For the past five years, my work at Gaia House Interfaith Center has played a defining role in my life. I’ve been involved at the center in various ways since my freshman year at SIU. At the start of Fall Semester 2011, I joined the staff as a co-director. After several shifts in our budget and staff structure, I eventually became full director and our only paid staff.
As of December 31 of this year, I am stepping down from my position as Director of Gaia House. Since this is major news both for me and for Gaia House, I’ve decided to make a public post about it.
I want to start by saying that most of my reasons for making this choice at this time in my life are happy personal reasons. I’m doing well, and Gaia House had a good fall semester, both in terms of programs and in terms of progress toward our financial goals. On the down side, one group that has met at Gaia House for a long time has decided to switch locations, which I was sad to see. But on the up side, we have been reconnecting with other local groups and hosting some meetings for new groups, both of which I am happy to see. I believe that 2017 will be a year of great progress and improvements for Gaia House. I plan to continue showing my support as a dues-paying member and volunteer. It’s just time for me to move on from my role as director.
Ever since my daughter was born eight months ago, I’ve been working fewer hours at Gaia House and spending most of my time serving as a stay-at-home dad. This arrangement is working very well for our family. My wife Grace is able to teach full time, and my daughter Bedelia is able to spend all day with her father. Being a parent is a major life change that really takes some getting used to, but I already feel quite blessed to have the opportunity to spend so much time with my daughter. I’m also still able to do some work from home while Bedelia is napping or playing, and sometimes when Grace is home on weeknights and weekends. Being a stay-at-home dad, and fitting in my other work during down time and free time, is actually a much better fit for me than I ever realized it would be.
But I feel like the specific role of director of Gaia House really isn’t a good fit for me anymore. My role as director of Gaia House has been significantly limited in 2016 due to a combination of Gaia House’s budget constraints (fewer paid hours) and personal reasons (finding balance in my new life as a father). This limited role has been less fulfilling for me personally and also less helpful for Gaia House than I would have liked. I used to do all sorts of random extra volunteering, but lately I’ve barely even been keeping up with the limited duties associated with my actual paid hours. It’s clearly time for a change. Stepping down from this role will save Gaia House some money (my minimal remaining salary) while also creating space for the emergence of new approaches to operating and sustaining this wonderful center that has played such a positive role in my life and the lives of many others.
Our board president, Ross Bauer, has already been covering many of my old duties this year and especially this semester. Some of our newer board members and volunteers also really stepped up to help with our Christmahanukwanzadan holiday party. I told the board about my decision back at our board meeting in October, and they’ve been discussing the details of running the center once I’m no longer director. This will hopefully involve the recruitment of a few more volunteers to handle specific operational tasks so that board time will be freed up for other things.
Change is seldom easy, but I believe that the board and non-board volunteers will do a great job with Gaia House in 2017. And I’ll still be around to help when and where I can.
Eventually, I would like to see Gaia House return to a model involving a full-time director. A fully-realized director position would be a full-time position that involved much more program development, outreach, and fundraising than I was able to accomplish under the current model. I recommend that Gaia House work toward this goal of eventually establishing a robust full-time director position. I have many ideas about how to do this, and I will continue working with the board of directors in support of this goal and in support of Gaia House in general.
From this point forward, it will be up to the board to decide whether or not that approach is right for Gaia House. Either way, I’ve come to the conclusion that the director role is simply not the role for me at this time in my life. My life circumstances and inspirations are calling me elsewhere. This departure from my role as director will be sad in some ways because it’s definitely an ending of sorts. But I see it mostly as a helpful change for everyone involved and an opportunity for new beginnings.
I feel inspired to focus my time and energy on so many new beginnings right now. I feel inspired to be the best parent I can be. I feel inspired to be an author and see all of my ideas for new projects through to fruition. I feel inspired to advocate for climate justice in as many ways as possible. And yes, I still feel inspired to do what I can as a volunteer and ally to support Gaia House in becoming the best center it can be. I still find that prospect inspiring too.
I am thankful for Gaia House. I’m also thankful for everyone I’ve met through Gaia House who has helped make this center, this city, and this region feel like home. Now that my time as director is drawing to a close, the main message I would like to share with everyone is that Gaia House is a wonderful student and community center that could really benefit from your involvement and support.
Gaia House is a place where people of all faiths, beliefs, cultures, orientations, and identities are welcome to gather together in peaceful coexistence. We embrace a mission of peace, justice, ecological sustainability, and spiritual living, however you may define or experience your spirituality or sense of deeper meaning in life. Whether you feel passionate about our mission or simply enjoy having a friendly place to go that’s open and affirming to all people, I invite you to visit Gaia House, to get involved, to show your support as you’re able and inspired to do so.
Come to an event you’ve never been to before, or organize your own. Check out our Be The Change program to learn and do more about questions of social justice, environment, and spirit. Become a member or donor, or invite your friends, family, or faith community to do so. Apply to join the board, or invite someone you know who you feel would be a good fit. Now that I’m stepping down as director, it’s an especially good time for new volunteers and new board members to step up and contribute their ideas, their vision, their energy, and their support. You can spend as little or as much time and energy on this project as you like. Many hands make light work, and whatever form of involvement you choose will be greatly appreciated.
Gaia House is whatever we make of it. This is true of all organizations, but especially one with a broad mission like Gaia House. Together, we can continue making it a special place for present and future generations. Thank you to everyone who has supported me in my work at Gaia House, and thank you to everyone who continues to support Gaia House in the present and future.