Education & Arts

More than Murals

February 10, 2014

This article was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

by Megan Mendenhall

A decade and a half ago, four graduate students from the University of Texas started with a small idea: to use the arts to support youth development. From this inspiration, they created the Theater Action Project, an interactive violence prevention program that offered drama-based activities to help youth deal with social issues. In 2003, with the addition of now-Executive Director Karen LaShelle, a new team developed dozens of additional programs that incorporated more art forms and creative means—puppetry, parades, filmmaking, drumming, mural arts—and the organization was eventually reborn as Creative Action. Today, Creative Action is Central Texas’ largest provider of afterschool programming, arts enrichment, and character education, serving 18,500 youth annually.

Since its founding, Creative Action has ignited and supported the academic, social, and emotional development of over 100,000 young people in Central Texas. By providing youth with hands-on programs that utilize art making, team building, and creative problem solving, Creative Action offers a fun and engaging way to equip children and teens with important life skills.

“In the wake of rising incidents of school violence and bullying in the late 1990’s, Creative Action was formed to help give young people opportunities to develop stronger social and emotional skills,” says LaShelle. “In order to succeed and thrive, students need an opportunity to develop what I call twenty-first century skills: empathy, creativity, appreciation of diversity, critical thinking, leadership, and job training.”

These skills help define what Creative Action calls “4C” students: creative artists, courageous allies, critical thinkers, and confident leaders. These transformative qualities are what drive the development of the organization’s programming as Creative Action continuously seeks ways to fully engage young people. Patrick Torres, Middle School and High School Program Director at Creative Action, explains, “For us, art is a pathway for personal development, and our mission to empower young people to become 4C students is what informs Color Squad’s impact on both individuals and communities.”

Creative Action sets itself apart by creating programs with a dual mission: to inspire youth to become 4C students while also transforming the world around them. This past summer, the organization initiated Color Squad, a project that provides aspiring young artists with opportunities to work with professional artists to install murals that renew public spaces. Youth, ages 14-20, deeply engage with the city and its history, and build important social and emotional skills as they remake neglected spaces into places of beauty, reflection, and inspiration.

“Color Squad is unique because of the way it uses the arts as a tool for both youth development and civic engagement,” notes Torres. “Not only does the program transform participants into 4C students, but it also transforms neighborhoods and communities. It shows how art can impact people and place.”

Creative Action’s teaching artists guide and mentor a team of 25 teens over the course of a semester to install murals that elevate and illuminate historically underserved neighborhoods. At the beginning of the project, teens conduct extensive research to identify neglected spaces that could benefit from beautification and place-making. Through interviews with key players in the community, as well as library and online research, the team investigates the space with an emphasis on history, community aspirations, and current challenges.

“For Color Squad, painting a mural isn’t just about creating a picture; it’s about community engagement, creating a shared space, discovering oneself and one’s city,” Torres explains. “We see in-depth research and connecting with the community as vital to the artistic process.”

Once the team has fully explored and understood the community, they design and construct a mural and a related public arts project. The project culminates with a public reception to celebrate the artwork, artists, and local community.

In May 2013, RSF Social Finance (RSF) gave a Seed Fund grant to Color Squad to provide 25 youth stipends for its first full year in operation. The intention of the Seed Fund is to support new initiatives with small, but catalytic grants. RSF received 160 applications for the 2013 cycle and Creative Action was one of eight organizations chosen to receive grant funding.

“Creative Action’s Color Squad stood out amongst other Education & the Arts applicants because of the community involvement component,” explains Ellie Lanphier, Program Associate of Philanthropic Services at RSF.  “This project includes co-creation and celebration with the local neighborhood, which showed a high level of dedication and willingness to dig deeper into the true needs of their community.”

This past summer, Color Squad implemented their pilot program: creating signage for an East Austin food truck, Tony’s Jamaican Food. The Color Squad team partnered with neon artist and professional sign-maker Todd Sanders of Austin’s Roadhouse Relics. Sanders shared his professional expertise and taught the teens how to design and create their own signs. “The highly visible work has already been grabbing attention in the community,” says Torres, “and other business owners have been asking about our services.”

After the success of the pilot, Color Squad plans to implement two projects a year, engaging 30 youth each semester and providing guest lectures with 15 local artists, designers, and architects throughout the year. In the fall of 2013, they revitalized and restored the beloved “Greetings From Austin” postcard mural, an iconic landmark of South Austin. Color Squad again teamed up with Sanders, as well as the Bouldin Creek Community, to help return the mural to its original splendor.

