Beyond Garden Hill

  Summer 2015

Greetings from the Alumni Committee! We hope you're enjoying a great summer.  

At our meeting in April in Washington, DC, we welcomed four enthusiastic members: Alyssa Whitehead-Bust s89, Amy Shopkorn s95, Catherine Dugan f09, and Max Neuman f02, and this summer we're also welcoming Scott Bulua f01. The Committee has a solid list of ambitions, so we're excited to have new energy, ideas, and skill sets on board.

It was great to see alumni from f94 and s95 at the 20th reunion last weekend, and the upcoming 25th+ reunion, August 7-9, is slated to be a big one. Want to go but you haven't registered yet? No problem; contact Marilyn
Follow The Mountain School and alumni happenings all over the world via social media. We're on Facebook and LinkedIn, and we are now on Twitter and Instagram.
Please connect with us!

And while you're online...please note that The Mountain School's website is undergoing renovation this summer, especially the alumni section. We appreciate your patience and understanding while our website is improved (even if mostly on the back end!). Thanks!

The Alumni Committee

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In This Issue

Upcoming Dates & Events 

August 7-9   
Reunion for 25+ years ( f84-f89 and s85-s91)

September 15 
Fall Garden Hill Fund applications due 
         October 3 & 4 
         Big Idea Day        

Mountain School Where You Live 2015  

Brooklyn, NY * Colorado Springs, CO * Concord, MA * Coney Island, NY * Eugene, OR 
Hudson Valley, NY * London, UK * Providence, RI * San Francisco, CA * Seattle, WA

  In early May, nearly 70 alumni and their families got together in a dozen locations, from San Francisco to Providence to London. Mountain School Where You Live is a do-it-yourself event meant to evoke Mountain School themes: appreciating a place; serving a community; exploring the outdoors; making your own fun; sharing food and fellowship.

This year's MSWYL activities included... 

- planting at Josh Viertel s95's farm in NY
- six hikes (CA, CO, NY, MA, OR and WA) 
- a potluck dinner in Brooklyn
- an industrial history tour of Providence
- a literary tour of Coney Island, NY
- a visit to an urban rooftop garden in London 


Spotlight on the Garden Hill Fund:  
Money Well Spent  
The Garden Hill Fund grant program is thriving, and so are the endeavors of grant recipients. The testimonies and stories submitted by 'grantees' about their projects showcase the powerful and wide-reaching mark of the Garden Hill Fund, which is subsidized by alumni. We took a more detailed look at the work of three graduates who put their Garden Hill Fund grant money to use in admirable ways.
Anna Leslie f01
Supporting the education of children affected by TB in Haiti 


"The malady of the little house." That's what Haitians have long called tuberculosis, because the traditional way to stave off an epidemic is to quarantine anyone who contracts the disease. This has a huge impact on children with TB, or even children of parents with TB. Leaving the "little house" to attend school becomes impossible.


Ti Kay, which means "little house" in Haitian Kreyol, is a medical non-profit organization whose doors opened directly after and in response to the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake to provide inpatient care for those who "fall through the cracks."


Anna Leslie f01 spent two months in Port-au-Prince during 2012, working with Ti Kay as a non-medical volunteer. Her first day as a non-medical volunteer with Ti Kay was exhausting, overwhelming, and perhaps the most enlightening thing that she has done: "I changed diapers and fed those who could not feed themselves and sometimes simply sat with a patient for hours to make sure they did not choke on their own vomit."


In 2013 Anna applied for a grant from the Garden Hill Fund with the goal of expanding education access in Haiti for children with TB, and for the children of parents afflicted with the disease. The $3,000 awarded by the Fund directly led to seven children afflicted with TB attending school and provided five other students with financial assistance for books or uniforms.


While the inpatient clinic was closed in 2014 due to political dynamics in Haiti, Ti Kay continues to provide outpatient support to those who need to take HIV medication or to complete their TB treatment. They are also partnering with a local hospital to plan a new building for the clinic.


While Anna is no longer in Haiti, she remains "involved with the clinic in a fundraising capacity because I believe in the work being done there, and I celebrate each time I see an updated photo of a patient who has recovered." She now works in Boston as the development director of a start-up nonprofit called Union Capital Boston, a loyalty program that encourages low-income families to engage in their community by offering social and financial service rewards.


Anna found her work with Ti Kay challenging, and she believes that the funding is much better spent there than at institutions like the Red Cross. "I'm certainly glad to currently work for organizations that use funding effectively and transparently, with the end goal of fulfilling our missions," she says.

Eden Trenor s99
Using talking circles to help teen girls in California

West Marin County is a rural, unincorporated community whose youth population is primarily composed of undocumented Latino youth and the children of ranch owners, two groups with equity challenges that have resulted in tension and conflict. It was in this population that Eden Trenor s99 saw an opportunity to implement a talking circles program, modeled after one she was already facilitating for 50 men serving life sentences in San Quentin Prison.


