By: Mindy Huckins
Senior Director of Family and Participant Directed Services at Gateways Community Services
As people filtered in, the greeters became greater with all introducing themselves and offering handshakes. Soon the empty room began to fill, and the initial silence became a collaborative boom of sound echoing the promise of new relationships, growth, and excitement.
We began our day with some group experiences including a session we had to describe for three minutes “Who Are We” will no other coaching from our partner. Reflecting on how you define your self, how vulnerable you were willing to be, and really testing yourself to look at parts of yourself you might not have reflected on. The session even ended with a hug for some members.
We reviewed the Learning Cycle through experiences and group activities. It helped us to visualize how our experiences in Leadership and in life can move us forward or backwards.
At this point they must have figured we had enough and brought us together for lunch. The culinary group at Merrowvista created a feast in which we all shared family style. Chatter and laughter continued to ring. Following lunch, we broke up into two groups for team activities. We are a large group of over 40 members, so each group had 20 or more members. Chris and Heather each facilitated a group.
One group participated in an “Art Installation” activity. We began by pairing up and exchanging roles as cameras. One person was the “Lens” and had to walk around wherever the “Photographer” led them with their eyes close. The Photograph gripped the arm and when they found a picture they wanted to take they would move the Len’s arm down. The Lens would open their eyes for three seconds and be moved on to two other pictures. We then switched roles. Afterwards we reflected on perspective, vision, and leadership.
Next the group was divided to break up into 4 teams. Each team was asked to identify how they as a group were the same and how they were different. Then using the supplies provided had to create an art installation that represented the group. The supply bag contained various sized wooden blocks. Once we were done that we were informed that we then had 20 minutes to go to the other three art installations the other groups had made and needed to recreate their installations. Two team members had to stay at your table and the rest could report back for them to build. Teams developed different strategies. There was a lot a head shaking, running up and down stairs, and exclamations. After the 20 minutes were up you got to walk around to see how close your team was in recreating the installations.
The other group activity was what I would consider a “Survivor” type challenge. There were 4 canoes, two boxes of ropes, and logs of wood. The goal for the group was to build a raft that could carry the team into the lake, around a marker, and back to shore all at once. I forgot to mention that to touch the supplies that person had to be blindfolded! You could not touch anything if you were not blindfolded. Despite the odds, both groups were highly successful. However, there was lively debate about who was best at the debrief in the larger group.
We had an amazing day. Bonds were already forming. Laughter was the consistent ring throughout the day. We were gifted with a social hour. Members explore the large deck, fire pit, or just sat around the tables. The 41 strangers who walked in that morning were no longer strangers. Maybe it was the blindfolds, perhaps it was the zeal of possibility, or just good food but the Class of 2019 was here. Present and ready for the challenge.
After dinner and social hour, our hosts must have been feeling daring because they attempted to herd us into a group mapping activity. We were tasked with drawing the state of NH (perhaps a stencil would have been best) and needed to mark state landmarks and representation from where your group members where from and a characteristic about them. Due to the late hour and punchiness of the group this became a hysterical activity heavy with heckling and some lively debates where things are in our state. Each team got to stand up and present to each group. To really put us to the test they ended the night asking us to get in line in chronological order of how long we had been in NH without talking. Electronic devices were tapped into for support those some preferred to stick to more low-tech solutions such as hand flashing. Apparently, none of us could count that high. There were several errors but we all enjoyed hearing how people came to NH and what influenced those decisions.
Nighttime was a time for all to let loose and continue building our relationships. Given that it was the primary, there was a group holding tin foil and bunny ears trying to get signal to stream the results, others scurried to their rooms for a few minutes of down time, others joined the bon fire lead by Fire Marshall Jim for snacks, drinks, and stories. Michelle generously offered to get up early and make the team coffee. As we crawled into our bunk beds for the night the promise of tomorrow led our slumber.
As the sun rose, members of our teams, just as the diversity of the group was designed. started their day in various ways. Some stayed quiet hugging the coffee maker. Others took on a group hike. Some members found the beautiful solace of the dock watching the lake wake up. We rejoined for breakfast, yet another delicious meal, before our morning session with Bruce Mallory from New Hampshire Listens.
Bruce started with a power point on NH Listens and began a dialogue about civility. We broke up in small groups and had dialogue exploring ideas from what does civility mean to you, where you learned about it, to safety related to civility. The room was loud with discussion. Many group members commenting that their voices were getting hoarse from speaking up to hear each other. We had to apologize to Bruce many times because when he called time on one question, it was challenging for the groups to stop their dialogue on the topic because members were so engaged.
We then transitioned into a review of the Logistics of the Leadership NH Program, giving us the foundation for what to expect, how to engage, and when to communicate. We all gathered for a group photo prior to transitioning to our last fantastic meal. One would think that by this time the group would have started to make small subgroups. One of the things that impressed me so much was that at each meal, members purposely moved themselves to members that they had not interacted with as much as others. The natural drive to stay safe with people you “knew “better didn’t exist because the group was connected in many ways.
After lunch we were greeted by Dr. Dottie Morris (LNH – ‘13) Chief Diversity Officer for Keene State College, for a session on discussing our bias. Dottie was a lively, enthusiastic presenter with real world examples that kept us thinking and in laughter at times. When her time was up members were begging for more.
The final session of the retreat was ended with a personal goal session, challenging us to identify our goals for the year. Members were challenged to evaluate where you are today and how you will use the Learning Cycle during your experiences with Leadership NH.
Our retreat was in the books. 41 strangers walked in, but who was walking out? What possibilities lie in wait for these leaders? Can 41 people make a small ripple of change in this State of New Hampshire? Can they make a huge splash? The answers to these questions will be slowly revealed over the next number of months and the years to follow. Stay tuned….