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic 'Greetings From Austin' mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Color Squad partnered with local artist Todd Sanders to restore the iconic ‘Greetings From Austin’ mural. Photo by Todd Sanders

Next summer, Creative Action will get to work close to home. The non-profit will be relocating their headquarters to the Chestnut neighborhood of East Austin where an innovative redevelopment project is revitalizing this underserved region. This project is a collaborative partnership between a variety of organizations from both the for-profit and non-profit sector that have united to create a place rich with opportunities and resources.

To kick off their work in the neighborhood, Color Squad will be installing a community mural on Creative Action’s new building once complete. The mural will face the Metro rail so that it can be seen and enjoyed by commuters and visitors to the Chestnut neighborhood each day. Creative Action hopes to become a solid foundation for the community’s growth as a cohesive, innovative entity that welcomes and unites people of all ages and from all walks of life.

It’s clear that Creative Action’s Color Squad is making a mark on Austin’s art culture and local community. Their strategy of using the arts as a means for youth development and community engagement and revitalization offers a unique and innovative model for others.

“What is exciting about Color Squad is how the projects allow youth to create truly impactful art that actually changes public spaces,” voices Torres. “Through this process, we hope participating youth will be empowered as they discover how visual art can be bigger than just themselves, that their ideas and their work speaks to the whole community, and that they develop a greater sense of connection and purpose in their city.”

Megan Mendenhall is Communications Assistant at RSF Social Finance

Expressive Arts Therapy: Responding to Traumatic and Emotional Experiences

February 4, 2014

This essay was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Denise Bostonby Denise Boston

As a society, we have come a long way in the field of mental health over the past few decades. Improving the treatment and quality of life for individuals who live with serious mental illnesses as well as people who struggle with traumatic life events such as hunger and food insecurity, violence, cultural stigmatization, and social trauma, has been at the forefront of the work of many healing practitioners and therapists all over the world. The expressive arts therapy field specifically, has given increased attention to creative and liberatory approaches to health, wellness, and trauma intervention.

Expressive Arts Therapy (EXA) integrates a range of arts modalities in the service of mental health and self-actualization. EXA therapy practitioners have a wealth of aesthetic options to draw upon—music, visual arts, dance/movement, photography, creative writing, singing, storytelling, drama, poetry, and indigenous rituals. Through the creative process, clients and/or participants have the opportunity to explore and potentially transform emotional, social, and relational issues; identify patterns of personal success; and experience new and innovative insights.

Expressive arts therapists grounded in culturally sensitive and liberation psychological approaches—ones that aim to actively understand the psychology and social structures of oppressed communities—use the arts as a means of understanding and collaborating with children, youth, families, couples, and individuals dealing with varying degrees of threats that hinder self-actualization and a path to wholeness. Expressive arts processes in counseling and group therapy have been used in a variety of settings including, but not limited to, hospice, youth residential facilities, and homeless shelters.

One particular health challenge that therapists and counselors worldwide are currently being exposed to is emotional and psychological trauma. Environmental-contextual conditions such as chronic violence, bullying, human trafficking, abject poverty, war, and post-traumatic stress disorder, have necessitated an authentic and empathic therapeutic presence and practice with victimized populations and trauma survivors. An expressive arts-based approach has been effective in the treatment and intervention of trauma recovery, because an imaginative and creative process is a doorway into self-reflective inner work and self-empowerment. The body, mind, and in some cases, spiritual experience allow participants to articulate their feelings aesthetically when words are inaccessible and inadequate. Arts approaches used in the therapeutic setting are a powerful, sacred, and evocative tool for healing. The work of the therapist in this context is to increase hope and motivation, and create enough safety that the participants can become aware of their own agency and strengths.

In my work as an EXA educator and registered drama therapist, I have facilitated workshops and training sessions in collaboration with community-based service providers on the concept of arts, healing, and social consciousness. For more than a decade, my programmatic and research interests have been in the area of African American community mental health. African Americans are often at a socioeconomic disadvantage in terms of accessing mental health care and culturally sensitive counseling. Much of my work has been conducted collaboratively with community organizations and schools, and is aimed at promoting positive youth development by increasing cultural values and presenting an expressive arts caring approach for traumatized children and adolescents of African descent. The cultural-based research in the African American community has incorporated the use of drama, storytelling, dance, spoken word, and drumming to redress the disparities defined by historical trauma and the systematic loss of culture and self-identity. The data gathered through these projects have provided an important glimpse into the vulnerable and alienated voices of young people and the outcomes has indicated the positive and healing effects of expressing one’s truth.

