Some rough notes on how "wholeness/wellness" thinking evolved in my life

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I was born in Lawrence Massachusetts September 26th 1945, relinquished for adoption at birth and adopted a month later. I grew up in Winchester, where I graduated from high school in 1963. My birth family was Italian-American, as was my adoptive family. I think the complexities of being an adoptee, cut off from knowledge of my birth family until I met them in 1978, contributed to my curiosity and desire for knowledge, the positive aspects of anxiety and fear of the unknown. I'm also grateful for my father's math games and my mother's stories of imaginary people, for many fine teachers in public schools, and for our big-hearted and spiritually deep neighbor at Lake Winnipesaukee, Mrs. Caulk.

I did my undergraduate work at Bennington College, 1963-1967, with a social sciences major and mathematics and art minors. I particularly liked my child development course there, taught by Joan Blake, and working at the Early Childhood Center on campus. As a senior at Bennington, I worked at Prospect School, which was started by three faculty wives (Joan Blake, Pat Carini, and Marian Stroud), who wanted their children to be in a life affirming educational setting. My four years of experiential and wholistic education at Bennington laid a foundation for what came later.

Starting in January 1969, I worked as a Child Protective Services caseworker in Vermont. I wondered:

"How could these painful family situations be prevented?"

"What does good parenting look like?"

"What would parents need from their communities in order to do a better job of parenting?"

George Albee at UVM was one of the people whose work I read at that time, and he inspired me to think in terms of building the good. From the UVM faculty website:

A number of related themes have been interwoven in Albee's writing and lecturing over the years, constituting the heart of the message he has tirelessly carried across the American continent and around the world.... that... the most effective and humane way to reduce human suffering is through primary prevention. Albee has enlisted many in his fight for empowerment and prevention.... [We were invited to] see the world through his lenses: a world free from exploitation and domination of one group by another, a world in which each person has the freedom and the resources to develop her or his resources to the fullest, a world in which the highest goal would be one person's concern and regard for others..."     American Psychologist, July 1993 Vol. 48, No. 7, 717-725

I married Stephen Brandon in May 1969, and by December, pregnant with our first child, decided to leave the CPS work and substitute teach, both to slow down during my pregnancy and because I felt pretentious "helping" parents, when I myself wasn't yet a parent. We moved in May 1970 to Newark Vermont, to start a Community Land Trust, New Ark, Inc.

Our first two children, Noah and River, were born at home in 1970 and 1972, and I trained as a childbirth educator for homebirthing families. In 1973 my husband and I joined the Baha'i Faith, which gave us a spiritual path to walk with our children. Stephen got a job at Green Acre Baha'i School in Eliot, Maine in 1974 and we bought a house in Kittery, where Oceana was born in 1977. I was part of a mothers' support group called Wellborn and our network of mothers was nurturing and exciting. We were strong-voiced women!

In 1979 we moved back to Newark Vermont, and I went back to college, this time at Lyndon State College in Vermont, to work on an M.Ed. in parent education and guidance counseling. I think it was during those years that I first read "Please Understand Me" which introduced me to a wholeness/wellness model. I was fortunate to do an internship at the Parent to Parent Program in St. Johnsbury Vermont while Mary Field Belenky was doing her research there for the book that was to become Women's Ways of Knowing. My Final Product was a paper titled "A Wholistic Model for Parent Education."

In 1982 we moved to North Bennington, and I went back to CPS work in Bennington VT, but with a lot more knowledge and experience than I had had the first time around. I helped to start a Family Resource Network, a Wholistic Health Network, a Family Mediation Program, and a Family Resource Center. (Our sons both became snowboarders during those years, and Noah went on to make a pro-snowboarder career out of it.)

In 1987, our family moved to Flagstaff, AZ, where I gained certification as an Alcohol Abuse Counselor, interned at a residential treatment center, and then worked as the Executive Director of Citizens Against Substance Abuse.

We returned to New England in 1989, this time to live in Moultonborough NH, and I worked at the Plymouth State College Counseling Center. (River got a BFA in graphic design there.) I took graduate courses and completed a practicum leading to Vermont and New Hampshire certification as a school guidance counselor, and my Final Product was classroom guidance curriculum titled "Teaching Students About Themselves and Human Development Through Exploring Their Own Life Stories." In 1991 I wrote a successful FIPSE federal grant to start a Wellness Center at PSC. Based on many wellness models I had seen, I created for the proposal one with 7 dimensions of wellness, with a graphic that was rougher than the one we use now. (From 1992 to 1994, Oceana went to Maxwell International Baha'i School on Vancouver Island, Canada, and Noah volunteered there for a year. They used a wellness model there, for student life guidance.)

While I was at PSC my old friend Jacquelyn Mariani Prichard connected me with York Hospital, where she was working, and Jill Fargo, who headed up the women's and children's programs at the hospital. In 1996 Jill invited me to work part time there, to start a "Family Wellness Outreach Program" in the hospital's service area, southern York County, Maine. Stephen and I bought a house in Eliot, Maine, across the road from Green Acre Baha'i School, and I started to work with Jill and Jacki. I brought along the wellness model and added "financial wellness" to the model I'd used at PSC, and Jacquelyn suggested that "cultural wellness" be added, creating the 9-petaled model we use now. (She is now Jacquelyn Brenner, and has a private practice in Phoenix Arizona doing Wellness Dialogue. You can learn more about Jacquelyn's work at www.members.cox.net/jbren ) For some workshops we would also use a version that has "spiritual wellness" at the center, and adds "family wellness" as one of the petals.

This work increased my interest in what makes a community a good place for people to live and raise children. Working with others, I organized the Community Wellness Coalition in 1996-7, and we carried out a 16-hour Future Search Conference with 64 community leaders, focusing on the Well-Being of the People of the Greater York, Maine area (later referred to as the KEYS Region). We used the wholeness/wellness model as a framework to help us think about the whole community, to address all aspects of well-being - individual, family, and community. We could "zoom in" on any one aspect or detail, and then "zoom out" to the larger picture, reminded to focus on what was positive and life-affirming, and to see the parts connected to the whole, as a complex, dynamic, and beautiful system.

The lines of action that evolved from the 1997 Future Search are described at www.keysregion.org in the "About Us" section on CWC history.

During the late 90s/early 2000s, Oceana finished a BS degree in small group communication and experiential education and then worked in a variety of youth programs, including a wilderness therapy program in Utah.

At the end of 2006 my full time work with the CWC ended, due to a combination of changes, including my energy running down as I entered my 60s decade. I continued with some part-time CWC work in 2007 and then got a part-time job at Green Acre Baha'i School www.greenacre.org in October 2007, where I'm still working in 2010. I also take great pleasure in working on community projects as a volunteer, including content management for a few websites.

In September 2010, Oceana is half-way through an MSW program at UNH, River (graphic designer) and Heather (getting a master's degree in public policy) and their three children live in Hartford, CT, and Noah (co-owner of a Subaru garage) and his wife Shaida (physician specializing in gerontology) live in Salt Lake City, UT. They all have interesting work that is positive for their communities. Stephen works part-time for the York Schools, driving a van for the Voc Ed program, plus he paints and builds/fixes things around our home and yard. (He survived open heart surgery in January 2009, and more of our time is spent taking care of our aging bodies.) We're all active in Baha'i community life, working to build the new civilization that embodies all the values - whole person, whole family, whole community wellbeing -- that we've always lived for.

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