Initiative

Over these past months and years our directors, staff and friends have made a whole bunch of activities happen at the Center. Sporting excursions, cooking, hut building, martial arts, talent shows, maple sugaring, creating a camera obscura... the list keeps growing.

We also like to step back and hopefully inspire our members to practice acting independently and responsibly in this little community.  It might begin with small, ordinary things like choosing which hanger to put our jacket on. What part of the campus to spend time in.  Who to sit with - or away from. When to eat a snack or take a bathroom break.

Self-motivated decisions, making choices, even simple ones can be a rarity in so many educational settings. In a world where campus activity is triggered by bells and commands and scheduling is rigidly adhered to by all, the opportunity for kids to figure out how to initiate anything on their own can be almost nil.

It takes practice to learn when and how to successfully initiate something big. Like getting a game going out on the field. A random kid might suddenly begin racing around the tables yelling “Newcomb” into everybody’s ear - but it doesn’t always result in action. The successful game initiator learns how to see the big picture. The weather. The human resources available that day. The ever-changing mood of the Center. Understanding the precise moment to successfully propose where, when and which game to play.  It involves some experience and wisdom.

Some of you have encountered interns at your workplace, trying to earn a college credit. My wife Julia regularly has local film students intern at the production company where she is employed. I spent a decade in food service in big hotels and one of my duties was to manage a parade of aspiring young chefs sent by the famous culinary institutes. Maybe you have observed what Julia and I have seen. 

They arrive at our workplaces rigorously educated. Super-experienced at doing assignments, passing exams and following direction. Yet almost clueless in regards to taking any kind of initiative. Unable to busy themselves without being prompted.  Showing little common sense, barely opening their eyes and ears, eager to let the boss point out what, so often, obviously needs to be done. Are they just timid? Dumbfounded? I don’t know, but they forever want to be told what to do next. And next and next. Week after week. Managing these “well-educated” folks is no picnic. The precious few individuals who take initiative, predict what needs doing next, help keep things moving and perhaps even improve on a situation - these are the few who not only earn their full college credit, but also get invited to return - with a job offer. Initiative. They’ve got it - or they don’t.

Back here at the Center we allow our members the space to gain a sense of their natural talents and strengths and how these unique powers might fit into activities going on around them.  Eventually most will tidy up of their own lunch messes and paper-cutting projects without being told. This is a huge step. Many will decipher the tricky social skills required to initiate and enjoy a multi-player game. Others will figure out how to make their uniqueness indispensable to their community. A few more will gain enough confidence and trust to lead others and make exciting things happen. Over the past few months our student members have had the time and space to independently initiate a broad range of projects. They have staged a public debate (timed and judged), written and directed film scripts, invented dances, operated a temporary-tattoo parlor, constructed a theremin (see Brian Wilson), formed various shared-interest-groups and run a multi-bracketed chess tournament. 

The other day I watched a boy, maybe only 11 years old, take the initiative to leave his regular group of dudes and find a seat at a table where three older girls were laughing together. The bloke didn’t just barge in to annoy the ladies either. I watched as he spoke with one of them and make her smile. Then another. A minute later they were all laughing together. The young man had been accepted, at least for a moment, into the teenage group. 

We can’t make big stuff like that happen. He had to take the initiative.