A memorable moment, which demonstrates the power of arts-based intervention, is an experience I had with an 18-year-old African American man by the name of Kevin (not his real name), who had been trapped in the criminal justice system most of his life. He participated in an expressive arts workshop that I facilitated for males living in a residential group home in Arlington, VA. As they entered the arts room, the young men were welcomed to the setting with the music of Tupac Shakur, a famous rap artist at that time, as well large pieces of paper and an assortment of colorful art materials. I instructed the group to allow the lyrics and the rhythm of the music to inspire them to create a collage that represented their stories, thoughts, and dreams. At first, Kevin was reticent and skeptical of this unfamiliar situation and stood with his arms folded, disconnected from the group. I did not intercede, but kept an eye on him as I moved around the room checking on the progress of the other teens. He stood for a while listening to the music, and then something moved him. He picked up the large oil pastels and immersed himself in the creative process. Once he completed one collage he approached me and asked if he could do another. In the two and a half hour session, he had the opportunity to channel his anger, trauma, and loss into two powerful, provocative works that represented his story. At the conclusion of the session, Kevin rolled up his work and left the room a different person than who he was when he walked in. I stopped Kevin on his way out and shared with him how moved I was by his work. I wanted him to know “I see you”. We both shared a special transitional moment—never to see each other again. It is moments such as this that demonstrates the transformative and healing potential of the arts.

As a little girl growing up in Baltimore, MD, I loved using dance, music, reading, and dramatic play to express myself.  At the age of twelve, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Bedridden with my knees filled with fluid, swollen, and painful to touch, I spent months in the hospital unable to be the energetic and vibrant child I was known to be. What I owe my recovery to was a supportive family and community, and my creative resources. I used movement and dance as my physical therapy to strengthen my inflamed limbs; and music to heal the sad places deep inside. It was from this traumatic childhood experience that I found my calling and a path to the creative exploratory process. I uncovered something profound within my spirit and my quest for optimal health and wellness, strengthened my love and compassion for others dealing with various aspects of pain and suffering.

I am appreciative of my arts-based practice and journey and will continue to use the arts with people who live within intersectional situations; race, gender, class and sexuality. This year, I have been invited to go back to my birthplace and to Washington, DC to promote the healing arts and provide training to mental health professionals working with children and families in traumatized environments. It is inspiring to connect with local people and plant the seeds of the arts in their promising communities and to imagine a thriving untraumatized world together.

Denise Boston, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Expressive Arts Therapy Program at the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS). Dr. Boston was an actor and served as a director and drama teacher prior to her career as a psychology educator. Her arts-based teaching experience spans working with children, youth, families, and individuals in marginalized communities as well as at cultural centers such as the Kennedy Center, Baltimore School for the Arts, and Arena Stage-Living Stage Theatre Company. Dr. Boston received her BFA in Drama from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, a MA in Counseling and Psychology from Goddard College, and a PhD in Counseling Psychology from Walden University. CIIS is an RSF borrower.

Creatively Financing the Arts

January 30, 2014

This essay was originally published in the Winter 2014 RSF Quarterly.

Reed Mayfield 3 (2)By Reed Mayfield

Can you recall a moment when a song, a painting, a dance, or a theatrical performance moved you deeply? If you can, perhaps the experience caused you to gain a new or different emotional awareness. The arts have a unique ability to transcend age, socio-economic status, geographic location, and ranges of personal experience. The arts can simultaneously facilitate an artist to produce their work and a patron to enjoy the experience, piece, or production; the arts can also create economic value. Art promotes creativity, expression, identity, innovation, and aesthetics. These things are what we typically associate with the arts. What is less understood, however, is the multidisciplinary impact the arts have on social development, learning, and the economy. These three aspects are at the heart of what RSF focuses on through its lending activity to arts organizations, and they are the indicators of RSF’s values—the arts can serve the highest intentions of the human spirit.

Art takes many forms, and there are many types of organizations that foster the arts through their programs and services. RSF is committed to supporting arts organizations that promote creativity, spiritual awareness, and provide community to people of all backgrounds. Specifically, we fund organizations that contract directly with schools or community-based organizations; provide support systems for artists, or arts organizations; and facilitate the economic prosperity of the arts.

Non-profit arts organizations face several challenges to reaching financial sustainability. In particular, these organizations have historically relied heavily on foundation and individual giving. According to a 2012 report from The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality, the recent recession contributed to a 10.9 percent drop in individual giving between 2007 and 2010.  Another financial issue art organizations face is the reimbursable grant format: an organization must incur the expenses related to the programming before a grant is awarded. This form of grantmaking can cause strain on the cash flow of an organization, and make it hard to meet overhead responsibilities, let alone budget for program growth. Arts organizations also tend to have untraditional assets such as contracts, incoming grants, or pledges, which may limit access to credit for growth or operations.

