One of the most rewarding projects I have ever created began last year in the wake of the tragic deaths of two boys at the high school my kids attend. They were on a school outing at the Oregon coast when a wave came up and sucked them into the ocean. Several others were there too, helpless to save their friends who perished in front of their eyes. It is a jarring image to consider even several years later. The memorials that followed the event and the immense community response were the most inspiring and compassionate experiences of loss I have ever had the honor to witness; the students all felt it, too. Tragedy creates a unique depth of tender connection between people because we recognize both our common frailty and humanity. The kids wanted to hold onto that connection and somehow permanently mark the event.
This inspired us to launch the Positive Change club at South Eugene High School a year ago. Our goal was to design, re-landscape and dedicate one of the central courtyards at the school to the positive spirit of the boys who were lost, as well as other kids who had taken their own lives in recent years. Sometimes, it just takes another minute and a positive thought to come together in your head so that it changes life course powerfully. In starting the club, I wanted to give the students the tools to learn how to change their minds and to move towards an open curious thought which, is all you need to lean towards being more positive. In addition, I knew that the experience of designing and creating a space would give them the chance to witness how when you stay focused and continue to work at something, you can change the world around you.
In the year since we began the project, we have cleared all the dead shrubbery, grass, weeds and 30 tons of concrete out of the space by hand. We have built our club to 70 student members, created community with a local church and neighbors. We have had dozens of work parties that included using jack hammers, moving gravel, carting concrete blocks, and digging weeds in the garden. We have also sold more than 2500 wristbands which say, “You are what you think” and “think positive.” We also supported our football program by creating and selling t-shirts that the kids wore to support the team in the stands. The Positive Change club has morphed into a force for raising school spirit and we are one of the few clubs that attracts members from all the sports groups, arts , student government and the honor society.
The biggest lesson for me in all of this work/play has been realizing that it is when we have opportunities to work together for something that is not ours alone, but something for everyone, that you connect in ways that nothing else creates. The club has gotten help from some of our communities’ biggest companies who have been so generous that it has startled me and from people with design and construction and concrete skills that tell me that it is a privilege to participate in making something good happen in the world.
Creating community is how our capacity for love encircles us, creating wider and wider ripples of attention, gratitude and willingness that both makes us stronger and softer. We are about to launch our kick starter campaign to raise money for our project.
Stay tuned…. We need you.