Deon- A Testimonial
Vulnerability seems to come in many different forms and iterations. For some of us, it may be the challenge of spending a night in the woods with unfamiliar sounds and bugs. For others, it means extending ourselves beyond what has become comfortable to connect with the lives of others.
When I met up with Deon Gillespie, the first question I asked her was “what did you get out of the Outside INitiative?” Her immediate response was “the opportunity not to feel isolated.” After probing a bit more, I learned that for Deon, the single mother of an adopted daughter, life had become an adventure into the unknown. I also learned that spending a night in a yurt was the least of her challenges.
Deon readily acknowledged the paradox of being such an outgoing person, and living in the isolation that can accompany the life of an adoptive parent. In a voice that emanated strength, Deon shared that her life had left her little room to build community, although she remained steadfast in her belief that she would be able to meet new people who would embrace and share her world. As with many single parents, she discovered that her sense of self had given way to an identity that was intertwined with that of her daughter. Deon said she recognized the need to regain her sense of self, and as it happened, the partnership between the Outside INitiative and GALS (Girls Athletic Leadership School) provided that opportunity.
According to Deon, GALS encourages transparency in a trusting environment, and Deon noted that her experience at the Outside INitiative provided similar encouragement. Deon mentioned she looked forward to meeting other parents, all of whom were unknown to her at the time we gathered to head into the woods. She felt hopeful about learning how other moms coped with careers and parenting, and how they found ways to honor themselves at the same time.
The team building exercise that happened, as the group gathered, allowed “us to make connections before we even got in the car.” It was the beginning of creating an experience and an environment that allowed “me to let go of stress and inhibitions”, said Deon. In addition, “the socioeconomic, racial, ethnic and cultural diversity of the group encouraged the participants to share a unique opportunity, like African drumming, as a way to experience our differences.” Deon said that the Outside INitiative also provided her with an opportunity to connect with others, as well as herself, and encouraged both her and her new community to honor differences, as well as the similarities.
Nature encourages us to distill our lives into the present, and to look at the seeds that hold promise. When I asked Deon to describe, in a word, which seed she hopes to plant for her future, she paused to think and said RECONNECT. For Deon, reconnecting means letting go of what was keeping her from moving forward.