With a strong history of supporting the arts and an understanding of how non-profits work, RSF is uniquely poised to address these financial challenges. In particular, RSF is able to provide critical financing for working capital, facilities renovations, construction projects, or acquisition of space—financing that arts organizations often could not receive from conventional lending institutions. RSF is able to do so by employing innovative financing structures. For example, for working capital needs, RSF is able to offer a Grants Receivable Line of Credit. This entails looking at a forward rolling year of confirmed grants and making funds available based on this total. This gives an organization access to capital when their cash flow may otherwise be strained by inconsistent funding and reimbursable grants. In other cases, some financing needs are addressed by Pledge or Guarantee Loans where the organization’s community participates by providing the assets necessary to secure a loan. This creates a strong financial relationship that involves organizational leadership, beneficiaries or customers, and donors.

As of late, RSF has reinvigorated its historical focus on the arts. Given the state of our culture, the arts and access to them are more important than ever. At RSF, we believe the social value created through the growth of the arts has deep, long-term positive impact in the world. We invite you to join the conversation and share your insights into the arts and how we can create the systems necessary to support their financial and creative sustainability.

Reed Mayfield is Senior Lending Associate at RSF Social Finance

Serving the Underserved: Marketing to Make a Difference

October 28, 2013

RSF and borrowers, Indigenous and Common Market, were recently featured in Forbes. Author Patrick Hanlon, shares stories of social entrepreneurs across the world using the power of business to address economic and social challenges.

timetothink-300x222The numbers who are underserved is beyond counting. The important news is that the ways we help to support other human beings is evolving, transforming.

The tipping point is gyrating like a mobius strip.

“Structurally it has been a little botched,” says Don Shaffer, president and chief executive officer of RSF Social Finance. “The emergence of impact investing is encouraging.”

Impact investments are made to companies, organizations, and funds with the intention to generate measurable social and environmental impact. This is a flip on typical venture capital investing, where most firms are in search of scalable opportunities.

“We are the opposite,” says Shaffer. “If our financial system today is complex, opaque and anonymous, the world we would like to see is direct, transparent and personal—based on long-term relationships.”

Shaffer cites two more differences. First, RSF Social Finance is funded by individuals and families, not by institutional investors. This means they are not driven by quarter-to-quarter financial results. They can take the longer view.

Second, RSF looks at companies designing new platforms that create wholesale change. That means the funded company itself may remain local, but their concept may be scalable to other communities.

Read the full article here

Art as Therapy: Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area

May 3, 2013

Grand-Traverse-Womens-Resource-Center_logoby Ellie Lanphier

RSF helps fund education and arts projects that are holistic and therapeutic, especially those that foster spiritual awareness or increase access to learning and the arts.

With this focus in mind, the RSF provided a Seed Fund grant to the Women’s Resource Center of the Grand Traverse Area (WRC). WRC requested support for their new art therapy program, Art for Empowerment, led by Art Therapist Dr. Barbara Macintyre and WRC advocate Susan Britton.

Through community collaboration, the WRC provides education, support, counseling, housing and advocacy to end domestic and sexual violence and promote an equitable, safe environment for all. The WRC serves five counties in northwest Lower Michigan.

The Art for Empowerment teaches domestic violence shelter clients sewing skills while working with an art therapist skilled in addressing victimization and anger management through creativity.

The American Art Therapy Association defines art therapy as “the therapeutic use of art making, within a professional relationship, by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living,  or those who seek personal development. Through creating art and reflecting on the art products and processes, people can increase awareness of self and others; cope with symptoms, stress and traumatic experiences; enhance cognitive abilities; and enjoy the life-affirming pleasures of making art.”

From January 7th through February 25th 2013, a total of 38 women participated in Art for Empowerment. The goals for clients were to:

  • Learn sewing skills using sewing machines and hand stitching
  • Design and sew basic functional art items such as journals, tote bags and small handbags
  • Learn basic business and entrepreneurship skills to market and sell items
  • Work with an art therapist to address their life situations
  • Develop a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency

Participants spent the first two sessions creating reflection journals with hand-stitched bindings. Every other page of the journal had an empowerment statement followed by space for the participant to write a reflection. Dr. Macintyre worked with each woman, one on one, to discuss their written responses. The reflection journals were re-visited during the last session and many women found their initial answers had evolved significantly due to an improved outlook on life provided by their experience in Arts for Empowerment.

