Unleashing Creative Power


April 6, 2022

Arts and Creativity
Learning and Training

Partners for Youth Empowerment Joins Commonweal

by Larisa Benson, Executive Director, Partners for Youth Empowerment

I first encountered the world of creative facilitation while at the Whidbey Institute for a gathering about the future of earth’s environment and climate justice. At that time I was struggling, because my daughter was struggling with serious depression. Several women at the gathering suggested that my daughter try the Power of Hope, one of the programs at PYE. We had tried everything, so I was low on hope, but she was interested and we signed her up. 

When she stepped across the threshold into Power of Hope, she found something within herself that transformed her. It was some kind of magic! I wanted to know more about it. I volunteered, and took the creative facilitation courses myself. There was more magic in every door I opened. 

Last year, when they asked me to step in as executive director, I agreed, as long as I could be part of a shared and diverse leadership structure for the organization. Our leadership team–myself, Andrew Nalani and Claudia Pineda–together hold responsibility and space for the organization as if it were a living organism, which it is. Our core cluster includes Stef Turner, Devon Little and Susan Janow, and together we support a network of over 2,000 creative facilitators world-wide. 

When co-founder Charlie Murphy died in 2016, Oren was one of the first people to reach out to offer support to co-founder Peggy Taylor – for no other reason than just pure kindness. When I joined PYE last year, I didn’t know about Power of Hope Bolinas, or anything about Commonweal. I just felt through Oren and Michael a steady heartbeat extending support and kindness, and, eventually, a natural partnership for PYE and Commonweal.

The idea of becoming part of a “flock” where healing and justice were key values was of great interest to us. As I found out more about Oren and Commonweal, I saw the power and depth of relationships in this community. Then I found out that Victoria Santos and Angela Oh, whom I already knew and admired, held their work here, and I just found more and more connections. We are honored and excited to lean into the emergent future with Commonweal, and our collective work becomes more and more important.

Young people today are being asked to navigate social and planetary disintegration and, if they can, help heal the world they find themselves in. PYE offers training and youth camps that elevate creative empowerment as an effective response to social pain. Creativity is medicine that young people can take AND make to help shift conditions they’ve inherited from generations of violence. 

Young people carry within them a powerful source of energy that holds the potential for the flourishing of all life on this planet. PYE’s mission is to unleash and nurture that creative power in all young people around the world. We look forward to deeper collaboration with Creative Community, ILALI, Retreat Center Collaborative and many other Commonweal programs – together we can!

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