Rita Jane Kiefert’s Bio Page

In the course of my many years with the School of Living, I have played many roles. I was Chair of the Administration Committee for the years I was president of course. I have been chair of the Education committee, the Publications Committee, the now defunct BWOB (Building Without Banks) committee, and I have been on the Land committee for most of my time with the organization. I now sit as co-chair of the Land committee.

On my watch:

The Administration committee received proposals and directed them to committees for review. We kept watch over the work of the other committees and directed the use of funds for the organizations work.

The Education committee put on 4 exceptional educational programs a year at the Saturday night quarterly meeting slots. We sold T-shirts produced for us by John Mangan, and ran literature tables at various conferences. We gave lectures and put on workshops.

The Publications committee struggled to keep the Green Revolution, our quarterly newsletter, publishing. We made several attempts to get Ralph Borsodi’s Seventeen Problems (the 600 page final philosophical writing of our founder) republished. We gathered suggestions, and increased and improved our literature selections. I am not a techno person, but I readily agree that when the current chair took over and added the web to our work, all those things got done that we had struggled so to attempt. Thanks Bob.

BWOB, Building Without Banks, committee was conceived by my father as a way to provide needed funds to people on the land who were having trouble getting loans to build in community because the land is under lease and not owned by the individual. It was to be a loan fund with minimal interest and be revolving. It was a good idea and during my time as chair we tried to raise money for the cause, but we failed. The fund never got large enough to meet anyone’s needs and the paperwork, while well thought out, was too much. The committee has changed names and purposes over time as someone shows interest in a project that needs a small fund to make it work. Currently this has become the appropriate technology committee.

The Land committee oversees the land trust and deals with any problems that arise. We were able to increase our land holdings while I have been involved. Most notably we were able to negotiate the first land lease for a Native American Tribe by a primarily white organization at the Natives’ request. The cultural barriers had been too great to make that work twice before with this tribe, but this time we made it work. I have some background in Native shamanism through my brother and sister-in-law becoming shamans and running sweat lodges and vision quests, which I participated in, at Common Ground for many years. We also helped our sister organization the Southern Berkshires land trust draft the language for the historic lease for the Indian Run Farm land which was the site for the first CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). This is the concept of having the community pay the farmers up front for the food in the spring and getting a share of the crop that comes in, as it comes in, through the growing season. It has taken many forms over the years but it started at Indian Run Farm in Massachusetts. The lease we helped draft put that land into the hands of a conservation land trust with provisions for people to continue to work the land as a CSA with environmental protections worked into the lease, while overseeing the protection of adjacent conservation land. This was a wonderful thing for the Conservation trust since their biggest headache is how to oversee and protect the land they hold from poachers or vandals.

During my presidency, we organized and ran a conference for our 75th anniversary. It was wonderfully full of a mix of hands on and lectures, art, history and sustainability skills, dancing, and walking in the woods. At the Board meetings, it was my focus to build a model community among ourselves at the board meetings. We sat in meetings a lot of course, that’s what boards of directors do, but we always started each meeting with a moment of silence to get rid of our busy mind set and focus on the work at hand. We started each day with an optional smudging (a native ritual for cleansing the spirit and quieting the mind involving Sage and Cedar and Sweet Grass smoke). We continued and expanded our use and training of facilitators. We gathered in a circle and sang together before each meal. We held Men’s and Women’s circles each weekend. We brought pot luck and prepared our food and cleaned up together. We set aside time every Friday night for personal check ins, and every Saturday morning for community check ins. We took time to review the weekend on Sunday morning with time for visioning and time for evaluations without discussion. The needs improvement evaluations would be read at the beginning of the next meeting least we forget. Oh yeah, I also always kept working on my crafts during meetings. I am glad to say most of those practices are still at work in our meetings. It’s the perceived need for the kinds of connections that these rituals produce that keeps us a regional rather than a national organization. The phone line or even skype cannot give us what a little unstructured time together regularly will produce in human bonding. Face time is critical to the building of trust.

With my return to the board I hope at 67 to play the elder statesman rather than the prime mover, we will see. I want to hang around for a while to see what happens next.

Rita Jane

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