“I am a student of the world,” says 18-year-old, Ari Frankel. Raised in the Bay Area she considers her peers “quiet and sheltered”. Living with basic amenities and unspoken privilege they don’t know anything about the trials of life in other parts of the world. Having traveled around the world Ari has seen challenges people face in third world countries, because of this she is determined to always question her surroundings and seek knowledge. “I am a listener, and I want to interact and learn, I don’t want to change cultures I merely want to understand them”. Ari’s desire to grow is what brought her to Synergia for a gap year before pursuing an education at Southern Oregon University. Although at first she was hesitant to move to Synergia she now knows she is in the right place, “I accept being here, and I know I am becoming a better person”. As a proud Unitarian Universalist Ari supports people of all backgrounds, mindsets and sexual orientations. “My gift to the world is acceptance, and offering people a sense of security from a distance”. Although Ari is the youngest member in the Synergia community, she is a teacher to all of us and is loved dearly.
Written by Nicole Lescher
Sierra is 16 and lives in Sacramento, California. She has attended Waldorf school her whole life…until now. Venturing from the norm she has joined the Finding The Good Traveling Semester program. She looks forward to learning about alternative building, social and environmental issues, and how to make the best tofu steaks in the world. Sierra found out about Finding the Good on her 8th grade graduation trip, and knew that this would be her destiny. Sierra also has a passion for sustainable gardening, Waldorf education and the outdoors. She recently went to Nicaragua on a sustainable gardening project, and was captivated by the fact that she could watch the progress of the garden unfould in front of her eyes. She would love to travel to the Congo, and find the birthplace of her great grandfather. Sierra is lighthearted and outgoing with a lot of compassion and love.
Words of wisdom from Sierra, “Don’t settle because we need things to get done.”
Written by Wyatt Manjarrez
Born and raised in Northern California Wyatt Manjarrez has an adventurous spirit. He recently graduated from Nevada Union High School and thinks Finding the Good is the perfect next step in life, because he can learn different skills, travel and get a non-traditional education.
He loves the outdoors, going on journeys, fishing and is passionate about water conservation; encouraging us all to prevent the building of more dams. He draws inspiration from Jeff Johnson’s quote, “If I go home now I know what to expect, if I continue on this journey my future is unwritten”, from one of his favorite documentaries 180° South. He enjoys meeting new and exciting people and if you are planning an adventure be sure to invite him along, he will dive into the unknown happily!
Written by Alicia Ralero
Andres’ free spirit and love of outdoor recreation is evident from the moment you lay eyes on him. Born in Monterey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico he then moved to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico when he was four years old. Growing up so close to the ocean he never knew how dear it was to him until he moved away to go to boarding school in Ohio when he was eleven. While he was delighted by the chance to experience a new culture, meet new people, and work on his English; he was overjoyed when he returned to his home by the sea.
Andres enjoys all types of outdoor recreation, from surfing to snowboarding, climbing to sailing. When he is done with high school he is planning to do a NOLS sailing course; sailing in different areas of the Baja California peninsula. He aspires to study oceanography in college, so that he can learn more about the thing he loves so much and how he can protect it.
For Andres, Finding the Good seemed like a perfect opportunity to travel and immerse himself in a different culture and ecosystem, as well as a much-needed change from a more traditional school setting. Although his misses his family and friends in his home country of Mexico, he loves the big trees and snowy winters of the Sierra Nevada.
Written by Ali Stefancich.
Connor Oliver is 17 years old, born and raised in Nevada City, California. He is excited to be part of Finding the Good and part of a solid community, since the conventional school system didn’t appeal to him. His goals for the semester include video-editing, making documentaries, and helping people see the facts. He is most concerned about the current state of the government and corporate corruption.
Connor likes to work with his hands, build things in unconventional ways, and explore what makes the world work. He loves to learn about science, reason and rational thought. He wants to work together to change the world and make people laugh.
Interviewed and written by Sarah Robinson
Rocketing into the west coast from Pennsylvania, Kiera McNicholas came to Finding the Good with a glowing attitude paired with a unique sense of learning.
Picking out particularly key moments from the last few years, she mentions projects ranging from a full time position at a farm to a lesson plan for her Girl Scouts Gold Award project centered on the intricacies of birding. During her time working for the Gold Award, she enjoyed having the opportunity to fashion a curriculum and learn how to teach.
