Seasonal schools look at extending ‘Hope’ for families nationwide

Nallyre Rhodes has served as a facilitator for the Hope and the Family program since it was launched at Bosch Bahá’í School. Photo by Mary Morris for Office of Education and Schools

Office of Education and Schools 

Over the past year, a number of California families have been learning about Bahá’í spiritual teachings and community-building activities through the extended Hope and the Family program conducted at Bosch Bahá’í School. Every three months they have attended weekend sessions together by invitation at the center of learning in Santa Cruz, California, and in between they have been accompanied in study and service in their own neighborhoods in Brentwood, Gilroy and Hayward.

In early December these groups of families attended “Faith and the Community/Esperanza y la comunidad,” the program’s fourth and last weekend session at Bosch. People from each community created a plan and started thinking about how to connect with others talking about their homes, their problems and their ideas. Earlier sessions focused on the themes “Hope and the Family,” “Hope and the Community” and “Faith and the Family.” 

What’s next, then?

For the families themselves, the next step has been taking place in their communities, as they replicate the program among their friends and neighbors. A key element is fostering an environment without distinctions between enrolled Bahá’ís and their collaborators in the local community of interest.

But there’s more. The program has generated enough learning and interest that it is being brought to Bahá’í schools in other parts of the country.

The program is proving to be an effective method of reaching out to families “in a way that they get to know the Faith,”  says Nallyre Rhodes, a facilitator for Hope and the Family who now works for the Office of Education and Schools. It starts “with just learning about the principles. The program helped the community in general to open up their eyes and see what the Bahá’í Faith is, and want to know more. It opens the door for direct teaching.”

Rhodes works with the committees that organize summer and other seasonal Bahá’í schools across the country. Those committees have been watching the Hope and the Family program all year, and several volunteered to model the concept in their summer schools. Two were chosen to pilot the program in 2016: Four Corners, with a July session serving mainly Arizona and New Mexico; and Royal Falcon in November, serving Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

Using materials from Hope and the Family, these two schools discovered their programs readily engaged a range of participants — from veteran believers to friends of the Faith — and advanced their understanding about becoming involved in community building on their return home.

Their experiences fed consultation at a January 2017 gathering of the seasonal schools committees in Michigan: What would it look like if the Hope and the Family program is implemented in all seasonal schools as one focus of learning about engaging the community of interest?

One story from the Four Corners Bahá’í School, where the material was offered through a session titled “Blessings and Beauty,” was relayed by Jeff Albert, director of education and schools, who had talked with a participant on a recent visit to the Native American Bahá’í Institute in Houck, Arizona. “Oh my goodness,” Albert said the participant told him, “we had people who just couldn’t keep quiet. All of a sudden they just started coming alive. They felt that people were finally listening to them. No one had ever asked them their hopes. They asked, ‘Now that you have opened the door to my heart, what do I do next?’”

Bismark Larbi, member of the Royal Falcon Bahá’í School committee, noted that all age groups at that school studied the same subject. “I was in one of the groups and you can feel that almost all across the board everyone had similar issues,” he said. “We realized that it was not just my problem or his problem. It was our problem, because we were all facing the same challenges.”

Attendees reportedly liked working in groups, as well as the absence of keynote speakers. David Donaldson, another member of the Royal Falcon committee, said, “People really started thinking about families and the interaction of families and how the children and the parents could coordinate spiritual things together. Praying, singing, kind of like what we are doing here. And talking about their own hopes not only as Bahá’ís but as communities.”

Those two schools are looking to continue the process with their next sessions. As Albert summed up, “This is the beginning of a multi-year process that we want to use as one of the key elements of working with families in neighborhoods and communities.”

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