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Well participants find purpose, community connection and more

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The Well participants

(From left) Well participants, past and present, Chris Wolf, Sarah Merfeld, Haley Leopold, Emma Wyman, Josh Braden and Juan DeRisio, gather in front of Springhouse Community School.

When Springhouse Community School was founded several years ago in Floyd, it began as an independent learning center for 7th through 12th graders. Now young adults are also coming there for another one of the school’s programs and then choosing to stay in the community.

The Well aims to help adults in their twenties find their purpose in life. Jenny Finn, who has a master’s degree in Social Work from Colorado State University and a Ph.D. in Education and is co-founder of Springhouse, explained that The Well goes deep with its personal development program. “It allows people to get to know themselves better, to know what they love, to know what gets in the way of living the life they want to live. It invites them into the community in an intimate way….Some could say there’s a spiritual element to this program.”

In addition to coming out of the program with a sense of purpose, The Well participants also have “a sense of community to support them in serving that purpose,” Finn added. That connection to the community has inspired most of those participants to stay in Floyd.

Fifteen young adults have gone through The Well, and many of them are connected to Springhouse and working with it in some way. Several of them, along with Finn, are part of the leadership core of Springhouse.

Sarah Merfeld, Community Life Coordinator at Springhouse, met Finn through a friend while visiting Floyd for the weekend. She was intrigued about Springhouse and came back a year later and heard about The Well program. When her job ended, she participated in The Well in January 2017. She started working at Springhouse, where she said she felt “a real alignment with the school’s culture and values.” She was also invited to co-lead The Well.

Merfeld said she hasn’t looked back. “It’s been a magical alignment.” She and partner Ian (also a Well participant) now own land here and are building a home. “What draws me is the multi-generational community at Springhouse, deep connections and a sense of belonging.”

Haley Leopold, lead teacher at Springhouse, has also worked with The Well since its beginnings in 2016 and is now co-leading it. Originally from Pennsylvania, she met Finn while studying education at James Madison University. She was curious about doing different things in education. During her last semester at JMU, she was driving 2 ½ hours one way three days a week, teaching math and getting involved with the curriculum at Springhouse. In the spring of 2016, she participated in the first Well. Her parents helped her move here the day after she graduated from JMU.

What inspired Leopold at Springhouse “was the passion of the learners. It was very alive, and there was a lot of things happening. I am also very excited about learning. The individual nature of what we do here focuses on the whole person.” She said it is mostly because of The Well that she can now celebrate the strengths of the students in their learning. The Well helps you “to find your passion and what your gifts are so you can go out and be of better service to your community and earth.”

Josh Braden has been through The Well program for the fourth time now. He worked at Springhouse as a full-time volunteer for a year. Prior to that time, he had been working at schools and camps and then the local Seven Springs Farm. Recently he moved to Mexico with his partner and has recently returned to Floyd. He teaches Spanish at the school and also a natural movement class. He said “there’s a very deep practical element” to The Well, and he considers it a safe place. “Its deep spiritual work is centered around love and not around anybody’s agenda.”

Braden said when he was traveling and going through airports, he observed how everything has become commercialized. “A lot of the world – human cultures – is being desecrated into something plastic and fake. The Well is not one of those places.”

Juan DeRisio, who mostly grew up in Rochester, New York and studied architecture, recently came here from the West Coast. He is helping friends Ian and Sarah with their natural house construction. He has been participating in The Well. “It’s not what I expected but also I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.” Having read the description of the program online, he said, “I felt I could relate in where I am in the process of learning my purpose.” DeRisio said this community reminds him of Cottage Grove, Oregon, where he was living and where people get to know everyone instead of being strangers.

Emma Wyman, who graduated from Floyd County High School, recently returned to the area. She had lived at a Zen Buddhist retreat center and had been traveling around in Virginia, North Carolina and Vermont before she moved back to Floyd. Wyman, who is now in her second session in The Well, said “mostly more than teaching about myself, it has been an incredible resource for community with young people in this stage of life searching and trying to figure out where our real work in the world is.” She added that she is drawn to people who are doing this inner work and are coming together, thinking on a different level and opening to the magic of being human. “It feels like an alternative to the mainstream culture.”

Chris Wolf’s first contact with Springhouse was through his wife Roxanne, when she was a volunteer there. The school was looking for a math teacher, and he accepted the position. That winter he also participated in The Well. He also was working at Seven Springs Farm when there was an opening to lead Ridgelines for teenage boys - an after-school and coming of age program at the school. (The school also offers a similar program, Tides, for girls.) Later Wolf became Dean of Students at the school.

As a teen, Wolf participated in a wilderness program in Canada. He said he also led canoe trips and worked there through college. “Working with young people and doing self study was really foundational…so I was interested in providing some of that to young people in Floyd.” He said for him The Well rekindled a flame that had died down and that something about that reminder was really inspiring and offered a reconnection to his own personal development. Roxanne now works as the school’s Financial Manager and Discovery Learning Coordinator, and the couple just bought a house in the community.

“I think it’s pretty outstanding that these young adults are doing this work…and they’re finding something through The Well program to stay and offer their gifts in Floyd,” Finn said, noting that one Well participant has opened a pottery studio in the county, another leads shape note singing, and one who walked the Appalachian Trail is back in Floyd and working at the Floyd EcoVillage farm.

In the latest Well program – an eight-week spring series, ending this week, there were seven participants. The program had been offered in semesters, and there has also been a retreat. This summer a five-day intensive is planned. The Well program is held at Floyd Center of the Arts. Springhouse Community School occupies another building on the property. Finn said there are plans to build a school in the future, and already people have invested in that project.

The Well, she added, is not about getting a job or workforce development but rather about “connecting to yourself so you can be of service in the world….I think we’re getting young adults in this program because they haven’t gotten something they’ve needed along the way….They need mentorship, community…people asking really hard questions…so they can lead a life that is meaningful.”

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