For the week of November 25 thru December 1, 1998  

May the circle be unbroken

Youth council offers mentors, support

Express Staff Writer

circle2.jpg (5880 bytes)Wood River Valley youths share their feelings—good and bad—during a meeting last week. (Express photos by Dick Dorworth)

They sit in a circle on the floor. Each takes his or her turn speaking what is on his mind and in her heart, learning to make them the same.

They sit in a circle on the floor speaking and listening to the minds and hearts of the circle, learning the ground rules which are called ‘guidelines.’

They sit in a circle on the floor learning through practice the guidelines which make expressing what is in the mind and in the heart safe.

They are the youth of the Wood River Valley and one or more trained adult facilitators, and they do not perceive much of the world around them as safe.

According to Hailey’s Lea Flocchini, who developed the Youth Council Program in the Wood River Valley, those are not the kinds of feelings conducive to young people’s developing self-esteem, making safe decisions and choices or resisting peer pressure and self-destructive tendencies.

The circle is the format in which Youth Council Support Groups meet. The circle is a significant form in almost every culture in history. In religion and art the circle is often used to symbolize heaven, eternity or the universe, and it cannot be squared.

circle3.jpg (5299 bytes)In this exercise, youths learn to trust by walking amongst co-members with their eyes closed. (Express photos by Dick Dorworth)

The Youth Council Program Mission Statement/Agreement, which is signed by everyone who participates, reads in part: "The purpose of these groups is to teach essential skills of communication including active listening and encourage expressions of feelings using our safe and proven format with specific guidelines…..We believe with the mentorship of healthy, trained adults and the tools of Youth Council Program that youth can develop healthier self-esteem enabling them to make safer decisions and choices resisting peer pressure and self-destructive tendencies."

The guidelines of the council circle group are four in number, and they are clear and simple: 1.) listen carefully; 2.) speak authentically and truthfully; 3.) maintain confidentiality; and 4.) respect the circle.

Each guideline has a sub-order; for instance, listening carefully includes looking at the person speaking and withholding criticism and judgment. Speaking authentically and truthfully means to speak through tears and to speak in "I" statements. Maintaining confidentiality is to respect all feelings and to keep what is said in the circle within the circle. And, lastly, respecting the circle means many things, perhaps most importantly to treat people the way you would like to be treated.

In short, the Youth Council Support Group circle meetings encourage personal and group skills and standards of conduct that are conducive to the achievement of personal and social mental health, happiness, civility and communication.

That many of the young people of the Wood River Valley feel alienated, disenfranchised, unsafe, disrespected, ignored and even feared by the adult world is well known to some in that adult world: teachers, counselors, police, some parents.

A random selection of statements made by Wood River Valley youths expressing their feelings in circle meetings says it all too clearly: "We don’t really have a place in our community. We don’t feel respected by adults or the tourists who come here;" "We feel like many adults don’t trust us;" "We feel degraded by many adults;" "We hear ‘Just go away’ a lot from adults. ‘I’m tired of seeing you around;’" "Please trust us more;" "Please take a closer look at us. We aren’t bad;" "How can we respect adults when we feel so little respect toward us from so many of them?;" "It seems like many adults are afraid of kids;" "I feel shut out by many adults, even my own parents."

Flocchini believes the circle meetings offer students "a chance to share, in a supportive group setting, what is working in their lives as well as what is confusing them, while learning essential skills of active listening and the expression of feelings."

"I have had the honor of witnessing many special moments with the youth of our community as they meet new friends, explore topics of interest and concern, and learn about mutual honor and support," she said.

Among the topics discussed in Youth Council are friendships, sexuality, parents, drugs, injustices, dating, stress, suicide/depression, judgment/compassion and choices.

Flocchini, a longtime member of the community and the mother of two teen-agers, has been leading adult Council Circles for five years, and youth Council Circles for four.

She completed a three-year apprentice program with the Council Circle Foundation in Santa Barbara, Calif. The Santa Barbara group was founded by Dennie LaTourelle, an internationally well-known teacher with extensive experience and training in community building, conflict resolution, addiction and co-dependency recovery. LaTourelle spent two years teaching at Scotland’s Findhorn Foundation.

Youth Council groups meet at the Wood River Middle School, Wood River High School and at the Hemingway School. In addition to Flocchini, adult facilitators who have completed the Youth Council Training Program and who work with it include Julie N. Caldwell, Margie A. Caldwell, Cameron Cooper, Nanette C. Ford, Linda Gillison, David Gish, Ric Lum and Jane Nicoll.

More information about both Adult and Youth Council Circles can be obtained from Lea Flocchini at 788-2880.


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