Greetings from Ojai,
This past March, The Ojai Foundation (TOF) was poised to reopen for day use after several years of deep recovery and reimagination after the Thomas Fire. As fate would have it, the Covid-19 lockdown struck at exactly that moment. Since then, we have been in a deep process of listening and reconfiguring, both internally and with Ventura County. Thus, it has been a while since our last newsletter, and meanwhile, the world continues to change. Thank you for your patience. We are excited to share some updates with you now.
First, we are thrilled to announce that after more than two and a half years of work with the county, we have recently received approval to operate programs onsite at our land sanctuary. This comes with a number of post-fire and Covid-19 changes. Nevertheless, we look forward to welcoming you back to the land in the times ahead. Suffice to say, this moment is not one we take for granted, as there have been many twists, turns, hiccups, and uncertainties along the way. We wish to extend our deep gratitude to all those who have helped us overcome these obstacles as we begin anew.
Alongside this legal/logistical work, we have also been in a deep internal process regarding the social justice movements that have ignited in response to recent (and long-standing) acts of police brutality and other forms of oppression. We have written a solidarity statement outlining some of our response, and simultaneously have been engaging in real action and taking real steps to address the needs in front of us and do what we can to support healing and positive change. And, there is much still to do.
The remainder of this newsletter is dedicated to updates regarding the work on the land, program offerings and projects, and some of our key partnerships in these times. For a published version of some of the story of this last fiscal year, photos, and more, please see our 2019-2020 Annual Report.
As we continue to navigate these times of deep global and personal change, we are continually listening for how best to serve the mission and vision of TOF, and how the mission and vision of TOF can continue to serve the times. Thank you for being with us on this journey.
With gratitude and humility,
The Executive Stewardship Circle
Brendan Clarke & Sharon Shay Sloan, Co-Directors
David Bryan, Board Co-Chair
The Foundations in Resilience Education Fellowship (FIRE) has launched! The FIRE Fellowship is a pay-it-forward, immersive learning journey designed to weave together spirituality, social justice, nature connection, and leadership. FIRE found its shape in the ashes of the Thomas Fire and in partnership with Youth Passageways; it emphasizes resilience training for a small cohort of emerging young leaders with a demonstrated commitment to serving the social and ecological movements of our time.
After an extensive review of many inspiring and heartfelt applications, we selected the inaugural FIRE Fellowship cohort. We are so excited to be underway with our inaugural cohort. This year, 13 young leaders – organizers, activists, artists, healers – have come together to build with one another to gain practices for long-term transformation and healing, and provide meaningful service in their communities. In a collaborative design process, the FIRE Guide team, Guardians, and fellows are continuing to adapt the curriculum and design to meet the ongoing changes brought by Covid, social uprisings, and more, with creativity, relevance, and meaningful action.
The Bioneers Conference
December 5-6; and 12-13
TOF is partnering with Bioneers to convene a series of council circles at this year’s online Bioneers conference: “Beyond the Great Unraveling; Weaving the World Anew,” from December 5-6 and 12-13. We have convened a team of incredible circle practitioners from diverse communities to explore the central theme: “How do we respond now, in these times, with our continued prayer and action to engage in the healing of ourselves, our relations with others, and this Earth?” Join us!
Note: In order to sign up for the council circle sessions, you will have to register for the plenary. Scholarships are available to any in need.
Center for Employment Training (CET)
We wish to bid farewell and offer our gratitude to the partnership with the Center For Employment Training (CET), which lasted more than two years and was instrumental in the recovery of the land sanctuary. With as few as one, and as many as 14 people working full time on the land at any given moment through this program, it is difficult to imagine any meaningful fire recovery without their support. These stewards not only left an indelible imprint on the land, but touched the hearts of the staff, volunteers, and board members they worked alongside, whether in council, on service days, or at family appreciation picnics. With them, we had the joy to witness and be part of deepening connection – to self, to community, and to the land. We will greatly miss their authenticity, openness, willingness to jump in and take care, and their humor on the land, and in our weekly staff councils. We are sad to see these stewards go for now, and thankful for the relationships that will remain, including with all those folks working behind the scenes to make the program possible.
Earthen Building: Tool Wall
Earlier this spring, with the help of staff and the CET work crew, we completed the construction on a new earthen tool wall. With the destruction of almost all of our tools and the tool storage spaces in the Thomas Fire, we have been in a slow process of acquiring new tools, and with them the need for storage. Some months ago, we entered a design process to explore where and how we might store our growing stock of garden tools. The result is our new earthen tool wall. Not only does this offer ready access for our most regularly used tools, but it is designed and built in line with our post-fire rebuild ethics: to focus on educational, sustainable, and climate-resilient methods, using local materials as much as possible, beauty and simplicity, modeling after nature, and appropriate technology. The tool wall was built without concrete, using a rubble trench foundation, burlap earth bags, cob, and a living roof. The roof is planted entirely with donated plants. The wall curves, and grows easily out of the slope of the hill, and also honors the viewshed as well as the aesthetic of the Council House roof. The tools are held from locally-sourced timber bamboo. We hope you will have a chance to appreciate this new feature on the land soon, perhaps while reaching for a shovel or a rake while helping care for this place.