The women spent the rest remainder of the program creating small purses and tote bags. Discussion followed regarding “cutting, weaving and piecing together” a new life for themselves. The last session involved a discussion on the “value” of each bag, both symbolically and on a retail level.

Exit interviews revealed that all participants found the project “extremely worthwhile,” learned a new useful skill, and would repeat a similar program if offered.

To learn more about the important work of Women’s Resource Center for the Grand Traverse Area, visit their website. To read about other RSF Seed Fund grantees, visit our past blog posts and stay tuned for the announcement of our 2013 grantees later this month.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

The Future Will Belong to the Nature Smart – Part I

January 29, 2013

By Richard Louv

Originally published in the Winter 2013 RSF Quarterly.

For all of human history and prehistory, experience in the natural world has helped shape our species, including our brains. Yet, in recent decades, our society has looked everywhere but toward more natural environments for healthier brain development and the enhancement of intelligence and creativity. It’s time to take a fresh look at our own back yards – at nature nearby and far.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, in a speech at Henry David Thoreau’s funeral service, described his friend’s many talents: “He was a good swimmer, runner, skater, boatman, and would probably out-walk most countrymen in a day’s journey….The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house he did not write at all.”

These walks not only stimulated his creativity, but had practical, day-to-day application: Thoreau’s outdoor experiences made him a sought-after land surveyor; he could not only outline boundaries with exactitude, but could also explain the ecological workings of an area in great detail. An amateur stream-watcher and river-gazer, he knew the secrets of local waters long before professional hydrologists took their measures. When NPR commentator John Hockenberry reported the research that revealed greater mental acuity after a nature walk, he pointed out that Albert Einstein and the mathematician and philosopher Kurt Gödel, “two of the most brilliant people who ever walked the face of the earth, used to famously, every single day, take walks in the woods on the Princeton campus.”

Well, we’re not all Einsteins. But we’ve all experienced that eureka moment when the brain is relaxed and in a positive state. That can occur in a shower, indoors or outdoors, but in all of its complexity – with all of its loose parts and invisible connections – the natural world is by definition an incubator of creativity.

Becoming nature smart

Creative genius is not the accumulation of knowledge; it is the ability to see patterns in the universe, to detect hidden links between what is and what could be. In 1977, the late Edith Cobb, a noted proponent of nature-based education, contended that geniuses share one trait: transcendent experience in nature in their early years. Environmental psychologist Louise Chawla of the University of Colorado offers a broader view. “Nature isn’t only important to future geniuses,” she says. Her work explores “ecstatic places.” She uses the word ecstatic carefully. Rather than applying the contemporary definition of delight or rapture, she prefers the word’s ancient Greek roots – ek stasis – meaning “outstanding” or “standing outside ourselves.” These ecstatic moments are “radioactive jewels buried within us, emitting energy across the years of our lives,” as Chawla puts it. Such moments are often experienced during formative years. But, because of the brain’s plasticity, and individual sensitivities, they can happen throughout life. And they can happen for everyone, giving each of us the touch of genius.

Most studies of learning ability and creativity associated with the relationship between nature experiences and creativity involve children. In 2006, a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better than indoor schools at stimulating children’s creativity. The researchers reported that 58 percent of children who were in close touch with nature often invented new games; just 16 percent of indoor kindergarten children did. One explanation, for adults as well as children, is suggested by the “loose parts theory” in education, which holds that the more loose parts there are in an environment, the more creative the play. A computer game has plenty of loose parts, in the form of programming code, but the number and the interaction of those parts is limited by the mind of the human who created the game. In a tree, a woods, a field, a mountain, a ravine, a vacant lot, the number of loose parts is unlimited. It’s possible, then, that exposure to the loose but related parts of nature can encourage a greater sensitivity to patterns that underlie all experience, all matter, and all that matters.

Other research focuses on adults. In 2012, the University of Kansas News Service reported: “Research conducted at the University of Kansas concludes that people from all walks of life show startling cognitive improvement — for instance, a 50 percent boost in creativity — after living for a few days steeped in nature.” “There’s growing advantage over time to being in nature,” said Ruth Ann Atchley, department chair and associate professor of cognitive/clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, when the results of the study were announced. “We think that it peaks after about three days of really getting away, turning off the cell phone, not hauling the iPad and not looking for internet coverage. It’s when you have an extended period of time surrounded by that softly fascinating environment that you start seeing all kinds of positive effects in how your mind works.”

