I will transition from the newsletter format I never quite mastered on Wix and could not produce quickly every month despite my natural verbosity to posting fairly regularly on our website blog. Throughout July an
d early August, you should also notice many more social media posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. So please follow us there (links at the bottom of our website!). There is so much to share that the best way to do so is by categories! Here goes:
What has surprised me the most about launching the Education & Rescue Center?
I knew Renee had built an amazing business in the Berkshires (www.loveusandleaveus.com), but I was unprepared for the amount of time, energy, and passion she would put into our rescue. The love she has brought to
the animals and the people - volunteers & staff - she has attracted to make us a well-oiled machine is impressive. And at the same time, she created a greenhouse in the barn (okay, that was a little expensive - looking into solar!) and tends our gardens like a Stockbridge Agricultural alum. I did not know that was part of her repertoire! All the while working to open another new business in Pittsfield and raising my favorite soon-to-be Kindergartener.
I knew Sue Wells was an extraordinary education leader with unbelievable fundraising prowess. One of my longtime “Swift Cats” (as the kids would say, IYKYK) and Board Members, Jenn Kerwood, said to me last fall when she heard last fall that Sue had signed on: “Okay, I am not so nervous anymore.” I should have bought a seatbelt. In July, I will likely be posting gushing updates, and you will see some social media posts about the summer learning program we launch on July 3rd - leader training starts this week - for 20 North Adams Middle School students. Sue kept telling me, “This is a pilot year.” Folks, I thought she meant that we would phase this in. Instead, she built a rocket ship. Sorry to insult anyone out there, but these 20 students, their families, and the North Adams educators also participating cannot begin to imagine what is in store for them: I am 1000% convinced this will be the most extraordinary four-week summer program in the Berkshires, probably in Massachusetts, this summer. (No pressure.) A few essential facts: The North Adams Schools (more on that next) will provide transportation, some additional staff, and bagged lunches. But Sue has raised nearly six figures to support an experiential learning, college, and career-focused program - that will be fun and inspirational. Eventually, I am confident (if I do my part) a national model. And the timing could not be better. The local, state and the national press gave a big yawn to last week’s news on our “Nation’s Report Card” - we were more obsessed with the tragic loss of five adults who chose an adventure to the bottom of the sea than with the millions of public school students who COVID has dramatically impacted. I will never understand the media. But, with Sue’s extraordinary passion, talent, and commitment, we will be doing something about it this summer - at least for the 35 kids who attend: 20 for four weeks, then another 15 for a two-week program.
The trust that Superintendent Malkas, her excellent staff, and the teachers at all four elementary schools have placed in us is deeply gratifying. I know we will exceed their expectations. What shocked me was How little money the system receives for summer learning programs when there is so much need, demand, and evidence of efficacy. And that North Adams is not included as a Gateway City, a designation that would make them eligible for additional funding sources. I have alerted Representative Barrett and Senator Mark that I intend to work with them to rectify these situations. There was no time to tackle this injustice this budget season, but it is on my way-too-long to-do list.
What is bringing me joy?
Summer on the farm has always been a magical time. Even before my grief journey, I was diving deeper into my Catholic faith and participated in a retreat that challenged us to think about our happiest day as a tool for discernment. I vividly remember the summer we ran a “Life on the Farm” program during our years running a horseback riding program. That horseback riding program was a financial disaster, frankly. But, I was surprised to realize that my day of joy was sitting underneath the big shade tree out front with Jackie Petrino, who was helping with the program. All the kids, her two and my three included, were eating lunch on a gorgeous day. Chuck was on his tractor doing what he loved. Every kid was happy, and we had just returned from a trail ride. This is kind of an amusing exercise for me because family and close friends know that my dad was famous (infamous) for dubbing nearly every good meal “the best ever” and every trip to Fenway “the best ever” - it was and always will be a running family joke. But, he also could tell you the very date of his best day ever. As we packed our ubiquitous blue and white Suburban van, each kid with a ‘job’ and our family was headed south to Fort Wilderness Campground in Walt Disney World. We had saved for well over a year, and my parents were so proud to be providing this extraordinary and nearly unimaginable experience for us. It was around April vacation of 1975. But he literally knew the date. I don’t know the exact date we were sitting under that tree - but I really hope that I will have some moments of nearly equal joy this summer and that the adults and students who attend will, too.
What has been hard?
The work. Getting insurance. The weather. Being pulled in so many directions. The stress & grief I still have daily that doesn’t always have me showing up as my best self. Not wanting to disappoint anyone - the students, the school leaders who trust us, the team I’ve brought together, and my incredible daughters who have mixed feelings and commitment to this big project. Being rejected from the North Adams and Williamstown Farmers Markets - which we had hoped would eventually be one sustainable revenue source for our rescue and education operation. Did I mention that we have raised every dime to run this privately? And if I am being candid, the rejection felt like folks did not value what we are trying to do: support students who need a program like this (and so much more) and support small New England farms going through a generational family transition.
What sustains me?
The view. The incredible effort and work of the team. The animals. My daughters. And Chuck’s constant presence that is everywhere on this farm.
The store is open - we hope to move to a shed closer to the road (did I mention the long to-do list?), and nearly every day, we post updates on available products. I am a bit competitive - and the folks running the two farmers' markets are probably wonderful. But they provoked me, and now I have to sell more from our little store up here on the hill than I ever would have one morning a week at their market. 🙂