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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Summer 2011, Issue IX Journeys Emerging

Journeys Emerging

By Edith Kusnic, Director of Adult Programs. Journeys itself stands at a threshold, called to its next stage of development, that inexorable process of change at work. How we will respond to this call is a question not just for the Board or the staff. It is a question for all who have been touched by the magic that is Journeys.

by Edith Kusnic

It’s June 2011.  Summer vegetable plants sprout in the garden with their promise of fall harvest; lush green foliage fills the landscape. The miracle of renewal--the Wheel of Life turns once again.  As spring completes it cycle, another miracle approaches. Adult questers gathered last Friday, seeking a vision, a dream, and the inner resources to bring it to life.  Kids, parents and Journeys staff prepare for summer journeys. Energy gathers.  Imaginings of the youth and adults who will pass through our programs this summer fill the air and stir our souls -- images of wilderness landscapes first encountered, the amazing taste of “first food” after solo time, difficult days endured, lessons learned.

But this June something else is happening at Journeys.  Journeys itself stands at a threshold, called to its next stage of development, that inexorable process of change at work.  How we will respond to this call is a question not just for the Board or the staff.  It is a question for all who have been touched by the magic that is Journeys.  The vision that is coming into focus is too big for our current resources to carry.  The vision crying to be born requires more people, more money, more skills, overall much more effort.

Today I invite you to step into the imagination of a “new” Journeys and to survey the possibilities woven from pictures and ideas I have been gathering from the streams that flow into Journeys for over 20 years.  I ask you to consider what might call to you from them and what might get called forth from you.  

The tapestry I offer is woven from the many of the strands I’ve discovered -- gifts from the ICA, from Stan, Fred Lanphear, Songaia, participants, parents, staff, Board members, volunteers, colleagues, donors, supporters, and seekers about what Journeys could and should be.  It includes images about how we might go forward on a more solid footing with a clearer sense of purpose and alignment. It is a living vision, designed to shape and shift as circumstance, resources, and further conversation demand.  I offer it as a picture to stimulate your thinking and invite you to imagine your place in the future of Journeys.


  • A “new” bolder, more far-seeing Journeys might take stronger leadership for developing the broader, more embedded cultural capacity to help us stop losing kids along the pathway to adulthood or losing adults in adulthood.  Amazing things happen with the youth that come to us.  What if we could translate that knowledge into ways of helping foster kids, high school drop-outs or other marginalized youth find their way to healthy adulthood?  What if our knowledge and expertise were available to struggling public schools or programs for homeless kids?  What if we were able to find ways to reach young adults who are ready to join the adult community, but are turned away because there are no jobs?
  • This “new” Journeys could support adults as they navigate their lifespan paths, not just those who feel prepared to do a quest, but in more accessible ways for people in different circumstances.  What if we had courses and programs that deepened people’s relationship with nature more slowly and gently?  What if we offered opportunities for people to “retreat” at many different points along the lifespan, able to do a Journeys “tune-up” when they face new challenges in their thirties, forties, or fifties?  How might we help more adults discover their “soul gifts” and bring them into the world, a world sorely needing the gifts of many?  What if we were able to find a way to help returning soldiers find their way through their nightmares and able to re-start their lives?
  • This “new” Journeys could support many more people to develop leadership skills and capacities to step forward in taking rites of passage work into new arenas and bring leadership to the re-weaving of the broken fabric of our culture and communities.  In a world where politics has gone mad, problems ignored and solutions delayed, and forces actively working to shred whatever is left of the fabric of social cohesion, could a new Journeys help develop the inner capacities of both individuals and groups to stand strong in the face of destructive forces and the community-building capacities that can transform them? 
  • This “new” Journeys might see itself as part of a much larger social and cultural movement trying to be born in the world.  Joanna Macy calls this movement “The Great Turning;” David Korten added the image of building “Earth Community,” and Thomas Berry described it as “The Great Work” of our times.  It has been imagined in many different ways, but whatever we call it, it has been bubbling underneath the surface of our world for more than half a century.  In seeing itself as part of this larger movement, this new Journeys might consider how best to apply its wisdom and understanding to this larger work.

My hunch is that most of us who have found our way to Journeys were drawn because we saw in Journeys a resource and community of support in finding our way to a different vision of human life on earth.  We want our kids to have a solid core of life-affirming values in a culture that seems to worship greed and violence.  We ourselves want opportunities for authenticity and help in bringing our gifts into the world. We want not to be seen or experience ourselves as commodities to be either used or discarded by others, but as whole human beings.

It is not surprising that a new vision of Journeys would begin to emerge more clearly at this moment in time when the critical issues facing humankind seem at times insurmountable. Journeys’ roots reach deeply into an almost hidden current at work in the culture, that current trying to find its way to a positive human future. Although its roots began to grow much earlier, this movement found its first widespread expression in the Sixties and Seventies, bringing into the culture an emerging imagination of what is possible – the impulses for civil rights, human rights, peace and justice and ecological and environmental awareness leading us to seek ways to live in harmony with each other and find a different way of thinking about our place and role in the web of life on Earth. 

