An innovative collaboration between The Ojai Foundation, Southern California Foster Families and Adoption Agency and the congregation of Kehillat Israel Synagogue works to build community across cultural barriers, recognizing that we all have much to learn from one another.
In the winter of 2009, The Ojai Foundation joined forces with The Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA) and Kehillat Israel Synagogue to pilot a unique “Co-Mentoring” journey.
Using the platform of council to invite and foster the emergence of a community of deep listeners, a nine-month program was developed to serve young adults moving out from the foster care system and a community of service-minded congregants seeking a more meaningful engagement in building community.
Several young people were approached through SCFFAA, along with a dozen members of the KI community. Two TOF facilitators introduced the participants to the practice of council through a series of workshops that explored our sense of “home,” “family,” “the gifts we carry” and “what it is to be truly heard” – first in separate groups and then in a 4-day workshop-retreat at TOF in September of 2009.
The TOF retreat initiated the community in the way of council, the practice of deep listening and a more intimate connection with the planet; a container was created for being seen, connecting, building and deepening relationships. Rather than delineating Mentors and Mentees, the program offered participants an opportunity to bring the full breath of experiences into the circle--all participants had much to learn from the others. Recognition and connection emerged, assumptions were challenged, hearts opened and bonds developed organically among and throughout the group. A village began to emerge.
After the initial retreat to TOF, the group was encouraged to practice the techniques and activities that had been introduced and to connect with each other. Commitments were made to meet up with one or more other participants at least twice in the following six weeks and then to return together for a half-day council workshop. Workshops would occur every six weeks throughout the program and would offer an opportunity to reconnect as a group in a deep way, to play, celebrate and to continue to develop the practice of council. The workshops also provided an opportunity to reflect, unpack and witness stirrings that had emerged from our work together, from the informal interim encounters and from personal reflection – as well as to set strong intentions for the next six weeks. Participants left the workshops with plans for a variety of activities; groups of varying sizes would attend movies, concerts, art exhibitions, lectures and dined, biked, bowled, hiked, trick-or-treated, volunteered, partied, manicured.
The emerging village was able to witness each others’ gifts, triumphs, challenges, heartbreaks, anxieties and dreams and to play together. The village has continued to hold each other in an embrace that has transcended all expectations.
The initial Co-Mentoring journey has been dynamic, exciting, rich, challenging and inspiring. As the nine month program reaches its conclusion, the pilot group of youth and KI congregants, led by Rosanne Ziering, continues to be deeply committed to fostering and deepening its bonds. A new group of youth is being cultivated by Lianne Goldsmith, of SCFFAA and, in response to interest that has been generated by the pilot, TOF’s Jared Seide and Carmen Wurgel continue to develop and coordinate upcoming programs with faith communities seeking tools for deeper engagement with each other and the greater community.
For TOF, this council-based program is further affirmation that, through this dynamic process of cultivating and nourishing meaningful dialogue, deep listening and heartfelt communication, real engagement in community is possible. The heart of council is listening and the essence of truly empathic listening is full and non-judgmental acceptance of who people are and how they express themselves. Acceptance doesn't necessarily mean agreement, but it does require a subtle and vigilant practice of witnessing both self and other; it involves being aware of our responses while maneuvering through the internal minefield of our own attachments, judgments and reactions, giving full attention to the other's authentic being. From a place of full acceptance, it is possible to engage in deeper and more authentic relationship. With the tools of council and a container to hold the process, community is fostered.
For more information or to get involved in the next Co-Mentoring project, contact Jared Seide at email@example.com .
“…I think this program is successful and unique because of the level of trust that has been established through the tool of Council. We are co-mentoring one another, sharing our lives in simple yet profound ways. There doesn’t seem to be any kind of hierarchical division at play: the haves telling the have nots how to be. Instead we seem to inhabit an almost idealized place of mutual respect and caring. It is thrilling for me to know these young adults. I feel enriched by their presence.” (Rosanne Ziering, Board Member, Kehillat Israel Synagogue / adult participant)
"...My experience with the Co-Mentoring Council has been one that I will remember for the remainder of my life. It has taught me to seek resolve in a matter that is peaceful and beneficial for all parties. This new way of community is especially comforting and exciting because it is universal need that has been addressed. In these present days many people do not take the time to connect to the person behind the frown or the pain on their face. We often walk around not considering what the other person next to us has been through. I feel that when we take our time to connect to others and allow them to connect to us we are addressing much more than what may appear to be a bad day or a little girl with an attitude problem. We are all responsible for each other and this Co-Mentoring Council has reminded me of the value of team work." (Ashanti Jones, Youth Program Intern / emancipated foster youth participant)
“…Having the opportunity to spend time with these young adults on a one-on-one basis, has strengthened my own listening skills which I have brought home to my own family. This has opened up a new level of trust and communication and truly shifted my relationship with my son. I can thank these young people for their honesty and willingness to sit with me and share their lives in an honest way, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be a friend to them. They show their appreciation for the life skills that I bring to the table, and in return I feel more confident out in the world and with my family. I believe that they are gaining strength from their time with us and feel more comfortable than a few months ago to ask us to help them with work/housing/child care issues. I feel fortunate to have this opportunity.” (Loren Stephens, President, Write Wisdom & Provenance Press / adult participant)
"...The co-mentor group has been a life changing experience. The idea is so simple and therapeutic I sometimes wonder why all of life can't be this way. Not only do I have beautiful people to share and express my feelings with, I feel I have the support of the world behind me. The Ojai Foundation is just the cherry on the top. The "HOME" if you will, for our co-mentoring group. This group of individuals, along with Ojai, will forever be in my heart. Thank you!" (Patrick Lee, Production Assistant / emancipated foster youth participant)
”…I perceive of my role to the youth more as one of a friend and peer and not as a parent/problem solver/savior. Often these youth just want a sounding board and a friend. I try and come alongside them and their issues in a nonjudgmental way and just be a person in their life with whom they can relax and share different life experiences, simply through engaging in a wide range of activities with them alone or with my husband and three children. I fell like they get exposed to a different life and a more positive family/life/adult/sibling role model – an exposure that is enriching, nurturing and fun for all of us.” (Amy Ziering, Producer, Chain Camera Pictures / adult participant)
“…One of my greatest sources of fulfillment as the rabbi of Kehillat Israel is to witness the powerful unfolding of the KI Foster Care Task Force and the transformational impact it has had on the lives of everyone privileged enough to be part of the experience this year. The gift of discovering a new way to experience community and the power of council, the practice of presence, in the lives of others both young and old has been a profound blessing to our congregation and community. I have watched as lives touched lives in mutual love and support and those who came to the program thinking they were the givers soon realized it was they who have been given the experience of a lifetime.” (Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben, Senior Rabbi, Kehillat Israel Synagogue)