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Spirited ’17

November 27, 2017

Dear Supporters and Friends,

With the events of this past year, many have concluded that our nation is hopelessly divided. We at SPIRIT SERIES have a different perspective, on the frontlines of a generation grappling with what it means to grow up in 2017. Whether it’s the girl on the autism spectrum celebrated by her classmates for taking on the lead role, or the under-performing seventh grade class defying all expectations with their comprehension of Greek philosophy. We are inspired by these young people, even as we seek to inspire them. Their compassion, resilience, innate curiosity and joy hold the promise for a brighter future, even as we share with them vital life lessons from the past.

Welcome to SPIRITED ’17—our third annual end-of year update. In this season of gratitude, we wish to send a heartfelt Thank You to all for your generosity and ongoing support! Your gifts make our work possible. The postings in this end-of-year newsletter chronicle progress we have made advancing the SPIRIT SERIES mission: to celebrate the human spirit, build bridges to our common humanity, and empower our children at a critical crossroads in their lives so they may become successful, civic-minded adults. It is a unique privilege to do this meaningful work with students… perhaps now more than ever. The story below, just one of hundreds from the past year, may illustrate why:

At Longley Elementary in Lewiston Maine, girls clustered in the hallways bristling with energy and giggling at boys, like pre-teens anywhere. But these fifth and sixth graders sported brightly colored hijabs and spoke an ancient language most Americans have never heard. Over 85% of the students at Longley are Somali refugees, many here in America for less than three years after fleeing the atrocities of civil war.

Already inhabiting a new culture, foreign to them in so many ways, these students faced a choice on that first day of SPIRIT SERIES—a choice they must face nearly every day—how to react to yet another looming challenge here in this strange new land? How would these 100+ African eleven and twelve-year-olds Muslims respond to Buddha Walks, Eastern philosophy, and a Prince of India’s sacrifice in search of a cure for suffering? The task ahead would be daunting, The program would call each student forth: with class time short, the curriculum demanding, and the stakes high.

When these young immigrants embraced the SERIES with open arms—fascination, awe and outright glee—we should not have been surprised. The journey from trauma and deprivation that had brought so many of them here had opened hearts and minds, not closed them. Barriers of language and culture did not defeat them as they rose to meet the SPIRIT SERIES challenge. Their teacher, Ben McDonough, explains: “These students go home to very little, and have few accomplishments to be proud of. SPIRIT SERIES allowed [them] to mature as young adults, and be proud of who they have become. This experience has been one my students will cherish forever!”

Yes, our nation is divided, and there may be precious little we can all agree upon. But, surely, we can affirm that our children hold the key to our future, and our investment in them is absolutely vital—to grow their character, their intellect, their capacity and heart. The thousands of students we served this past year, and the 45,000 before them, have convinced us that this investment is not just crucial, but well worth it! We can say with certainty that if we provide them the tools, this new generation is more than up to the task. They will exceed our expectations and meet the immense challenges ahead… because they must! Thank you for preparing our young people to create a better future with your generous support!

Leslie & Richard Strauss

p.s. Our cohort—ages 9 to 14—remains, in the words of Martin Seligman author of Learned Optimism, “…the most fruitful time to turn pessimistic children into optimistic ones.” With your gift, we can seize this last best opportunity to empower a generation of America’s kids!

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