Nature experiences stimulate learning and inspire creativity through ecstatic experience but also through the complexity of possibilities for play and learning, and through a kind of osmosis.

We need more research in this field, although we already know intuitively that nature stimulates the mind and soul and our love of place, and that there is no electronic substitute, particularly for infants and young children. Harvard’s professor E.O. Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis holds that human beings are hard wired with an affiliation with the rest of nature. Researchers suggest exposure to the natural world restores the brain’s ability to pay attention, that it not only restores us, but excites us, by stimulating all of the senses.

These ideas are not new to Waldorf teachers or other nature-based educators. But, because of recent research and a growing movement to connect children to nature, a wider public is coming to that conclusion — even as children’s daily experience is becoming more virtual.

Click here for Part II of this essay where Richard discusses the hybrid mind.

Rose Rock School, Seed Fund Grantee

January 23, 2013

In the photo above, a student of Rose Rock School waters the plants that surround her school in the Norman, Oklahoma sunshine. Her school believes that a child’s development is enhanced by taking part in daily tasks and caring for his or her learning space.

The photo captures the spirit of Rose Rock, a school serving 2-6 year olds that strives to offer innovative education in a nurturing environment. A quick glance at the wonderful photos found on Norman resident Sarah Warmker’s photography page provides a glimpse into the caring, safe and creative setting founder Shanah Admadi and her team has created for their young learning community.

“Our long-term goal is to help lead children toward conscious adulthood, in which they respect diversity, interact harmoniously with all people, nurture and protect the natural world, and give joyfully to the communities in which they live.” – Rose Rock School website

Rose Rock School is a Life Ways North America Representative Site. LifeWays Child Care proposes that childcare programs can closely resemble the warm, relaxed atmosphere of a home, and that children can benefit from forming strong bonds with consistent caregivers. An emphasis on creative play rather than structured lessons is a hallmark of the LifeWays school of thought. Every day at Rose Rock the children care for the garden, play outside, and participate in the preparation and clean-up of home cooked organic meals enjoyed family style around a small table or outside on a picnic blanket.

In May 2012, The Rose Rock School Foundation received a grant from the RSF Seed Fund to establish a biodynamic garden and apiary on the school’s new site, a historic home in central Norman. Shanah provided an update on the progress they had made on this project:

“Since Rose Rock School received the grant last May, we have utilized the money to help in us tending our new 4-acre plot of land (in the center of town) with biodynamic field sprays.We have had many Rose Rock community work days, spent trimming trees, removing trash and brush, and envisioning our future at this site. Until the rezoning and construction is finished, the bees we purchased will continue to live at an off-site location outside of town.  We chose to keep them at a quieter location, while they organized themselves and recovered from their journey through the mail.  Since their arrival, they have established a healthy hive, foraged on local wildflowers, and endured their first Oklahoma summer.  We look forward to bringing them to their new home when it is ready.”

Shanah and team plan to build fencing to surround the apiary, for the protection of the children and the bees, while planting a variety of plants on the school grounds to serve as a nectar source. The school will benefit from the produce grown and honey harvested while also facilitating critical learning about the importance and value of sustainable agriculture. Remaining honey will be sold locally, to provide a revenue stream to help support the school.

For more information about the RSF Seed Fund, please visit our website.  To make a donation, please visit our donations page.

Ellie Lanphier is Program Assisstant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

A Journey of Transformational Education

January 15, 2013

At RSF, we see education and life-long learning as central to the renewal of culture. The Esalen Institute and Hollyhock Learning Centre offer unique opportunities to cultivate deep change in self an society. Here, Dana Bass Solomon, Hollyhock CEO and RSF investor, and Tricia McEntee, Esalen CEO (an RSF borrower) discuss how individual change can flourish to create better enterprises, movements, and a healthier world. This article was originally published in the Winter 2013 RSF Quarterly. Catch the podcast for more of our Clients in Conversation.  Interview with Marta Abel, Communications Associate

Marta: How did each of you come to be involved with your organizations?

Tricia:    I came from the business world.  I’m a CPA and had held Chief Financial Officer positions in both for-profit and in non-profit organizations through my career. I came to Esalen in February of 2006 for a weekend workshop with Brother David Steindl-Rast called “The Noble Cause of Business.” At that time I had been following quite a contemplative spiritual path in my personal life. I just fell in love with Esalen—it just felt like home.  It spoke to me on a personal spiritual level, and with the beautiful physical environment here in Big Sur, I was just swept away.

photo courtesy Doug Ellis for Esalen

Dana: My story involves a bit of magic and a bit of practicality. I first heard about Hollyhock over 20 years ago when I lived in a little mountain town in Colorado. I met two of the founders who had just acquired the land which was to become Hollyhock. It sounded like an extraordinary place.  Fast forward several years. I was the general manager of a hot springs property in California when I heard from a colleague that she was coming to Hollyhock to participate in “Spirit and Business,” a precursor conference to Social Venture Institute. I made arrangements to join her.

