I’ve been asked to share my story of how I got into working with children. It is a story about my journey of discovery. Although it began with me thinking I was in charge, events themselves took control and went the way circumstances often dictate. Yes, I was the driver behind the wheel, so we might conclude it was my choice. Maybe yes and maybe no? I’ll let my story answer that question.
After returning from the service, I used the G.I. Bill to enroll in a local pre-medical school. At this time, pre-med was something like a three-year college which led to more advanced medical studies. At the time, I also needed some pocket money. And since I preferred being my own boss, I came up with the idea of running my own day camp. I bought a three-seat station wagon and put the word out that I would be taking care of children during the workweek. I soon had fifteen boys and girls to take care of.
By listening and watching, it soon became apparent that the kids had their own ideas about what they wanted to do and how to spend their day together. I quickly established that it was my job to meet their desires, not mine, and I did my best to do so. Giving kids their own voice was one fundamental approach to how I worked with them. In other words, instead of me constructing activities for the day, I opened our morning gathering first by asking each what they wanted to do. I made it my responsibility to fulfill their suggestions. The more I did this, the more they expressed themselves. Little did I know that their words were training me, and little did they realize the power of their words.
Those actions, I came to understand, is a philosophy of leadership. Getting followers to express themselves and getting the leader to fulfill what they express (if safe) is good for both the individuals and the group. This philosophy evolved into a significant educational process.
A few years later, while a student at UCLA, the need to make a few dollars made itself known once again. Since I am not a compliant employee, it was easy for me to come up with my answer to that. As good fortune would have it, my brother in-aw found a perfect place to rent out in the Malibu Canyon, and in little time we had a day camp called Purple Sage. The philosophy of listening to children and small groups proved to be a remarkable success.