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Taste of India Fuels Compassionate Leaders
Thursday, March 16, 2023


The aroma of dal bhat, veggie pakoras and chicken tikka masala drifted across the Sage School’s new Great Hall last week as the Wood River Valley’s young leaders threw a Taste of India dinner.

Tables were festooned with beautiful purple and gold table cloths held down by small black lanterns and guests were given adorning stickers to wear on their foreheads.

“Welcome to the Taste of India in this rustic building in the middle of the snow-covered mountains,” greeted Ryan Redman, the director of Flourish Foundation as he gazed at the snow falling beyond the large picture windows.

The dinner was a fundraiser for Flourish Foundation’s Compassionate Leaders Program, which hopes to send 10 high school students to Lakdakh in the foot hills of the Indian Himalaya and 10 others to the Eastern Cape of South Africa this summer. And, by the end of the evening, they had met a matching challenge of $15,000 but still had a ways to go in reaching their $75,000 goal.

Redman invited guests to take part in a few moments of reflection and mindfulness, similar to what they teach their young leaders and hundreds of students stretching from the Sun Valley Community School in the north to Carey School in the south.

“I invite you to dive in with a little playfulness,” Redman said. “Come to the simplicity of experiencing your body. Notice sensations and feelings that are present. As you sit here, wonder: Who in my life has inspired me to compassionately serve others? Explore what would it be like to offer a sense of gratitude or appreciation for such a person.”

The Flourish Foundation is trying to create a kinder world, while teaching mindfulness in schools and among its compassionate leaders, said Noah Koski, who oversees the Compassionate Leaders program with Abby Mills.

There are 78 tenth- through twelfth-graders who take part in the program. They represent all the valley’s schools and even a few home schoolers. They meet weekly at the Flourish Foundation office to investigate such topics as ethical living and how to achieve meaningful happiness.

“It’s a really beautiful opportunity for young people to learn how we can be closer to our values. We’re building community on a foundation of altruism, even playfulness,” said Koski.

Collaborating with other communities in India, Mexico or even Jonestown, Miss., as Compassionate Leaders have done in the past, is a way to widen their circle of compassion, Koski added.

Melanie Gonzalez-Maza, a senior at Silver Creek High School, described for the hundred guests present how she had traveled with Compassionate Leaders to South Africa and how she hoped to accompany the Compassionate Leaders to India this year.

“I was nervous—I had never traveled so far from home or with people I did not know well,” she said. “The landscape was beautiful, we saw elephants and monkeys and it was so special how so many people gave me a smile and made me want to give back the same warmth.”

Oliver T. Mullen, a junior at Wood River High School, said the Compassionate Leaders program was a wonderful safe space to practice things like mindfulness and self-love, to share experiences and be vulnerable with one another.

“It’s hard to explain the organization without making it sound like a cult,” he added. “In fact, the first time I heard of it, I thought: No way. It sounds way too nice.”

Mullen said he has relished being part of a group that has done such things as helping immigrants seeking emergency housing during this winter’s cold spells. And he said he hoped to expand such work globally by accompanying Compassionate Leaders on one of their trips this summer.

“Without a doubt, this program has changed my life,” he said. “I love that I can be part of a group that truly cares about this valley. AS for the trips to India and South Africa, these are not one-sided exchanges--we’re learning from these communities.

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