It was back in the Fifties when the original roots of Journeys were planted. Living suddenly under the threat of nuclear annihilation, a dawning recognition of the potential power of the “military-industrial complex,” and an emerging Madison Avenue spreading a culture of image, not substance, a group of people who came together asking themselves how the faith community could and should respond to the challenges of the day.  These people called themselves the Order Ecumenical.  If I have my history right, the Order Ecumenical beget the Ecumenical Institute which beget the Institute of Cultural Affairs which beget the Sixth Grade Trip which beget ICA Journeys which, in 2006, beget Rite of Passage Journeys.

What Stan gathered together when he took Journeys public in the Northwest in the late Eighties, were the seeds he had gathered from these previous incarnations and along his own life journey.  They were seeds of a way of looking at the world, a way of understanding the human journey.  As Thomas Berry might have said, they were the seeds for understanding the work of “re-inventing the human species.”

Some seeds sprouted and grew; others have been planted along the way as more people have joined this effort.  Some have started to flower; others have born much fruit over the years; others are still just baby sprouts.

It is not surprising, however, that in the wake of Stan’s death, forces would come forth to call upon us to re-think the Journeys enterprise.  In the grief of losing Stan -- our founder, our friend, and our mentor – we hit a wall last spring.  Still reeling from the loss of Stan, we faced repercussions from the recession with both enrollment and donations down, our finances precarious and staff and volunteers exhausted. Once again, we asked ourselves whether the idea of Journeys had run its course, whether it is too hard to do this job of bringing Journeys more fully into the world, whether we have the energy, the commitment, the resources, the patience.

There have been many twists and turns in The Journeys Story, and many times in the last ten years when we have asked a similar question.  But always the answer was “Yes, we can.”  Yes, this seed of wisdom that is at the heart of Journeys should have an organization through which it can flow into the world.  Yes we see its value, importance and role in the culture-building work necessary for a positive human future and a healthy planet.  Yes, its potential is too great to let it die.  We, the current generation of Journeys, have been given a precious legacy of wisdom.  That legacy provides enduring, important wisdom for our culture and our times, and we see ourselves in service to that it, our part of “The Great Work.”

So too, last spring the answer was a resounding YES and the Board affirmed its intention to carry Journeys into the future.  The Board knew it would take some time to turn things around.  The first step appeared to be a bit of a strategic retreat.  The Board adopted a “bare bones budget” for this year and the staff has worked this year to figure out both what we could and couldn’t do with the resources we were given. The effort brought new staff roles and re-configured existing ones to revitalize staff, share the work more broadly, and provide time for renewing energy to come forth.

The Board also put into place some strategies to build a foundation for the future:  They adopted a decentralized governance and organizational structure guided by the principle that we are organized IN SERVICE to our mission.  They organized Board committees into “action teams” (rather than advisory bodies) and made a small investment toward growing adult programs.

Most importantly, they clarified the need to direct our work toward a  “viable, healthy, and sustainable” Journeys, one that understands better the economics of Journeys as an enterprise and finds a business model that can carry us into that future.  They recognized that we must find ways to unleash creativity and individual initiative. 

Last summer, we didn’t have all the answers, but we did what Stan taught us so well; we made it up as we went along.  Recognizing that Journeys was undergoing its own rite of passage, we have allowed time to unfold and help us find our way toward that “viable, sustainable, and healthy” organization we knew we wanted to be. 

So here we are, most of a year later, poised to launch our 43rd year of summer youth programs, in our 25th year in the Northwest, our 21st (or so) year offering public open-enrollment programs, and ending our 5th year as an independent non-profit organization.  While in our “retreat” mode this year, we have also used this time to learn from our past and make space for the new imagination of the future of Rite of Passage Journeys to come into focus.  And just like the sprouts in my garden, both the vision and the pathway forward began to emerge.

What’s become clear this year is that to become viable, sustainable. and healthy,  Journeys must make a leap to its next stage of its organizational development.  This next stage must provide us:

  • The ability to pay higher staff salaries to both administrative, field and teaching staff including benefits for permanent staff. 
  • More investment dollars for curriculum development to be able to translate the wealth of our “intellectual property” into new revenue-producing courses and programs to reach an “economy of scale.”
  • More investment dollars to increase our fund-raising capacity to provide scholarships so our offerings remain affordable and accessible to all AND to help us do the curriculum development work needed to grow programs and courses.
  • A stronger Board capacity to manifest resources (money, time, skills & expertise).
  • More time and energy to devote to caring for and developing our human resources.


