The Fire of Hope

Felix Dowsley, Boys Program Director

Let’s face it: the watershed will never be clean. At least, not with the way our species currently inhabits it. But the infinite tasks bring purpose to life. For me those are teaching, learning, exploring, and serving. As our students serve our watershed, they connect the place-based aspects of our curriculum with the opportunity to discover that a life of service is a meaningful, purpose-driven life.

Service lessons get students out into the world to put learning into action. When students contribute as citizen scientists to biodiversity surveys at the Southern Appalachians Highland Conservancy or Purchase Knob research station, they discover the meticulousness required of real scientists. When I heard a student observe that taking the time to build a smooth, wide trail provides access to nature for differently abled users, I saw him connecting our value of compassion to the hard work of removing invasive kudzu roots and building trail.

It is this spirit of compassion that makes our learning and abilities relevant. Students have fun piling trash high in a canoe to clean up the riparian buffer, but it is the realization that all our litter ends up in the river that carries beyond the single day of service. Likewise it is the realization that our homeless population lives in that riparian buffer for lack of other options that fosters an abiding compassion for those with few resources, with mental illness, with addiction. This compassion drives the dedication of our students when they sort food at MANNA foodbank. Serving the watershed becomes a nexus for understanding our interrelated communities.

My dream is that when our students propose solutions to our world’s trickiest problems, they will understand the hard work they are asking of themselves and others. And when our students become curious about why parts of our world are broken, I trust that they will ask hard questions and develop innovative solutions, throwing another log on the fire of hope that burns so brightly in young people.