Island teens still talking in circles

As island-based Teen Talking Circle Project celebrates its first decade, requests for groups from Canada and the East Coast have prompted a new book to help train group leaders.

“Speaking and Listening From the Heart,” co-authored by Linda Wolf and Neva Welton and now available at local book outlets, distills 10 years of experience in running the circles for young women and young men into a text for prospective mentors and those interested in bringing teen talking circles into their work.

“It took us three years to create this handbook, to download all of the last 10 years of what we’ve experienced,” said Wolf, who founded the groups as the Daughters-Sisters project in 1993. The groups grew from Wolf’s concern for her daughters.

“As my own daughters reached their teens, I was fearful, “about what their experience of the world would bring,” she said.

In 1993, Wolf gathered a group of young women for conversation to illuminate the concerns of teens, a focus group whose stories Wolf intended to make into a book, “Daughters of the Moon, Sisters of the Sun: Young Women and Mentors on the Transition to Womanhood” (New Society Publishers, 1997).

With one daughter, Heather, already a young teen and another, Jenni, fast approaching those years, Wolf wanted to publish the book in part to understand the contemporary teen experience.

But the diverse group of young women Wolf brought together for weekly conversation become so bonded and so attached to the process of self-revelation and self-discovery, that the book was put on hold for two years while Wolf and co-founder Wind Hughes mentored the talking circle.

“What happened after the book came out was that we received tons of email afterwards asking us, ‘how do we start this in our communities, how do you bring kids together after school for nine months a year?’” Wolf said. “It took us 10 years to have enough history, I think, and experience to be able to do this handbook.”

Sharing feelings is sharing authenticity. It’s the sine qua non not only for the teens but for the adult mentors – a chief distinction of the groups from therapy, which mandates that therapists not address their own issues.

TCCP also adapts communication models from other programs, Wolf says, that include Compassionate Listening, Nonviolent Communication and Power of Hope.

With the founding of new groups, Wolf’s role has shifted from hands-on management to focusing more on doing trainings like a recent junket to Wisconsin, where she taught educators and police to lead circles.

The organization, at a transition, has hired a managing director to step in.

“If we didn’t do this there’s no way this could carry on,” Wolf said. “I can’t do this alone any longer and Neva and I can’t do it alone together and our board can’t do it alone.”

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