Over the summer, the Board and staff will be working to create a Business Plan for moving into the future. This plan for growth will include an image of the “target” we are trying to reach, an image of the curriculum we are trying to build, and a strategy that balances competing needs and priorities, refines job roles in light of our emerging plan, and ultimately helps us find the right sequence and timing over the next few years.

We have accomplished so much in the last five years since we incorporated as an independent organization.  Under Darcy Ottey’s leadership, Stan’s vision was translated into an organizational form that created the container for the future of Journeys.  Publications and operations were professionalized, an administrative infrastructure developed.  But now we are operating in brand new territory.  How do we do grow ourselves to our next level of capacity, strength and solidity?  That is our current question.

Important clues for this challenge have come from two sources, each of which points to the need to hold the work of “community-building” at the heart of building the future of Journeys. The first comes from a man named Paul Hill from Cleveland, OH who has been working for many years to bring culturally appropriate rites of passage to his African American community and now has Kellogg Foundation support for his work.  He offers an inspiriting framework for talking about rites of passage work, speaking of it as two-fold work: “Youth Development” and “Building the Village.”  In this thinking, in a time when rites of passage into adulthood have disappeared from our culture and need to be restored to help youth find their way, it is not enough to create programs for youth.  We must also work to heal the broken community of adults we have become so that youth have a community of healthy adults to join.

The second clue came at a recent Board meeting.  Paul Shoemaker, one of our alumni parents and also an expert on non-profit organizational development, came to speak to them about the challenges Journeys faces.  “You have to be totally about growing community,” was his central message.  According to him, that is the pathway to bring forth the knowledge, skills, talents and resources to take the leap into the next stage of development.

These two ideas merged to sharpen the emerging vision of our programs and courses.  Seeing them as the work of “developing youth” and “building the village” creates an organizing framework through which to see our curriculum and offers a strategy for growing them in the future.  At the same time it offers a metaphor for seeing the relationship between what we do (offer and deliver programs and courses) and the question of how to build a stronger community of support. 

Community rests on building relationships.  Relationships are built when people come together, hear each other’s stories, and work and learn together.  Thus, one of the ways to strengthen the community of adults orbiting around Journeys is to create more opportunities for people to work and learn together.  Thus does a strategy for community-building become also a strategy for growing adult programs; both are the work of “building the village.”

As I have worked to put flesh to a curriculum framework for “building the village,” I have come to see it woven from four strands of curriculum:


  • Strengthening Parent Capacity – Although largely undeveloped at this stage, this includes creating learning opportunities to help strengthen the capacity of parents to meet the developmental needs of youth along the pathway to adulthood.  For many years, both parents and staff of youth programs have urged the development of this work.  To launch this stream, we are offering a one-day workshop for parents this summer called Coming of Age for Parents and plan further work next year to create more future offerings.
  • Personal Development for Adults (Lifespan Rites of Passage)– Building on our adult quest and elder’s retreat, this strand is aimed at creating other opportunities that help adults discover their gifts and bring them more fully into the world to revitalize our culture and re-weave the fabric of community.  Your Place in the Great Turning was added this to help people think about their gifts in relation to the great challenges of our times.
  • Empowering Leadership and Professional Development – Our Coming of Age Leader’s Program, Apprentice Program, and Art of Ritual Leadership have all been efforts to translate our knowledge into ways to help others develop the skills and knowledge to build rite of passage programs.  Seeing it as a “curriculum strand” challenges us to strengthen these programs, over time create new ones, and form new partnerships to deliver them.
  • Tools and Skills for Community-building – There is a depth of skills and knowledge that we use in rite of passage work drawn from many different arenas of practice.  Things like holding council, facilitating groups, experiential learning, and aspects of ritual are component parts of what we do.  This curriculum strand is about creating learning opportunities that build the “toolbox” of the practitioner, useful not just in rite of passage work, but for many other culture-building activities. 


In addition to seeing our courses and programs as intrinsically community-building activities, we are also looking at how we might use them and other activities more consciously to create a more vibrant Journeys community.  Included in this thinking is how sweat lodges might be the focal point for larger, seasonal gatherings.  While some folks are in the lodge, others might gather to prepare a celebratory meal and/or take part in another form of community ritual to help us all be better able to re-connect with the spiritual center of our work.  Or perhaps previous adult questers might gather to greet returning adult questers, welcoming them back and offering a first community to whom to tell one’s story. 

When we begin to think about community-building, not as a task to be done, but at the very heart of our work, all sorts of possibilities and ideas begin to emerge.  It is into this generative place of possibility that I invite you.  What might you have to offer this unfolding vision — resources, connections, skills, talents, energy, ideas?  How might you join a larger effort to help this seed that is Journeys flourish and broaden its impact on our troubled world?  How might you join the effort needed to build the community of support that will carry Journeys into the future and help it reach its potential to bring its gifts more boldly into the world?

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