By Lauren Bille
Intern, The Cloud Institute
As a new intern to Cloud, I knew very little about the New Jersey Learns Program. Words like practicum and indicator were foreign to me. The week prior to the recent NJ Learns meeting, I helped to organize participant practicum information to prepare for their certification. I stared at the mysterious names and read email exchanges describing how these people were incorporating sustainability education into their lives. It was inspiring and I was happy to help Cloud, but I felt removed from what was actually happening with the program. Then the ladies invited me to come to the final day! I was delighted to travel into the ‘field’ and be a part of the action.
One by one people came into the room, mingled and introduced themselves. I began to hear names I recognized. How special it was to match faces and shake hands with these people I had read about. Though the temperature was cold, there was an electric warmth and buzz among the people in the room. From what I understood, these participants had been through a couple intensive training and education sessions earlier in the year, and then had many months to put to use what they had learned. Now all were back together to share their stories and wrap up the training. A bond of passion, fortitude, vision and time linked everyone that morning. It was powerful to witness.
Everyone was welcomed with breakfast and introduction by Jaimie Cloud. Attendees then broke into learning circles and began reconnecting and sharing their reflections and experiences of the past year’s work in sustainability. Hearing a candid declaration from around the circle was so rewarding. It was incredible to realize that the activism is alive, well and thriving in the lives of each group member.
Participants create large posters to visually illustrate their New Jersey Learns practicum experience. posters for the gallery walk. From drawings to charts, timelines to lists, i-pad slideshows to live testimonials- everyone in the room gave their acute attention to each presenter. Soon everyone became not only informed about, but activated by the dynamic actions applied in the participant communities. The sincere stories of awe moments, challenges, lessons learned, strides toward change and fervent ideas for the future left an imprint on all of us. Jamie’s debriefing also helped to soothe and reflect any questions or concerns about practicum and onward opportunities for sustainability education. I was astounded, and it was only the third hour.
After our deliciously fresh and healthy lunch, Mike Bagley and his exceptional team guided our afternoon with “Creating a Vision” exercises. I had heard briefly about Robert Fritz and visioning and I was really looking forward to learning more. It was obvious some NJ Learns participants were practiced and had been using the techniques since they learned them earlier in the year.
Though expert visionaries, by this time, everyone was losing their steam after eating and sitting. So, all participants had the opportunity to awaken their bodies as they gathered in a circle bound by a climbing rope. We depended on each member of the circle as we leaned back, hanging onto the rope for stability. Our trust and honed understanding of interdependence was strengthened, our bodies were stimulated and our moods turned playful.
Next, the bridge building challenge! The goal of this exercise was to reinforce what we’d learned about the important role vision plays in helping us achieve our goals. Four divided groups of participants gathered in secrecy at an attempt to construct an identical and connecting bridge section with all three other groups. Small moments of structured and monitored communication were allowed, though it took until the very last minutes of the activity for the four groups to come to what seemed a mutual understanding. Upon revealing each bridge section, three were identical and one was very different than the rest! We worked together to quickly make all bridge sections compatible, after a great laugh. As we gathered again around the rope, everyone was energized- we had been truly challenged and were proud of our final accomplishment. Then Mike and his team led another debriefing from the former activity, all innovative ideas came out about team work and interdependence—and how vital it is to establish and communicate a shared vision for collective action. I saw participants come to new understandings for their lives and sustainability efforts with this metaphoric activity.
We broke into groups for the last time to share and support our visions. I sat with the ladies of The Cloud Institute and heard their brainstorming session on the future visions for the organization. Aleidria filled pages of notes as ideas exploded from around the circle.
Smiling faces and a sweet certification ceremony ended the day. These newly certified sustainability educators were inspired, reconnected, and redirected. Slowly they departed the room and walked toward their future visions.
Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this day, organization and community.