Sarah Pirtle and the Discovery Center

What We Learn Together

These writings explore our learning and experiences at Journey Camp.

Peace Discoveries — Aiming for a Beloved Community

by Sarah Pirtle

We go around the circle on the first day, and repeat a message. We say, “I’m glad you’re here” to each other.

Travellng with her family, a nine-year-old camper found a Buddha statue with a note by it. With excitement she told us that the note says that a single candle can light a thousand flames. She says that at Journey Camp we are that candle. We set up a community where each person can be that candle for each other — the candle that lights a thousand flames.

“Would you start a peace camp here at Woolman Hill?” a member of the Board of Traprock Center for Peace and Justice asked me back in 1994. At that point I was training teachers, guidance counselors, and a principal in methods of conflict resolution that could be used in elementary school classes. It was a graduate school course that I was teaching for the University of Vermont at their Brattleboro location, one of the first of its kind in New England.

My son was eight-years-old and I wanted to create a place that combined elements of my favorite things in childhood like building stick houses in the woods. I wanted it to be a place where we all agreed to practice talking things out instead of fighting or ignoring. I also wanted it to reflect what it felt like to be at Rowe Camp when I was twelve where I experienced being brought into the civil rights movement. It was there that I joined a life-long effort to be part of all the generations that build together a world that works. We sang songs so strong to bring new truth into being.

In a journal entry after the second day of one of the 2017 Journey Camp sessions I wrote that:

“We are now ‘inside’ of camp. This means that the campers are already taking in the values and living them. It is a wonder to hold children closely in these values and see them respond.

“For example, two boys were part of a ‘talk it out’ that I led between them yesterday Monday when they were arguing about building their stick house. We welcome opportunities like that to show what to do. Just the second day they were already using the words I had modeled and were doing their own breakthroughs by themselves. One was overheard saying, “I feel angry when you take that stick. So I think we should…” 

“There is such a humming feeling when camp is in full swing.
Standing in the midst of the woods village, I showed four children who were collaborating together an embroidered bag I was carrying that was made in Guatemala. We discussed the work it took to make that embroidery and what the symbols might mean. They didn’t want to leave the conversation — in fact, we kept talking for about an hour. I think it could be said that we talked about the Secrets of Life. We took their interpretations of the messages of the flowers and birds in the embroidery and carefully said to each one — You are always good. Your soul is good. We all have heart strings that we can open.”

Puja Kranz-Howe, assistant director 2017-2018 commented that she feels all day long she is having important conversations. These happen not just in workshops, but sitting together on a log, or staring out across the hills, or doing drawings at a picnic table.

By hearing each other’s voices and questions, the gifts of each person will rise up to form a new whole each week.

The way of collaboration of generations rather than superiority of one over another gets worked out anew. When we have known dominance and bullying, our choice is either to find a way to have privilege so you stand out or to ally yourself with a determination that no one will be bullied. That’s where we meet each other.

Songs, poems, and drawings have been crucial for the kinds of explorations that we do, because they express our social discoveries. One summer a camper announced to the staff — “I think what Journey Camp is about is kindness.”

We find many songs that sing this out. Here is a song frequently shared throughout the summer based upon the words of Ella Baker put to music by the duo called Magpie.

“Give hope and people will find the way.
People will find the way, I do believe.”

There is an inter-relationship between ideals, visions,  and how we treat each other day by day. Dr. Jeff Ritterman in the Huffpost wrote,

Dr. Martin Luther King popularized the notion of the “Beloved Community.” King envisioned the Beloved Community as a society based on justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings. As explained by The King Center, the memorial institution founded by Coretta Scott King to further the goals of Martin Luther King:

“Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit.”

At Journey Camp we set a field of shared values. Within that field, we develop an inner turning fork of how to attune to those directions, and we make new discoveries of how to embody these. I have on my living room right now a quote from Gandhi, “Undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.”

We encourage the fresh discoveries from each person of every age of how to live in that field of nonviolence, of justice, of cherishing the earth and the beloved community.

So what happened at Journey Camp today?

by Sarah Pirtle

This is the letter that I emailed to parents during Session One 2017 because so many exciting things were happening even by Wednesday and I knew these were hard to articulate.