Tricia: It’s interesting that we both came to these places for similar workshops—to explore the idea of spirituality and business, and how much impact it could have on our world if we really had noble businesses.

Dana:  Yes it is. Hollyhock was founded on the idea of positive change for a better world. One of our founders was involved in the founding of Greenpeace. We have always been focused on providing lifelong learning programs and inspiring people to create just and healthy organizations, communities, and cultures. Hollyhock’s leadership programs and conferences often include personal and professional skill development.  We think about personal development as a key factor in building successful individuals, enterprises, organizations, and campaigns.  The individual is where the growth begins. Learning how to be more skillful human beings, then taking that out into the world helps support successful enterprises and organizations.  I think that that is what we’re all doing through various methodologies, both at Hollyhock and Esalen.

Tricia: Yes it is. Our terminology for it is “From Me to We.” I think there’s a sense of urgency to take our personal growth out into the world to make positive change. We don’t have a lot of time to waste so we’re trying to put a lot more emphasis on that.

Marta: How has the work at Hollyhock and Esalen, contributed to your own personal development?

Dana: It’s re-enlivened my hope for the future.  It’s about hope for me and being part of advancing human kind. Over this last decade and a half, our demographic has shifted from mostly middle-aged women. We’ve grown the conferences as a gateway to include more young people. The growth is generative. Emerging young leaders who care about the future are gathering and creating initiatives that are stunning. I feel most fortunate to be engaged with, and sharing lives with these inspiring people. I have real hope that there’s a future for a better world.

photo courtesy of Hollyhock


Tricia: We have about 20,000 people a year that come to Esalen. In talking to these people I often hear, “You know, coming to Esalen has changed my life.”  There was an article recently in the San Francisco Chronicle about Esalen’s 50th anniversary that said the ideas that came from Esalen during those early years have just changed everything about our culture—how we think, how we pray, how we eat, how we work.  A lot of times people are in a hard moment, they’re in a transition in life. I think Esalen offers that respite, a renewal time.    It has a very personal impact. People are discovering great things about themselves that were already there, but after the experience here it just shines out to the rest of the world. We see people become better parents.  They’re better spouses.  They’re better teachers.  They find their purpose, their calling in life. I can see that over and over again.  Anytime I get personally down or in a negative space, I just sit down and talk to the people that are there.  And I say “Well, what workshop are you taking?  How’s it going?”  And I just hear how much of an impact we’re having on people’s lives. That’s all it takes.

Marta: What’s on the next horizon for your organizations?

Dana: The next edge for Hollyhock is to scale up our ability to reach more people so that we can have more impact. Our Vancouver programs are accessible, affordable and high impact. These last few years we’ve developed partnerships with universities, the Dalai Lama Center for Peace, Power of Hope, and other progressive institutions, seeing what we can do together to broaden our reach and to share skills and stories.

Tricia: There are two major themes that are leading the way forward at Esalen.  First we will embrace our role in social transformation with greater intentionality–going from “Me to We.”   We plan to do this by building on our distinguished track record of being a catalyst for collective and social change through private gatherings of thought leaders, spiritual teachers and progressive scholars. We plan to increase the topics and number of gatherings and expand the impact of these private gatherings by disseminating the content on our new web site.

Second, we are seeking to diversify the people we serve, reach a broader audience and new generations of leaders. An example of this is the Esalen Integral Leadership Program that is currently underway and that seeks to bring future leaders to Esalen by partnering with universities who will offer college credit for taking our courses.  Another priority for us is forging partnerships with social change organizations for public workshops and conferences that serve both our diversity and social impact goals.

photo courtesy of Doug Ellis

We are also committed to the stewardship of our Big Sur property, to transform our aging structures into a model green educational village that will enhance the visitor and staff experience.

Dana:  We launched a website this year called Hollyhock Life.  It has several different focus areas, the main ones being Community, Food and Garden, and Big Ideas. Volunteers, interns, our presenters and guests are populating the site with new ideas and content. People can actually interact on Hollyhock Life.  They can post articles, or write reflections about their experiences and interests. It’s a really fabulous, interactive site that changes almost every day. That’s the cutting edge of where we are going.

