Finding Inspiration and a Greater Sense of Purpose
With relative frequency I am asked “How do you do what you do?” The inquiring minds are, I imagine, thinking about being responsible for 350 plus teenagers 24/7 when school is in session. My quick response is always, “I have a remarkably dedicated and talented faculty and staff; they make my job easy.” And this is absolutely true. I am never doing this work alone. But there is also another truth that allows me to love what I do: I am surrounded by inspiration. Watching a shy tenth-grader take to the stage with both fear and courage; watching a teacher extend himself to a struggling student, again and again; watching a parent hold the line with a child—when I know as a parent that caving would be so much easier. All of us working at boarding schools witness so many moments of inspiration on our campuses, but in my role as Head of School, I feel doubly fortunate to be able also to travel beyond campus and find inspiration. This past week offered just such an opportunity as I traveled to Manchester, New Hampshire with Nancy and Lynne Palmer to tape another installment in our Diverse Thinkers podcast series. Our guests were Maureen Beauregard, founder and president of Families in Transitions, and Michele Talwani ’89, Vice President of Communications and Marketing at Families in Transition. I encourage you all to listen and expect that you’ll be as inspired as I am by their commitment to ending homelessness through an approach that foregrounds human dignity and positive, hopeful relationships.
Maureen Beauregard is the epitome of a diverse thinker. Having spent time herself as child in the foster care system and working early in her career in child protection and as a drug misuse counselor, Maureen recognized the pitfalls of structures that focus on what people are doing wrong. “Making someone go to bed at 7:00 p.m. because he forgot to make his bed isn’t going to keep someone off meth,” she explains. Maureen wanted to do things differently; she wanted to develop an approach focused on “positivity and moving people forward,” and that is exactly what she did when she answered an ad to create a transitional housing program for homeless woman and kids in 1991. At the time she accepted this challenge, she had no idea what a board of directors was and had never heard of an IRS 503C. But she was curious and undaunted. She explains: “[This role] afforded me the opportunity to exercise the strength-based muscle I knew I wanted to put forward in my life and teach others about.” Twenty-eight years after beginning this work, Maureen now oversees 25 shelters for the homeless in New Hampshire, including the state’s largest facility, which was recently placed under her auspices transforming Families in Transition into Families in Transition/New Horizons. She has developed her “strength-based muscle” like an endurance athlete, and true to her desire, she has helped many others—clients, co-workers, and community members—build up their strength. In fact, she credits the spirit and generosity of the Wolfeboro community with the creation of Hope House right in downtown Wolfeboro, but having watched the process of securing permissions and funding unfold, I know that it was Maureen’s expertise, tenacity, and grace that allowed us to welcome this facility in our neighborhood.
As a graduate, Michele Talwani is particularly proud that Brewster was public about our support for Hope House, the only shelter in the Governor Wentworth school district. In our podcast discussion she also helps to crystalize why having significant opportunities for service is an increasingly critical part of preparing our students for lives of purpose. “When I was at Brewster, I don’t think I could look up and out at that point. I didn’t know much about homelessness,” she admits. But her family had a long tradition of community engagement—“We didn’t call it ‘volunteering’; we were just involved.” And that experience, she believes, led her to her early work at the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority, which served as a funder of Families in Transition. Michele’s work opened her eyes, allowing her to see beyond a stereotype of homelessness or addiction. But Brewster has the potential to be an enclave—our ninth graders have known it for years as a ‘bubble.’ Thus, the onus is on us to help ensure that our students have experiences which enable them to “look up and out,” and increasingly, with the development of our Lives of Purpose and Global Programs, we are doing exactly that.
Michele and Maureen are eager to help us as we work to evolve our relationship with Hope House. Of course, we start by honoring the needs of the clients, but Maureen and Michele also recognize the deep value of this work as a platform for learning for our students and faculty. It is imperative, Michele explained, that kids have their eyes opened to the needs of others—whether in New Hampshire or wherever our students land in their futures—if they are to serve as leaders in their communities. They also, Maureen adds, need to understand how and why such needs arise. Engaging in service offers student the opportunity to gain knowledge about the world beyond our enclave, to practice taking initiative, and to develop empathy and communication skills—all critical to leading in the 21st century.
The experience of serving others is not about self-congratulatory “giving back”; it is about living authentically in community with each other; it is about showing others that they matter. It is an act of leadership and humility, the very qualities embodied so powerfully in Maureen and Michele themselves. I am grateful for their partnership and buoyed by their inspiration as we work as we evolve Brewster as a private school with a public purpose.