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Creating space where truth is sacred
Honesty is contagious.
Just ask Claire Hosterman.
“Sometimes I’ll be honest and a friend will say, ‘Oh my God, that’s so deep. How do you do that?’ I tell them, ‘You just say it. It’s OK.’”
Hosterman learned that it was OK to tell deeper truths from her participation in a small group facilitated by the Bainbridge-based international nonprofit Teen Talking Circles
“Group changed me forever,” she said. “The circle consisted of nine high school girls ages 14 to 18, sitting around a table of candles every Thursday, speaking their rawest thoughts.”
No subject was off limits, and each girl could reveal to the depth that she felt comfortable.
“When you open yourself and people hear you being honest, they want to rise to that level.”
Coming full circle
Teen Talking Circles was founded in 1993 by Bainbridge Islander Linda Wolf and K. Wind Hughes as a way to help Wolf’s daughters navigate the perilous waters of adolesence.
She and Hughes published a book, “Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun,” a compilation of stories and interviews based on the 21 girls who had participated in the weekly focus groups.
“In that process, I have had the honor of witnessing young people grapple with seemingly insurmountable issues, feelings, fears and pain, only to emerge from our Circles feeling hopeful, joyful, supported, connected, able to maintain lasting relationships, and be known for who they really are – as evolving human beings,” she wrote in “Speaking and Listening From the Heart,” the book she wrote with Neva Welton in 2001.
Almost 10 years later, TTC still offers teens a safe place to speak the truth about who they are and who they are becoming.
“Most of us in this world just want to be heard,” Wolf said.
“The most important thing to us is inclusion and cultivating sensitivity for how people feel and the judgments we make, and to get deeper into the causes of those judgments. Where do they come from? And how much do they reflect self-judgments?”
Both her daughters, Heather Wolf and Genevieve Smeeth, particpated in the girl’s group.
“Being in the group gave me an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be around other people who talked real, who spoke about what was really going on in their lives. It definitely has given me the ability to be open and honest about who I am and not be afraid about what someone else is going to think about me.”
Smeeth took and now co-leads the facilitator training, which includes learning Compassionate Listening techniques. She co-facilitates the Bainbridge Island Girls’ Talking Circle with Alicia Barrenger and co-leads the Women’s Sacred Circle retreats in Mexico with her mom.
“Our relationship is clearly special, Linda said.
“But it grew,” Smeeth added.
“It grew through Compassionate Listening and doing our own work together,” Linda said.
Earlier this year, the TTC model was adapted for use with teens and young adults dealing with cancer in the Seattle Children’s Adolescent Young Adult Oncology Program.
Leah Kroon, a nurse with the program, participated in the six-week pilot.
“Using the TTC approach for teens with cancer is new,” she said. “But the circles have been an effective way for them to talk about their experience and it provides a platform to educate and help other teens with cancer.”
Videos from the circles sessions are being produced by Fred Hutchinson and will be posted on youtube.com this fall. Dozens of hours of video are being edited according to topic, said Fred Hutchinson’s videographer Philip Meadows. Each of the 20 or so videos, on subjects such as hair loss or risks of infertility from chemotherapy, will provide an accessible means of support for other teens who have been diagnosed with cancer.
Seattle Children’s will be offering more circles in the future, Wolf said.
Heather Krich, cancer survivor and advisory board member for the program, participated in the taped sessions. She said the meetings themselves are generally not topic-driven.
“During a period called check-in, participants simply talk about where they are in life, speaking from the heart. What they say may resonate with other people who will say, ‘Oh, I’ve been through that, too.’ It’s kind of like a river; it goes in whatever direction it wants.”
She was so impressed with the communication skills she learned, including the Compassionate Listening training, she has taken the TTC facilitator training.
“One of the most amazing four-days of my life,” she said. “It’s such a calm, collected way of communicating, with honesty and authenticity.”
She hopes to lead her own circle, either with Seattle Children’s or another organization.
Wolf sees the possibility that the TTC model could be used for young people in other challenging situations. She just returned from leading a circle in Boston with Hunter Syndrome patients who are part of a teen advisory board.
How to be involved in Teen Talking Circles
Teen Talking Circles is a hydra-headed organization with many separate programs. “It keeps growing organically,” Wolf said. For more information about the work, visit www.teentalkingcircles.org.
Some of their programs include:
• Girls Group Talking Circle
• Guys Group Talking Circle
• Gender Talks
• TTC Facilitator Training
• TTC adult retreats
• Global Youth Allies
• Oncology program
• Compassionate Listening
• The Educate Teen
• Full-Woman Project
• Hunter Syndrome Group
The next TTC facilitator training is Sept. 9-12 in Rolling Bay.
“It’s important to set a tone that helps build trust, safety and connection,” Wolf said. Participants in TTC facilitator trainings learn to “create a container,” which establishes sacred space and group agreements, and includes training in Compassionate Listening techniques.
The next adult retreat is scheduled for Nov. 5-13. in Yelapa, Mexico. The trip includes Sacred Circles, presentations by Huichol indigenous people of Mexico, local medicinal plants and herbs, yoga classes, day trips to local islands and a waterfall swimming hole.
Bainbridge High School students who are interested in participating in a Teen Talking Circle can call 842-3000 to attend the first meeting.
Teen Talking Circles is looking for a new place to meet for 2010-2011. If anyone knows of a comfy private room, most preferably with couches and a homey atmosphere, close to town, call 842-3000.
Teen Talking Circles, a 501(c) (3) Bainbridge-based nonprofit is part of One Call for All. Donations support scholarships for participants.
An anonymous donor has offered to match all donations over the next five years (up to $10,000).