Marta: We’re working with similar questions at RSF about how to scale when so much of the appeal of our work is about the personal transformative elements.  How do you really do that in a way that’s meaningful for people?

Dana: That is what we’re all working towards—all three of our organizations.  How do we remain relevant?  But, not just relevant.  How do we remain relevant, and interesting, and facilitate engagement within and outside of our communities?  Is it through a deeply personal and collaborative experience?

Centers like Hollyhock and Esalen don’t consider ourselves as competition.  The more that we can offer to each other, the more we’ll be able to accomplish. We have, for many years, really been supportive of each other—through our program and operations departments. Collaboration is key to our collective future.

Tricia: I totally agree. Our mission is the same. The next question is how can we get this impact out in the world more effectively by partnering? It is absolutely something I would want to do so we’ll definitely need to connect to further the conversation.

stone circles, Seed Fund Grantee

November 8, 2012

By Catherine Covington

What does it mean to live sustainably, particularly in regards to stewardship of land?  2012 RSF Seed Fund Grantee stone circles has made this question central to its work.  stone circles, located in the small town of Mebane, NC, has a mission to strengthen and sustain people committed to transformation and justice, and its mission comes alive through spiritual practice and principles, a sustainable relationship with the land, radical hospitality, and strategic collaboration.

Photo courtesy: stone circles

stone circles was founded in 1995 and has continually been  at the forefront of the national movement to transform social change work by creating strong and explicit links between individual and social transformation.  It does so by working at the local, statewide, and national level and provides trainings, workshops and retreats that offer transformative experiences that link commitment to sustainability and practice with frameworks for strategic action.

Since 2008, stone circles has been working to create a more equitable and just food system in central North Carolina. In 2011 the organization began researching ways to directly support local sustainable agriculture. One major discovery was the barriers that young adults of color face when trying to enter the farming profession.   In addition to training and mentoring, farmers of color oftentimes lack the access to the resources and the decision-making groups that are fueling the growing movement around local food sustainability.  The RSF Seed Fund grant is specifically intended to support a 10-day residential training program for young farmers of color at The Stone House, stone circles’ 70-acre rural retreat and training center.  The program will include practical farm skills training in organic agriculture practices, food systems education, and personal practices for self-renewal that focus on the experience of deeply resting and replenishing the body and spirit.

Photo courtesy: stone circles

In preparation for the upcoming training, stone circles has put on a number of food justice workshops.  According to evaluation summaries, beyond increasing their knowledge of food justice, participants also reported a deepened ability to relate across lines of difference. One of the highlights for many people was the opportunity to share personal stories of  race, ethnicity, and class backgrounds, as it connected them to each other and to the larger framework being presented.

To learn more about the RSF Seed Fund and how you can help support new and inspirational projects like this one, click here.

Catherine Covington is Senior Program Associate, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

Bikes Not Bombs: 2012 Seed Fund Grantee

October 14, 2012

by Ellie Lanphier

Bikes Not Bombs uses the bicycle as a powerful vehicle and tool for social change. Each year, Bikes Not Bombs (BNB) takes in 5-6,000 donated bicycles and gives them new life through one of their many youth programs, international development projects, and retail shop/vocational training center.

A 27 year old community organization in Jamaica Plain, MA, BNB received a RSF Seed Fund grant in spring of this year to support Chain Reaction, its youth-created and run mobile bicycle shop and mechanics training center. BNB sought funding to cover the cost of parts needed to repair and refurbish donated bicycles in order to provide transportation to low-income communities as well as keep those bicycles out of the solid waste stream. Chain Reaction fixes and re-sells bikes priced between $50 and $75 and offers free bike mechanics lessons. Realizing that in low income neighborhoods people had less accessibility to bike supplies and repair shops, a key component of Chain Reaction is the capability to travel where people need them most.

Stephane Alexandre, one of BNB’s Youth Employees explained her participation in the program: “giving back feels good because I am actively making a difference in one person’s life.  If I can just help one person see, I mean really understand, the possibilities that a simple bicycle can bring, then I would have done my job that day.”

Through Chain Reaction, BNB seeks to reinforce academic learning, build critical thinking skills, provide unemployment training, and cultivate leadership while solidifying a lifelong commitment to environmental and social justice.

For more information call Sarah at Bikes Not Bombs at 617-522-0222 x104, email or visit If you would like to find out more about the RSF Seed Fund, please visit
Ellie Lanphier is Program Assistant, Philanthropic Services at RSF Social Finance.

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