Friday, April 04, 2008

A Beautiful Idea Made Real By Women...

There is a very special place in Eastern Kentucky that will restore your faith in the ability of humankind to find creative solutions to tough problems.

It's called Pine Mountain Settlement School. Last weekend, we took about a dozen high school youth from our UU Coming of Age Program along with some of their mentors to spend a few days there. I'd been there before, and enjoyed the home cooking, the wildflower lore, the bird watching and medicinal plant workshops, but I had never delved into the history.

Now, more than 5 years since my last visit, I am somewhat limited by a bad knee, so I spent part of an afternoon reading all of the old newsletters that were displayed in "Laurel House," the big lodge where meals are served and folk dancing is taught.

I discovered that Pine Mountain Settlement School was the creation of women -- two in particular, Katherine Pettit of Louisville and Ethel deLong Zande, of New Jersey. The buildings were designed by a woman architect! As I read, I marveled at the strength, determination, and forbearance of these women. Almost 100 years ago, they had the courage to hike miles and miles through Eastern Kentucky to connect with the simple people who lived there. They had the will and focus to try to make something better for these people to aspire to than poverty and resignation. But most amazing, they had the creativity to imagine and to bring to life a place where people could learn, celebrate, grow in competence and confidence, and not only transcend but also preserve their cultures -- the cultures of Scotland and England they had held onto for so long.

It's a magical place. So much love, laughter, and learning have poured out upon these meadows and hills that they seem to throb with echoes of a charmed past. One feels safe, comforted, and held by the land and the people.

I've been thinking about it ever since. I marvel at these women and what they were able to accomplish even though they didn't have modern technology, transportation or tools. In spite of fire, financial challenges, and frustrations galore, they remained focused, graceful, and gracious. I am so inspired by them!

I am touched by some of the connections to the woes of today. Misses Pettit and deLong describe families left fatherless by ongoing feuds, marauding gunslingers on horseback, and children leaving school at age 13 to work or marry. I was particularly struck by the similarity of these challenges to my current work in gang prevention.

I feel saddened by how much the kind of work they did is still needed in a region beset by the ravages of strip mining, unemployment, and drug abuse, a region where the KKK plans to hold a rally in the coming weeks. What they brought was dignity, enlightenment, hope, and joy. It's still there, and it's a beautiful treasure.