August 8, 2022

Conscious Connections: DMI x Deer Hill

Brendan Hill

Brendan is the National Marketing & Communications Manager at Summer Search.

For 32 years, Summer Search has pioneered a model of professional mentorship in support of BIPOC and first-generation students. Over the years, we have learned an enormous amount from our participants and staff about what best supports them both in their growth.

In response we have evolved our mentoring approach to meet the realities faced by our young people and our staff mentors. That approach is Depth Mentoring — a practice focusing on trauma sensitivity, social/emotional intelligence, critical consciousness, and identity formation.

In 2019, we launched the Depth Mentoring Institute (DMI). Our initial training was for our own staff to implement the practices across our sites and fine tune our training methods.

Our long-term goal for DMI is to share our learnings, techniques, practices, and resources with a wide variety of outside partners and youth-serving professionals, both in the youth development field and beyond. In other words, to bring Summer Search mentoring to the world!

This summer, we had the incredible opportunity to debut DMI to our longtime partners at Deer Hill Expeditions.

Our Depth Mentoring Facilitators at Deer Hill (left to right): Malika Graham-Bailey, Stacey Thompson, and Melanie Lyons.

“This has been a longtime vision for Summer Search,” explains Stacey Thompson, Summer Search’s National Director of Learning & Development. “This was our first pilot — taking what we use to train our mentors every day and sharing it with another community.”

Stacey was joined by Melanie Lyons, Executive Director of Summer Search Seattle, and Malika Graham-Bailey, our new National VP of Program, at Deer Hill headquarters in Mancos, Colorado. Together, they facilitated a one-and-a-half day training for 25 Deer Hill staff members, most of who were field staff that would be working with young people (including Summer Searchers!) this summer.

“This kind of cross-training is something Deer Hill has always wanted,” says John Palmer, Deer Hill’s Operations Director and Co-Owner. “We are thrilled that it came to fruition this year.”

Deer Hill staff members participating in Summer Search’s Depth Mentoring workshop.

Conscious Connections

The training was called Conscious Connections. As Stacey explains:

“We build relationships every single day. Conscious Connections provide the tools to look inward at the factors that have shaped how we relate to others, including our unique identity and the incredible intelligence of the nervous system. This workshop focused on developing one’s self-confidence and the capacity to authentically engage with individuals from a range of backgrounds and identities, and to provide increased trauma sensitivity and a toolkit for supporting one’s nervous system to feel safe in a wide variety of circumstances.”

Some of the main elements of this workshop focused on the following:

  • Holding Space with a Trauma-Sensitive Lens. Workshop participants build awareness of the factors that contribute to how we build relationships, and practice holding space.
  • Identity Formation & Critical Consciousness. The group engages in activities to increase our own awareness of our identity, as well as explores building relationships with others through a critical conscious lens.
  • Rupture & Repair. Learn a framework and tools for seeing the opportunity to deepen relationships in the face of challenge.

Like Summer Search, Deer Hill is committed to ‘authentic connection to self and others’.

As John Palmer states: “That is our north star. This is the core of our mission. This training allowed our staff to deepen that authentic connection in themselves so that they could then facilitate that for others.”

RELATED: Stacey also shared some of this Depth Mentoring framework — around holding space for youth during such stressful times — during our recent Championing for Justice and Equity event: Advancing Equity in Mental Health.

Right now our country is on fire and our nervous systems are stressed… Even though our system is challenged and taxed right now, we can all embody and hold safe spaces for the people around us. That is life-changing.

Partners in Empowering Experiences

What an honor it is to share our Depth Mentoring approach with our partners at Deer Hill Expeditions, an organization that has been with Summer Search since the beginning.

For 30+ years, Deer Hill has provided empowering summer experiences for so many of our students (and even a few staff!). Their unique blend of inspiring wilderness adventures and meaningful cross-cultural service projects leave our young people feeling more aware of what’s important in their lives, more confident to share their gifts and strengths, and as though they have gained a new family.

WATCH: What it’s like for Summer Searchers on a Deer Hill experience (from 2018/19) >>

“Their trips are transformative and focused on ‘finding yourself in the middle of nowhere’,” Stacey says.

Stacey also reflected on this unique opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the many Summer Searchers who’ve traveled to Colorado for a Deer Hill expedition.

One really cool experience for Malika, Melanie, and I was to be able to experience what our students go through — to take an airplane to a different place, travel to the summer program location, meet the trip leaders, and more. It was really incredible to have the opportunity to step into Summer Search participants’ shoes.”

In closing, we’d like to share two quotes from our DMI x Deer Hill workshop participants.

When asked what they learned, one participant said: “[I learned] what trauma sensitive means and how to be supportive without digging in or diagnosing. [I learned] grounding practices to help myself and others regulate. [I learned] how insecure attachments develop and why it is important to be consistent in supporting people.”

When asked for overall feedback, another participant reflected: “It’s easy to let the topics we discussed drift into abstract conversations. But, you all kept things grounded, practical, and concrete. This was very helpful.”

We’re truly grateful to our partners at Deer Hill for the opportunity to pilot our Depth Mentoring training. And please join us in showing appreciation for Stacey, Malika, Melanie, and the many, many Summer Search staff, alumni, and community members who’ve supported the development and evolution of our mentoring model.

Stay tuned for more on Summer Search’s Depth Mentoring Institute!

More conscious and authentic connections!

Welcome to the NEW!

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