Friday, August 26, 2005

Widening the circle: Creating a community of caring

Guest opinion by Priscilla Pittiglio

Priscilla Pittiglio is vice president of Council Circle Foundation. For information about programs, call 721-0900.

It's summer and the valley is full of bicyclists, hikers and soccer games.

In the corner of Atkinson Park in Ketchum, a small group sits at a picnic table and talks about their feelings. It is a quiet time.

Yet the quiet conversation around the picnic table may be the most important activity of the week for the elementary school children who are participating. It's a time for them to talk about what is going on in their lives, to listen respectively to their peers and adults, and to think about their emotional lives.

It's one of many programs sponsored throughout the year by the Council Circle Foundation, designed to help people express themselves in emotionally healthy ways and build a circle of trust that will encompass the community.

Each week throughout the school year, the organization's Youth Circle programs are offered free of charge on four local school campuses, giving more than 130 youths the chance to meet new friends, explore age-appropriate topics, such as friendship and tolerance, and play trust-building games. Approximately 80 adults participate in Adult Council Circles each year as well. And for the first time, circles are being offered at Atkinson Park this summer, along with a Council Circle two-day camp for sixth- through eighth-graders on Aug. 18 and 19.

Council Circle is rooted in a time before television and the Internet when people gathered around a council fire to exchange news and receive wisdom. The tradition of passing a "talking piece" comes out of this. The person with the "talking piece" cannot be interrupted. Some families have found that this is a good way for adults and children to talk together about difficult issues.

The lessons of the circles are lessons that we need today. In fact, perhaps this yearning for a deeper sense of community is more important than ever, given the noise and busyness of our lives.

If you're looking for ways to connect to other people, exploring issues that are both personal and universal, we hope you'll try one of the circles starting this summer and fall. We're particularly excited about the two-day camp for sixth- to eighth-graders we had this summer that spent the first day at the Sawtooth Botanical Garden and then moved to a wilderness area on the second day.

What Council Circle offers is something truly unique and remarkable. It gives us, as a community, the chance to offer children tools for staying healthy and connected as they grow, to create powerful and vibrant forums for adults and to build a rich community of caring. A community—like a circle—without end.

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