While the idea and the work were based on her past experience, Eden credits the Garden Hill Fund as the catalyst that launched the Teen Talking Circles program. "The concrete offering of this funding for this specific set of people (TMS alumni) helped me to see that this was the time to do it," she says.


For ten weeks, Eden and her co-facilitator met with the same group of 16 and 17 year-old girls. She notes, "teen talking circles allow young people to be seen as authority figures in their own lives. This is a way of cultivating leadership."


The program was so successful that West Marin County is looking at ways to implement talking circles system-wide, for both boys and girls. Eden explains, "There is recognition that there is more support needed to take on challenges that youth are facing today, such as the broad exposure to self-harm, the way that gender identities are shifting, the way that families are shifting, and the way that there are more and more cultures represented in each school. And that comes out in many sideways expressions, such as bullying, or people who aren't able to engage in the academic experience because they just have too many other things that they are processing. So there is recognition on the county level that Teen Talking Circles serve a lot of these purposes simultaneously; it's outside school, it's not a teacher, it's not a family member. It's peers."   


In addition to her direct work with the county, Eden has started a new organization called Shakti Rising, which provides year-round talking circle facilitation and community service programming to both youth and adults. "I learned that ideally that for this work to stick and spread, there needs to be a lot of buy-in from the whole family," Eden says. "To create an experience like this in a vacuum is very challenging for the youth to process. Also, there is a long period in this process when nobody knows why we are doing this. And then something shifts. So we need a program that goes way beyond when that shift happens."

Eden ties her work with talking circles directly back to The Mountain School. She says, "There is a degree to which, as Mountain School alumni, we have been given this incredible touchstone on how education, intimacy, authenticity and community can all be woven into the same experience. Similarly, the talking circles give youth a really important taste for what's possible in community later in life."   

Jackson Koeppel s09
Bringing light back to Highland Park, Michigan 

It all began with streetlights. Highland Park, Michigan, a city surrounded by metro Detroit, had two-thirds of its 1500 streetlights repossessed in 2011 due to a $4 million debt to a local utility company. When Jackson Koeppel s09 first moved to the area in 2012, he witnessed the negative impacts of energy dependence and the newfound darkness on community safety and harmony.


And so Soulardarity was born with the simple mission to fund, plan and install two hundred off-grid, solar-powered streetlights, all owned by Highland Park residents. This solution offered an empowering alternative to fossil fuel and utility dependency, while also building solidarity and community amongst Highland Park neighbors.


Yet what began with streetlights has since evolved into an organization with the mission of fundamentally altering the Highland Park energy economy through education and community mobilization. While Soulardarity continues to install solar-powered streetlights, with twenty more planned for 2015, nowadays the organization holds outreach events such as weatherization workshops and community dinners, thus building relationships within the community, gathering information on community needs, and empowering community members to take charge of their energy system. In conjunction with this effort, Soulardarity is pursuing an exciting community ownership model without known precedent.


Jackson reflects that while solar streetlights are "a powerful place to begin building," more fundamental solutions need to be pursued in order to create the depth of change required to transform the energy economy, his ultimate aim. Jackson plans to be involved with the organization in pursuit of this transformation for decades to come.


A Garden Hill Fund grant for $5,500 in 2014 came at a pivotal moment for Soulardarityas the organization was developing its now vital educational components. Jackson's engagement with the Garden Hill Fund also brought him back to Vershire when he visited The Mountain School to share his project with current students.


Working at the confluence of renewable energy, social justice, financial collapse and community engagement, Soulardarity is truly a 21st century organization. Jackson's story is an inspiring reminder that with a dedicated effort to impact personally important issues (and a little help from The Mountain School) powerful change can occur through simple and unassuming means.

Spring 2015 Garden Hill Fund grants awarded 

The Garden Hill Fund is a program that supports the good work of Mountain School graduates in the world. The program is enjoying great success as it heads into its third year. For the spring 2015 round, there were seventeen proposals, both from new and repeat applicants. The proposals were reviewed and rated by two committees, one made up of Alumni Committee members and the other comprised of current students. The committees came together to recommend the awarding of seven grants, totaling $20,000, to the following alumni:

James Meeks s96: 2Seeds Network
Kara Lynch s84: SAVED
Lee Chilcote f90: Cleveland Literary Festival

Max Morange f97: Seed Money Project

Megan Shutzer s05: Documentary about a women's soccer team in Zanzibar

Sarah Gibson s04: Radio Conciencia    

Sylvia Ryerson s04: Restorative Radio


Read more about these project proposals in the Spring 2015 Newsletter (p.8)    



About Us
The Mission of the Mountain School Alumni Initiative is to support a dynamic community of Mountain School graduates by connecting them to each other and helping them to carry forward the intellectual curiosity, celebration of place and commitment to service we associate with the Mountain School.  

Got feedback? Email Beth Sigman Somerset s97 , Alumni Coordinator.