Of Sandy Hook, Community Work & an Organization’s Pledge

Of Sandy Hook, Community Work & an Organization’s Pledge

A personal reflection on community leadership & responsibility in the face of tragedy

CraigThe challenge is to do more, in all ways possible and with the deepest conviction from the most fibrous core of our beings. This is both a statement to begin and end this note in the course of a most difficult week.

It is tempting (and at the same time understandable, as part of being human) to pause now in that place of grief, disbelief, even disgust in considering those who would commit such senseless and horrifying acts. I must remind myself, and at the same time issue a challenge to community-based organizations, that working for a nonprofit carries with it both the burden and power of community leadership and action.

If our mission is worth its weight in the sweat equity and financial support of our community then I believe our work at LandPaths – short for LAnd – PArtners – THrough – Stewardship – must in some small way, in its own humble and locally-based way, do something so that the events of last week in Newtown Connecticut are less likely to occur in another school, another community.

We at LandPaths have witnessed remarkable, and often entirely unintended, outcomes from working together to conserve wild and working landscapes, to steward them in a myriad of ways, to provide them as places of learning and inspiration to school children, as places for respite and reflection to people of all ages and backgrounds and stripes. That is, these rather elemental activities help in supporting healthy people, healthy land and help to ensure healthy communities.

On a very personal level, while I do not know the depth of others pathos or perhaps debilitating mental illness that has compelled people throughout history – and with increasingly regularity in recent years and months - to harm others in our world, I can attest to the redemptive power of having a relationship with the land. If asked, I don’t think it would come as a surprise to those that knew me as a child growing up in the scruffy, live-oak studded hills and canyons above Santa Monica that I would be, some 40 years later, working in the field of land conservation. Moreover, working for an organization with its many-pronged collaborative efforts which focuses time outside working together for the betterment of people and the land.

I developed such a weight problem as a boy, from the time I was 5 until 17 years of age, that I was for some time the heaviest child attending my elementary school. I can recall one incident where teasing was so severe that I was unable to board the school bus at 3pm given inconsolable tears and hurt. However, I had something offered to me by virtue of a swath of wild land that divides the Pacific from the San Fernando Valley, the Santa Monica Mountains. Despite my weight I would journey after school two or three days a week up fire roads, ridgeline breaks and down into maple and sycamore canyon bottoms in search of arrowheads, puddles teeming with tadpoles, redtailed hawk and a handful of rocky outcrops still revealing faded paintings from the Chumash who had lived just beyond our backyard hundreds of years before.

A relationship with land brought skills in orienteering, confidence in being able to traverse chaparral highlands and arrive well past dark with nary a scratch. My mom didn’t much like the later, but she could see the pounds melting on account of these adventures. The encounters with bobcat and mountain lion, later black and grizzly bear as I made my way through a series of seasonal jobs guiding, teaching and exploring beyond the local mountains to the Sierra Nevada and beyond brought the lonely child out and into a world populated, quite delightfully, by people ready to help, listen, instruct. It gave me hope and helped to sculpt perseverance and confidence from earlier distrust and resentment.

I have professed with conviction (and in quite windy fashion, I must add) for the past several years at Rotary Club presentations, during public comment before the Board of Supervisors, in LandPaths staff meetings and at a series of conferences where I have been invited to speak, that “teenagers in our society are an endangered species and we should all try to do more in terms of mentorship, developing the lost art of apprenticeship and getting them out of the mall and into the out of doors both during and after school. There is often no more effective place or means to discover one’s true culture than to reestablish a connection with land near where we live.”

Here’s the Pledge. I will work with LandPaths staff and board of directors in the coming year to assess & then implement activities so that we do more for our young people, in particular teens. Further, activities that in some small way better develop them into the community leaders, doers, and later parents and citizens that only a myriad of positive experiences can help them become. In LandPaths case, that may mean time on land helping steward, understand and care for land. It might mean pulling French broom or helping guide a 6th grade class, assisting with an outing just for people confined to wheelchairs and walkers or volunteering at Owl Camp. I am confident that our program heads can envision and efficiently implement what we might do. Whatever it is, I feel LandPaths has the obligation to do even more for our young people so that they feel connected to their community, valued for what they have to offer, challenged physically and emotionally as the leaders our world needs them to be.

Please hold us, including me, to account on this pledge. We must all do more to turn away from a path of violence and isolation and despair in order to encourage the health of land and people in Sonoma County.

Craig Anderson has been the Executive Director of LandPaths since 1997 and can be reached by email here

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