Pebble in a Pond

Vince Durnan
IS Families,

This week found me doing something that maybe would have benefitted from more thought ahead of time. In my early enthusiasm for the new gig, I asked our Development Office colleagues to help me send a letter to every single individual contact we have, to highlight the importance of the Voyager Fund. Guessing by our cozy size and not too long history that there might be 500 or so such addresses, I was not ready when 2000+ letters then dropped onto my desk. Turns out that Island School connects far and wide, and signing each of those letters, at least one of which is surely bound for you, with my now-tired fountain pen proved to be an education in itself. 

The pebble that our founders dropped in the pond in 1977, upon review, generated ring after ring of effect—maybe beyond what you might guess. Here’s some of what was revealed:

To begin with, I’m not sure anyone ever tried this before, using the kitchen-sink list technique all at once. And the letter itself is way short of perfect, with an awkward salutation format at the top and an actual typo further down (see if you can find)—but it’s done, in hopes the perfect would not be the enemy of the well-intentioned. The point is that it provided a chance to look at the school and a huge swath of connections, spanning time and distance. What a perspective—I got to see names from yesteryear, names of new arrivals, names of casual acquaintances, names of people who helped build this place brick by brick, lanai by lanai. 

A few cases in point: we have an address from the town in Minnesota that’s the home of the SPAM museum, another that’s in the tiny town in Massachusetts where I went to college, another at the site of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington, not to mention multiples in Palo Alto, Seattle, San Diego, Florida (both coasts), and more than a few in Colorado and Alaska. Of course, plenty on Oʻahu, with a good bunch from Maui and a small basket from the Big Island. As isolated as it can feel here on Kauaʻi, we are connected in a way that could both really matter and totally escape notice.

What will happen with all these modern day messages in a bottle floating out remains to be seen. At a minimum we’ll find out how many of them bounce back as undeliverable, which is still useful. Beyond that, we may reconnect with people who have not thought about us in a while and might actually reply with clarifying questions, starting with why invest in the school this way.

It's already clear to me that this kind of philanthropy has not been a mainstay at Island School, and probably for a few pretty understandable reasons. First, we’ve reached out historically, and we still do, to fund specific projects, to fill acknowledged pukas in the budget, crowding out the chance to think more generally—it’s not uncommon at a fairly new school to roll that way. Second, and I’m speculating a bit here, there are alarming stories to be found elsewhere, and I repeat elsewhere, about organizations mismanaging funds, and it would not surprise me if some of that trust gap unfairly might land on us. Lastly, and most simply, it is not familiar because it’s not familiar—in a kind of circular way we have replicated what we’ve known and relied on to get us this far because we felt we had to.

I’ll be more than interested to see what happens with this appeal, and with everything here, really. There’s a lot to this school and to its community, far beyond any simple narrative of a just-getting-started identity. We now run pretty deep and wide. Imagine that energy and creativity applied to current circumstances and there’s a whole lot to be excited about, in a next generation way.

Learning my lessons,

ps- special thanks to families making the extra efforts that gave our faculty a day to work and collaborate—those hours are magic for people whose schedules otherwise leave them to collaborate only on the fly. I promise we’ll make great use of the time.

And one more thing, save Friday, November 4 for the return of Fall Fest. Lots of details and volunteer opportunities to follow.