Dear Journey Camp parents,

In the midst of Capture the Flag and active games that you can see happening on the lawn, other very meaningful things are also afoot and I want you to receive some snapshots here.

During this session I feel the affects all around of profound conversations, and I want to try to convey them to you. If a tree falls in the forest but no one is there to see and talk about it, did it occur? If children are engaged in deep, complex moral and poetic conversations but they cannot repeat the words verbatim, can you know that somewhere in their conscience an impact has been made and that these interactions have registered and taken root in a maturing psyche?

Today there was a conflict in the woods to solve. I sat with a group of eight campers and four staff as we helped rein it in and turn it in the direction of “making things better.” We followed the basic talk-it-out steps that I have taught in graduate education classes: come together and agree all people have a turn, hear what the challenges and concerns are, and then seek how to go forward constructively. It worked! The eight campers who were building different stick houses side by side found a way to pinpoint what was getting hard and then figure out how to solve it.

In the afternoon at storybuilding theater workshop fifteen children independently designed costumes and characters and then wove them together into one coherent story with a great deal of listening and creativity. This would be no mean feat for a group of teens or adults. Intern Olivia Lemere artfully helped them do this collaboration.

Each day a different staff person takes a turn presenting their choice for the Peacemaker of the Day.  Today intern Rosalie Silliman presented the life of Laura Ingalls Wilder in a careful portrayal that she has been developing for over a year with research.

A seven year old girl brought in a song she had written about loving the earth from her soul. An eight year old boy described that trust involves seeing from each other eyes and put the words in his drawing.

Later this evening at a July 4th gathering at the Charlemont UCC church, I stood in a large standing-room-only audience for the reading of words of Frederick Douglass. During talk-back at this event I shared three examples of the kinds of conversation about Black Lives Matter that have taken place where campers and teen staff share their insights. The audience was moved to hear this report about what young people are saying and thinking. I shared what happens behind the scenes at this camp where we combine love of nature and the arts, caring for each other, with bringing out our voices in the world. 

Tomorrow one of the choice of workshops will be “I Understand you More.”

I hope when you ask “What happened at camp today?” and it’s
hard for your child to articulate exactly what transpired that these snapshots help you enter into the community that has formed in three days. I write with gratitude for the amazing staff and amazing campers.

Imagine a Person — A Group Poem

How do we create an inclusive place for all young people? We hope in reading this you’ll see why it’s become a tradition to share these words at every session for well over a decade.

At the start of Girls Weeks fourteen years ago, a collaborative poem was created called, “Imagine a Girl.” In expanding our awareness, the words got reshaped in 2016 into “Imagine a Person.” It represents many voices included.

Imagine a Person

Written at the first teen leadership weekend by the first group of teen leaders who named themselves the Grapes;
by Meg Cook, Molly Lieberman, Sarah Pirtle, Melanie Meier,  Maria Douglas, Isolina Leiva-Bowes, Sarah Brown-Anson, Jody Massa, Jessie Owens, and Miriam Lefler.

Imagine a person who believes in their own rightness and goodness.
A person who feels comfortable in their own skin.

Imagine a person who writes lyrics,
but opens their ears to other’s music,
A person who speaks in a true voice.

Imagine a person who takes risks and pushes limits,
A person who isn’t afraid to conquer fears.

Imagine a person who sees all points of the spectrum
Even while disagreeing.

Imagine a person who meets conflict with compassion,
who has the ability to forgive others.

Imagine a person who changes ways of treating others
Because of feeling safe enough to change.

Imagine a person who doesn’t have to fear others,
who can talk about true wants and needs,
who doesn’t have to be afraid of not being liked.

Imagine a person who recognizes potential within and in others,
Who follows passions to find unique gifts.

Imagine a person who feels connected to the strong line of those
who have come before, a person who knows a sense of heritage.

Imagine a person who runs into the future with an open mind,
Who isn’t afraid of its bitter-sweetness.

Imagine a person who loves the whole thing of life,
Who doesn’t look for perfection, who embraces all that life has to offer. 

Imagine yourself as this one.