Graduation from her alternatively approached high school education provided a very real marker for the amazing set of personal experiences she has collected thus far. Spending only kindergarten in a traditional school model, Kiera was introduced to and embraced topics of difficulty with a natural ease. In situations where the learning environment is continuously open and fluid, she appreciated that the teacher learns just as much as the student. Treating the official designation of “graduate” as a point of personal transition, Kiera is pulled to enter an unexplored, new environment. She is excited about delving further into environmental and sustainability studies, immersing herself in big adventure, and spending the next four months with a close-knit group of people.
Coming out of this semester, Kiera hopes to have forged close connections within a tight-knit community, and leave feeling secure and grounded as she propels herself into an environment continuously in flux.
“I don’t have much of a sweet tooth,” she says of her favorite candy.
“…I’d rather have a banana.”
Interviewed and written by Michael Chizhov
Lily Sinclair’s middle name is Phoenix. She describes herself as shy, but Lily’s outbursts of laughter, her warm mothering nature, and her passion for learning shine through. Lily grew up in England and moved to the United States for school. She says the best thing about having dual-citizenship is being able to live comfortably in both places. Lily knows what it’s like to step out of one’s comfort zone and adapt to something new; she has a talent for doing just that. Feeling stuck in her work and school routine, she broke out of it to come here and has brought with her all of her compassion and vivacity.
Interviewed and written by Chrissie Bodznick
Pablo Maximiliano Tejeda, known as Max, 17, was born and raised in Santa Cruz, California. Although we live in the same hometown and actually only a couple streets away from each other, I’ve never seen him until this program. Upon meeting Max, I can tell he has a passion for promoting justice, traveling, and caring for our Earth. As I’m learning about Max, it’s comforting to know there is someone like him living in SC.
Max lives by a courageous motto: “Try everything once!” On the ropes course, he is the one to say, “I’ll go,” when the rest of us are hesitant. As well as being a trailblazer on the ropes course, he is a leader in promoting food and agricultural justice through the FoodWhat?! organization in Santa Cruz.
These next 4 months are Max’s last semester of high school. After this program, he plans to go to college and travel. I know he’ll continue his leadership role in any career path he chooses.
Interviewed and written by Lily Synclair
I have never seen Shona dance, but I know that she is a dancer. In fact, the dance program at Nevada Union High School was the single thing that kept here there. And although we have no such program here at Finding the Good, Shona brings the grace and sensitivity of a dancer to everything she does. Never without her notebook, she is our writer. If you have followed this blog for awhile, you already know this. The images Shona shoots are the ones you see in your own imagination after reading her essays. Shona loves good organic food, so she fits right in here. On our last day in Ensenada, our dear friend Ezequiel took us to a citrus orchard to pick fresh oranges and mandarins. Shona was in heaven.
Forrest has spent much of his life living in different parts of the US – from Sacramento and Nevada City to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Charlotte, North Carolina. He has learned to adapt to whatever environment he is in, and become a part of it. In order to do that, one learns to be a careful observer. Forrest is such an observer, and his keen sense of humor is informed by what he sees. At Finding the Good we seek out stories. Forrest is a natural storyteller who teases the humor out of nearly every story he tells. No incident is too insignificant for Forrest – he finds the profound in the simple and without even knowing it delivers it back to those around him who, without his guileless interpretation and impeccable timing, may have missed the pure joy of the moment.
Public school is not the place for a young man like Tyler. On his FtG application, he described himself as a “caged animal” at the big high school he was attending in Sacramento. Halfway through the FtG semester, I think he might still be an animal, just not a caged one. Tyler’s mind works overtime and he can scan his environment like a panther, taking in every detail in microseconds. This faculty contributes to his ability as a photographer, an art he would like to pursue past the amateur level. With his “let’s do it” attitude that can tackle anything he puts his mind to, I see him combining photography with wilderness conservation; adventuring into the wilds to document pristine places that the rest of us would never otherwise see.
-Profiles written by Debra Weistar
Where do I fit into the creation of the extraordinary change I want to see in the world? Sixteen-year-old Nick Lee comes to Finding the Good with a desire to answer this burning question. He comes from the noise of life in busy Sacramento thrilled to be in the woods, close to the ocean, and immersed in the wild. Nick says he is drawn to these places because they supply him with perspective and inspiration. His favorite wild place is the marine environment, an environment he hopes to help protect and conserve. Nick began playing violin in the sixth grade and still jams on the bass guitar while friends fill in with other instruments. His reading interests are broad, ranging from the work of John Steinbeck to that of Alan Moore. Nick already has one plan for after his time at FTG. In May, he will travel to Washington D.C. with a group called Close Up, to see what kind of change he can help to create.
