inherited two acres of gardens and greenhouses that have been dormant for about four years. Part of the fellowship will be reactivating those gardens. On the education track, fellows will immerse themselves in our 7th-12th grade program and eventually design and lead youth programs.
Through these longer immersive experiences, participants will be invited to stay—we’ll scaffold in structures for them to continue their work at Springhouse—or they can complete their experience and build regenerative culture and community wherever they call home.
We want to make it a habit, a way of being, to pay respect to their elders past, present, and emerging, and honor the continuing culture of the Monacan Nation and their enduring relationship with this land.
Director of Sustainability and Community Programs, Springhouse
Our cultural liberation work is focused on LGBTQ+ and anti-racism. This work acknowledges our personal shadows that bind us and keep us small, as well as the shadows looming over our larger culture.
Just this past year, we offered an LGBTQ+ studies class to our young people and adults. Then, there was crossover where adults and teens were interacting, and there was this really potent intergenerational healing happening for our queer elders in the community and our youth.
Additionally, we are beginning a year-long study focused on connecting more deeply with the land here in Floyd. This work will include building our understanding of the unceded, ancestral land of the Yesan, Tutelo-Saponi, Haliwa Saponi, and Occaneechi Peoples. We want to make it a habit, a way of being, to pay respect to their elders past, present, and emerging, and honor the continuing culture of the Monacan Nation and their enduring relationship with this land.
Jenny: Over the past year, we’ve also been running Sourced Design Labs (an entryway to our Source Design Network) for those interested in putting vitality at the front and center of their lives and communities. All kinds of people—educators, community change agents, doctors, church leaders—are attracted to this program. Anyone looking to foster vitality wherever they are joins.
This Sourced Design Network is a network of people who want to practice the five principles of source design—taking care of vulnerability, cultivating personhood, building beloved community, respecting the wisdom of the earth, and loving and serving others.
With this network, we are planning to host an annual conference in May 2022 where everyone can come together from around the world and immerse themselves for a short time in a vitality-centered design (at Springhouse) and share their stories with one another.
Springhouse is a place to unravel in community. When we have that place, we transform.
Dr. Jenny Finn
Head of School, Springhouse
Springhouse is a place to unravel in community. When we have that place, we transform. We uncover a lot of information about our inner compass and our calling and how we are called to show up to build regenerative culture.
So, when you hear about all of our offerings and unfamiliar phrases like soul-centered work or cultural liberation work, ask what barriers in our culture are not allowing vitality to flow. We have to look at those inside and out. What inside our monoculture isn’t allowing space for what we know sustains vitality in adulthood—wandering, support, immersion, liberation.
At the end of the day, what our programs are seeking to do is grow elders through healthy adulthood.
Q: With such a small staff, Springhouse is tackling so much. What drives you?
Sarah: It’s everything we’ve been talking about. If I treat this like a job, it just doesn’t work. I’m not inspired. One of my favorite practices is dance. When I’m dancing, I’m connecting and feel this sense of alignment. I’m exactly where I need to be, and there is work to be done that is coming through me. Nothing is more energizing or inspiring.
When that alignment clicks in, things become clear. I don’t see it as a ton of work. Rather, it just makes sense. This is what I’m here to do.
Jenny: I’m not willfully doing what I’m doing. My strength comes from something greater than myself, and my whole life is devoted to that. It breathes me. It moves me. It holds my arms up when I’m in a warrior position on my yoga mat. It reminds me that, even if nobody understands what I’m saying, I still deeply belong.
I’m not here to do a job. I’m here to follow my call, and I will follow this call obediently and gratefully until the day I die, whether it’s in the form of Springhouse or something else. I’m forever committed to the life and love that woke me up 30 years ago, and I’ll do everything I can to create structures for more of it to live on this planet.
So, it doesn’t exhaust me. And if it does, then I’m trying too hard, and I need to surrender.
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