The Front Porch School
In 1990, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina, where I found myself surrounded by a community of educated, intellectual parents who did not feel comfortable putting their children into the local school system; a system which had not been updated for about fifty years. Because there were few alternatives in Asheville, many of these parents decided to pursue home-schooling. After living in the area for a year, word got out that I was the product of a K-12 Waldorf Education. In a world where alt education is rare, Waldorf Schools also enjoy a wide-spread visibility along with Montessauri education. But there was no such option in or anywhere near Asheville.
A group of proactive parents asked me to tea, and proposed that I start a Waldorf School for their children. This was impossible for many reasons, but this meeting brought to light the educational drawbacks of the area, the amount of children being home-schooled, how very far apart the children lived from each other, and the need for culture and socialization in their lives. These parents were doing their best, but they were all too busy to create an integrated model that drew the proper elements together. This sparked an epiphany in me, and within a month, I'd approached Kate Hyde, a talented teacher and innovator, with the idea for a supplementary educational program which would bridge the gap between culture, socialization, and education for the home-schoolers in the area.
The Front Porch School started the following Autumn with a wonderful group of 11-13 year old girls. Kate and I created a curriculum based on both our experiences of alt ed, as well as what we saw as necessary for the education of young girls blossoming into womanhood. FPS began its three-day per week program with execercises, and a morning verse, recitation, and word games. Kate, a high math major who'd left Harvard's teachers program, had the girls learning the history of money, math and counting, teaching the logic of numbers, as well as that of spirit, by introducing Thoreau, and how one can never imprison the mind, only the body. As well, she took them out into the streets of our sunny, quiet neighborhood, to read and create maps in chalk of our surroundings. I had the girls writing essays on books such as Calvino's The Baron in the Tree's and Jean Stratton Porter's A girl of the Limberlost. I taught them how to how to write well, debate, sing, and how to create their own textbooks with illustrations and essays. We sewed and knitted, had a daily chorus and vocal classes, took hikes, had guests lecture from many sectors of the community, cooked all day on their birthdays, and gave regular recitals to show the parents what they were learning. We taught the girls that they could follow and trust their hearts and minds, always ask for help, and always ask questions.
Note: Twenty years later: Kate Hyde went on to do groundbreaking work by founding a permanent solution for the needs of Western NC parents with her life's work in education The New Classical Academy now in its successful tenth year and the only alternative private school in the Asheville area.
The Utilikilts Co.
The Utilikilts Company was in collaboration with Steven Villegas, a dynamic and unique individual. As co-founder, I helped to build and support the foundation of the company by employing the same level of principles that guide my own life, creating a common understanding throughout the company’s world-wide community of customers.
I explained the principles of the company and its policies to newspapers, magazines and television. I did not solicit the media but I did welcome members of the press who were fearless, could really write, and who wanted to contribute to society, rather than indulge it. Any media who wanted to throw a kilt on a model and call it a story, was immediately turned down and offered a customer instead. These boundaries and instincts created an atmosphere where the Utilikilt would be featured on the Real Change paper for the homeless one month, and the next be exhibited as Art at both the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in NYC, and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, alongside Jean-Paul Gaultier.
The business received four years of mass media attention, and grew large enough to shape my understanding of the fascinating way publicity molds and distorts, as well as giving me an inside view of the post-modern Dickensian labyrinth that is the manufacturing and textile industry. Utilikilts taught me to be bold about sharing my ideals on a global level, to stand my ground on publicity and advertising, and to innovate service towards the local community through growing and fostering a customer community. The Utilikilts Company was the impetus for my desire to research world-wide cultural and corporate efforts towards change, and as a consultant, to help other business owners combine community-building with high standards in business
The Northwest Kilt Exchange
The most important project to me personally that was brought to fruition during my time with Utilikilts, was the Northwest Kilt Exchange, also known as the Community Kilt Exchange.
In November 2003, I implemented a program in the Seattle area that awarded five to ten utilikilts a month to people who chose to donate their skills to one of a list of chosen non-profits. The impetus for this program came from the following facts:
*Utilikilts were being made in Seattle. That was very expensive. After three years, the company needed to raise the prices, marginally, in order to keep manufacturing in Seattle and be able to stay in business. This meant that some people could have a hard time affording them.
*It was important to me to come up with a way for our company to practice philanthropy without giving away money directly, which we were still too cash poor to do.
*Managers of celebrities would call on a regular basis, having been conditioned to expect that their clients should receive a complimentary Utilikilt. Thus, I wanted to come up with a way that their celebrity could work for us, and the rest of our community.
*The press was still interested in us on a consistent basis. I wanted to give them stories of customers, stories of non-profits, aspects of life to write about that would interest people, and direct them towards volunteerism.
The Answer: The North West Kilt Exchange was born. By creating this program, I was able to harness, for labor, the enormous support of our customer community, who had always shown themselves to be a diverse group of people from around the world, many of whom share a sense of fellowship towards each other and towards us, simply because they wear the garment that we produce.
Thirty hours of community service at a Seattle non-profit, or a local equivalent if they were elsewhere, was the answer for anyone who didn't want to pay money for a kilt.
Our customers documented their work with the nonprofits, with photos and essays. The press had new causes to write about while interviewing our customers. Our customers became familiar with non-profits and volunteering. Non Profits became familiar with Utilikilts. It was a win/win situation.
The program became very popular, won two major awards, and drew people from all over the world who wanted to offer their skills.