As seen in the Huffington Post
I met my life partner, Rendy at a counseling agency in 1994. When we first met, she was married to a man and had three children aged 9, 11 and 13. Over the course of the next two years, we became close friends and colleagues. We both shared a love for swimming in the ocean, a passion for social justice, an interest in psychology and spirituality and a tremendous capacity for joy, tears and laughter.
In 1997, Rendy’s marriage of twenty years ended and our friendship organically grew into a passionate and mature love. We also felt a deep kinship around the idea that love doesn’t always have to be labeled unless someone chooses to identify with a label. Rendy had strongly identified as a heterosexual woman and I had been in significant relationships with both men and women. When we fell in love, it was as if all labels fell away and we both knew that we had found the person we wanted to spend our lives with. We have never felt like our choice of life mate was a statement about our sexual orientation. Being in a same-sex public relationship is now possible thanks to a history of brave activists who made equality possible; activists who continue to face entrenched oppression and obstacles.
Every one of us who can express our love openly owes it to the LGBTQ rights movement. Rendy and I, and many of the teens we work with, also want to keep working toward a world in which no one has to defend their rights or their love, based on external criteria, politics or pronouns. We seek a future in which the quality of health and love in relationships is all anyone is concerned with.
What has surprised us the most is that our common interests and complimentary backgrounds in education, young people and psychology became our life’s work and the constant expansion of our non-profit AHA! (Attitude, Harmony and Achievement). In response to the horrific Columbine tragedy, we founded AHA! as an attempt to address the persistent alienation and suffering we heard from individual teen clients who felt invisible or marginalized by their peers and had no safe space to be authentic and supported.
We began a summer program to bring teens and adults together in a participatory format and in an atmosphere of mutuality, creative discovery and a curriculum designed around social and emotional learning. During that summer intensive, each adult and youth felt something magical, essential and unforgettable happening in the AHA! model of collaborative and creative learning, which celebrated diversity and the unique voice of every member of the community. That was 17 years ago, in the summer of 1999.
Since then, AHA! has grown to serve 2,500 teenagers directly in school, after school, in school clubs and during the summer. Through our Peace Builder programs, youth leaders have reached another 6,000 a year. We have twenty employees, 18 board of directors and 26 volunteers on our “devo” angel committee. Our “village’ has every demographic represented and everyone is committed to transforming schools and communities by empowering youth to be the leaders of social and emotional climates which embrace difference, creative contribution, empathy and the grit it takes to overcome personal and systemic roadblocks or oppression.
Rendy and I have been blessed from day one with an abundance of love and healthy communication, which has afforded us energy to direct our non profit, enjoy travel, publish multiple books, pursue noble friendships, dare to be in singing and stand up comedy classes and commit to continuing personal growth. We have gotten along so well that most all of our strife has come from actual life losses like the death of our parents, and my brother’s death. We often remark how lucky we are to truly enjoy each other’s company. If more people cared about how people treated each other, instead of whom they were with, we would have healthy relationship and relating courses starting K-12 instead of politics or policies around gender or relationship conformity. Most of the pain in this world could be lessened if people actually got along better, understood one another and had the emotional bandwidth and freedom to consider what they could contribute to their fellow citizens, rather than try to control them.
Sometimes AHA! overtakes our life and we are gobbled up by the matrix and complexity of service. Forever a romantic, I make sure we plan frequent love vacations just for us. Rendy and I find our sweet spot again and again, beyond the tethers of our calling as a visionary couple. It is my sincere belief that our capacity to play together and remember one another helps to sustain our robust work at AHA! and helps us to place nurturing our staff as our number one work priority. The undeniable, seemingly supernatural force that brought us together felt much bigger than the two of us, and now many years down the road, we see that the greatest love of all is not simply for selfish pleasure but indeed to give that love to the world. That is our AHA!
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