By Shannon Briggs, House Advisor
On my first day at the Ranch, I noticed this homemade poster in the main house dining room, entitled “How to Build Community at SLR.” It contained short mantras that could be found on fortune cookies such as, “be generous with your time,” “challenge yourself,” and “don’t be quick to judge.” I immediately wondered what these mantras look like daily and if I could live up to these uplifting and positive requests. During my time as a House Advisor, here is a glimpse of what building community looks like on a daily basis at Spring Lake Ranch.
Be There for Others
Like many small communities, the Ranch needs everyone’s help to keep this place running. Whether it’s joining forces to rake an entire field of leaves, tapping the maple trees during sugaring season, or cleaning the common areas, it’s a team effort and reminds us that everyone brings their own ability to the task.
And when I think about how we show up for one another beyond chores, family-style meals are a distinct opportunity that lets us listen and laugh as we grab yet another cheddar roll. And sometimes being there for each other simply means keeping quiet company and a smile.
Try Something New
For many, living on a Ranch is the definition of “try something new.” We care for farm animals, weave scarves and dog collars, grow our own vegetables, sell homemade pesto and granola, build storage sheds and chairs, tap trees and boil maple syrup, and harvest cords of wood.
Once a month, the Ranch goes contra dancing at a local venue. There, we spin around, listen to live music, learn new dance moves, and chat with strangers. It’s quintessential Vermont living but for most of us, contra dancing is unknown territory that is made less intimidating because of the sense of community that travels with us.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
You will, like me, most likely find yourself knees deep in the mud, holding a bucket of pig slop, thankful you wore your tall boots that day, while vehemently calling for backup. Such opportunities will inevitably unfold at the Ranch as you learn how to operate a table saw, make pesto, chop wood, or set up fencing.
Without a doubt, not asking for help is one of the most difficult habits to disrupt! However, when questions naturally arise, you are conveniently surrounded by people who have been in your shoes before and who have asked for help through challenging and dark thoughts. This atmosphere of personal growth extends beyond the work program too, flowing through the therapy meetings and residential experience. And because everyone lives by the mantra “be there for others,” we are present already or answer to a call immediately.
Share Your Talents
On a cool fall evening, several House Advisors and residents gathered in the art room, soothed by the warm light of floor lamps and freshly brewed hot tea. We enjoyed sharing our own works, sprinkled amongst favorite lyrics, poems, and songs. Gatherings like these spontaneously come together at the Ranch, and open the door to deeper conversations. Living closely, we begin to recognize each other as more than the moment before and hang on to memories such as these poetry nights, especially when certain mornings or nights are harder to get through.
Jam sessions, knitting circles, pickup basketball games, and trail hikes are just some of the activities initiated by Ranchers and remain a catalyst for fortifying community life.
Help Chase the Animals When They Get Out
This is by far one of the most amusing and unplanned Ranch responsibilities. And on one morning, I learned an important amendment to the word “chase.” After dropping bales of hay into the feeder for our flock of sheep, Farm Crew started walking back to the truck. Next thing we know, the sheep come dashing out single file through the electric fence, heading straight towards higher ground. Immediately we “chased” them. Our Farm Manager, Carl, calmed our nerves down, and reminded us that sheep need to be herded in a set direction. Instead of taking a moment to recognize that they were safe and they weren’t going far, the first instinct was to run at them without much of a game plan. We made a perimeter around the sheep and led them safely back to their pasture.
This experience not only became a story to laugh about over lunch, but also pointed out the importance of taking a step back to understand a situation and calmly move forward with a plan.
After some weeks you start to settle into a daily rhythm at the Ranch. Often it happens once you’ve got a handle on dish duty, or you get to know the houses, or where the crews typically venture. Often these routines keep us anchored, active, and aware of various habits; however, we also know that routines can sometimes become mundane and tricky to break out of. So, this is where those first-day, community mantras can help us stay more present and focused on our goals. As for me, these mantras that came alive during my time at the Ranch are staying with me wherever I go.