Exciting New Direction for LEARN: Gap Program

Exciting New Direction for LEARN: Gap Year  Program
By Liz Walker
It was the last day of a very full, five-day immersion experience for the ten students from SUNY Potsdam. The diverse group had bonded over cooking meals, learning conflict resolution skills, working in the farm’s greenhouse, and building a shed door. That morning, during a Nature & Meditation workshop, they learned how to open all their senses, and enjoy the sounds and sights of Nature: the pond, woods, birds, and even the cold March rain. Now they were busy writing about their visit to EcoVillage Ithaca (EVI).“The EcoVillage was honestly life-changing. I feel so much more open, confident and peaceful as a person. I would love to live here one day.”

“Thank you for this incredible experience. It has made me hopeful for the future.”

Building on the enthusiasm of young peoples’ responses to this kind of  immersion experience at EVI, an exciting idea has emerged: why not try a Gap Year program? Many high school graduates are looking for direction in their lives, and want some time off to travel and explore other opportunities before committing to college or jobs. Increasingly, taking a Gap Year is becoming recognized by both colleges and employers as a very positive step for motivated young people – one that increases their academic or career success, as well as enhancing personal growth and developing leadership skills.

The Basic Idea:  EcoVillage Ithaca is a great place for young people to learn a variety of practical Sustainable Life Skills, from organic farming and permaculture to cooking for groups; from alternative energy to hands-on green building; from personal growth to conflict resolution and community building; from examining class and race issues to helping to build housing for the homeless with a local group.

Pilot Program: We plan to start off with a pilot program of eight youth from diverse backgrounds for eight weeks, and we’ll fundraise to be able to offer a third or more of the participants generous scholarships. Participants will stay in residents’ homes. The Fall 2018 program will run from September 9 to November 2. If it goes well, we will plan another program in the Spring of 2019.

Benefits to EVI: This will provide a low-key, but highly impactful way to introduce the next generation of leaders to our values and practices. It will bring income to various residents through renting rooms, providing workshops, teaching and coordinating the program. It will allow motivated residents to share what they are learning with an eager young audience. It will also provide a missing age-group (we have few people in their late teens and early twenties who live here), and tap into their excitement, energy and zest for  learning new ideas and skills. Participants will be expected to be contributing, working members of the EcoVillage while they are here.

Salon: While introducing the proposed Gap program at a Village-wide Salon in mid-November,  there was a very enthusiastic response, and we had multiple offers from residents to teach, and/or mentor Gap participants. We also discussed possible challenges, and some solutions. We plan to hold another Salon in February.

Thanks to a very generous pledge by an EVI resident, the LEARN Advisory Board agreed to jump-start the program by hiring a part-time program planning coordinator. Astrid Jirka brings a rich background in teaching, study abroad, environmental policy, eco-tourism, running a small yoga business, working on a farm, and extensive intercultural experience. We’re lucky to have her skills and connections!

There is a lot of planning to do before the program is ready to go – from deciding on a name, to forging partnerships with local non-profits, to recruiting diverse participants, to fundraising. But there is a certain hum of excitement as things begin to fall into place.

To find out more, or to apply for the program, visit our Eco-Gap page.