Academy of Agents of Change Module 3: I Am My Community

Before module 3, Palmer Trinity students read “Systems One: An Introduction to Systems Thinking” by Draper Kauffman. The book discussion lead by Eduardo Balarezo, CEO and Founder Lonesome George & Co. , provided a basic introduction to the fundamental concepts of system theory.

Draper Kauffman defined a system as “a collection of parts which interact with each other to function as a whole.” Feedback, specifically negative feedback, keeps a system in balance. Using a series of examples, the author illustrated the thought processes leading to development of model systems and systems thinking.

With this in mind, students travelled to the North Carolina Outward Bound base camp in Everglades City, Florida. While the module aimed to enable participants to understand how systems work and begin thinking from a global perspective, at its core it was a fun, hands on, collaborative experience designed to harness the talents of each participant.

The course started with an introduction to sea kayaking focused on safety, strokes, and rescue skills. These lessons were a great way to get comfortable upside down in a kayak and improve core concepts. Students practiced wet exits, bracing (how not to fall over in the first place) and of course endless re-entries.

The group navigated to Lulu Island, set up camp, and cooked dinner. After starting a fire, the students sat down for the evening circle and worked individually on the Tree of Problem and Solution activity. A problem tree provides an overview of all the known causes and effect to an identified problem. This is important in planning a community engagement or a behavior change project as it establishes the context in which a project is to occur. A solution tree identifies means-end relationships as opposed to cause-effects. This provides an overview of the project that needs to occur to solve the core problem identified previously.

The next morning, students explored the beach during low tide with the NCOB instructors and discovered what creatures were present on the beach at this time of year. In the afternoon, they shared their ideas from the Tree of Problem and Solution activity. This activity allowed students to create a group social initiative that reflects the concept of systemic change and is in line with the reality of the community. It helped them to see more clearly the complexity of problems and point out the most creative and opportune solutions.

On the third day, students navigated back to basecamp. The NCOB instructors gave this final expedition an interesting twist with the “Paddling with Disabilities” challenge. Students received certain temporary physical disabilities including visual and speech impairments. Because of these disabilities, the Agents of Change had to come up with new and creative ideas to interact with each other to function as a whole. The “Paddling with Disabilities” experience provided a unique opportunities for students to overcome personal challenges, master new skills, enjoy the outdoors, and collaborate with their peers.

Day four was a day of service at Providence House in Naples. Providence House opens the door to independence for vulnerable women with young children in the Collier County area who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. They offer deserving moms the opportunity to make important long-term changes to realize their goals for economic independence through our two-year self-sufficiency program. The Agents of Change painted the wooden fence, porch, and fence of the main house. They also cleaned and prepared a unit for a family.

This opportunity to give back to the community allowed students to discover hidden talents that may change their view on their self-worth and to gain knowledge of local resources available to solve community needs.

Overall, the Agents of Change learned to make complex problems and situations easier to understand. They got a chance to learn how to make messy problems more manageable by taking a systems approach. Most importantly, they got suggestions about effective strategies for influencing the world around them. The comprehensive world view provided a new frame of reference and a new way of fitting the pieces together.