Profile written by Jon Manrow
Alex Depavloff, 18, left the “big robot factory” two years ago. Switching in his sophomore year from a public high school in Nevada Co., California to a smaller charter school with a focus on individualized learning and the environment, he became awakened to and troubled by our society’s harmful actions towards the earth. Though born in the desert heat of Tucson, AZ, and raised partly in small-town New Mexico, he considers the foothills of Northern California’s Sierra Nevada his home. After attending Synergia’s Sustainability Camp his idea of freedom began to materialize – separated from the destructive system, living sustainably, relying little on outside sources, this, Alex believes, is true freedom. Though he sometimes foresees a bleak future for the planet and mankind, he sees a potential for positive change in educating the still malleable youth. Alex feels privileged to be here, excited for the coming experiences, and wholly ready to forfeit fast food and television. After the Finding the Good Traveling Semester he plans to attend college to study social justice.
Profile written by Andrew Payton
Natasha Alston grew up on the run. Although she has spent the last six years living in Sacramento, this is the longest she has spent in any one area. All of this moving around inspired in her a love for diversity and for discovery. In fact, this love created in her a desire to get out into the world and learn by experience, which, in addition to a love for observing the beauty of nature, is what brought her to Finding the Good. Her curiosity and ability to observe have bred in her a passion for both reading and writing, a passion that she has explored since the fourth grade when she coauthored a short story with a close friend. To this day she spends much of her spare time writing short stories and she is presently working on her first novel, a work of fantasy that serves as a reflection for real world questions that she approaches from a non-conventional perspective. Unlike many sixteen-year-old girls Natasha would much rather observe and contemplate the serenity of nature than search for new shoes in the hustle and bustle of a shopping mall.
Profile written by Forest Neff
The search for inner peace is not the most common of goals for a seventeen-year-old. Forest’s hope is to not only find, but to strive for maintaining such a feat. Through the Finding the Good program he wants to discover a means of helping to preserve the earth and creating a sustainable existence for its people. Part of what he plans to give back to the world once the program is finished is the ability to take what he gains from his experience to others and help people step away from themselves and see the world at large. Getting away from the chaos of society and stepping back out into the natural world is a progression he has recently come to, though he sees it as a return for the world on a whole. From quiet moments of meditation to traversing nearly everywhere barefoot, Forest has already taken his first steps into getting back into accordance with nature.
Profile written by Natasha Alston
Sometimes you can tell a lot by a person’s appearance, sometimes looks can be deceiving. Genesis “G” Napel looks just like a 17-year-old skater boy, blue-eyed with a nose ring. You would never be able to guess that this sensitive young naturalist is striving to single-handedly change the world. “I don’t want to go without being remembered,” he says and smiles. “I live to stand out.” His morals and drive let him be just that. Compassion, inclusion, diversity, excellence and integrity are the code of Genesis. He applies his code to everything he does, from experimental painting to going to high school with Finding the Good. G’s personality shines through when he talks about what he loves. Somewhat of an enthusiast when it comes to life in general, Genesis loves the thrill of adventure. “I love jumping into really, really cold water” he chuckles, and it’s clear he’s done it before. “If I could be anyone I would be Peter Pan, because he can fly.” Genesis, just like Peter Pan, will be the boy who never grew up, adventurer for life.
Profile written by Annabelle Ziegenhagen
Annabelle Ziengenhagen is a German American, born in America with German parents. Three months after she was born she and her family moved to Germany, and then moved back to the States when she was eleven. Growing up in both countries, carrying both passports and knowing both languages, she feels as though she doesn’t know if she is German or American. Annabelle is a dreamer with a vivid imagination that analyzes any situation long before it happens. At 19 Annabelle says she considers herself to be a fear addict, too worried to step out of her shell and get over herself. A Pisces that hates water and seafood, but enjoys simple things like conversation over a glass of “grape juice” with fine cheeses and olives. She loves that you can tell a story through photography and says, “My camera is like my baby.” In life Annabelle wants to do what she wants to do and get by comfortably doing it.
Profile written by Genesis Napel