Programming at Leaven? Now? Yes, now!

Pikes Peak

Pikes Peak from the Garden of
the Gods, Colorado Springs

One day at a time. 

Two weeks ago, I was in Colorado for certification in a curriculum called Journal to the Self® (which I am bringing to Leaven April 27-29).

A Leaven fan and friend I visited in Colorado Springs asked for news of how things are proceeding here, both with the sale of the properties and with making ends meet in the meanwhile.

“It sounds like you are moving forward, one day at a time,” Constance observed. “One donation at a time, one bill at a time, one rental at a time … why not one program at a time?”

Why not indeed?

These e-newsletters have kept you apprised of what is happening at The Leaven Center. You know by now that:

  • We suspended long-range rentals and programs January 31, because in the event of a sale we would likely have to be out of either property in 30 days. The board and I did not want anyone’s rental or programmatic plans upheaved in this way.
  • We continue to incur bills associated with the properties and with running the organization: from mortgage payments and utilities to payments on existing debt.
  • Until the Lodge and Farmhouse are sold, we cannot officially lay Leaven down — that is, file the paperwork to dissolve the 501(c)3 known as Leaven, Inc. And until that happens, the organization is not closed.

This is why we continue to appeal for your donations and for your Carry the Dream pledges to be honored. This is why we continue to offer the Lodge for rental, albeit in the shorter term.

And this is why we have decided, in addition, to offer limited programming until the Lodge is sold. Simply put, we cannot afford to run out of money.

It turns out that, while we are doing our best to close Leaven with integrity, ensuring that every obligation is paid, the bank is concerned about their mortgages to us and only those loans. While our mortgage payments are current, our friendly banker is hovering, ready and willing to take back both properties if we miss making a timely payment. I still assure him when he calls to “check in” every month: not on my watch.

The Lodge apple tree is
in bloom.

I continue to be hopeful. I continue to believe that the Leaven “community of caretakers of this space and everything that has happened in it,” as Sarah Cleaver calls us in her piece on this blog, will support and sustain this organization until we have buyers for the properties and we are ready and able to lay Leaven down. But again, we cannot afford to run out of money before that happens.

So here’s the plan …
  • Beginning this month, Leaven will once again offer (limited) programming. Because the Lodge remains on the market, scheduling of workshops and events must be sooner rather than later, so that we can be out within 30-45 days after closing if we need to. Some programs will be a full weekend, others will be a single day or part of one. Please visit the Leaven webite for additions (the site will be updated soon), and sign up for our programs!
  • Please continue to be as generous as you can with your donations. One gift at a time keeps us afloat until we find the right buyers for the Lodge and Farmhouse.
  • Consider renting the Lodge this spring. It’s beautiful here and we still have 17 beds available! If you want to come out for a night or two by yourself or with a friend or two to keep you company, please be in touch!
  • Be sure to keep letting your friends, family, colleagues, and networks know about the availability of The Leaven Center properties — for rent or for sale.
  • Mementos of Leaven are still available: pottery, books, artwork, books, art supplies, etc. Contact me for more information.
  • Keep Leaven in your thoughts and prayers (if that is your practice). We owe it to this organization and this community — with its nearly 25-year history — to be about justice and integrity even in our closing down.

In peace, hope and joy,
Karen Bota
Leaven Executive Director


‘A community of caretakers of this space’

In the weeks leading up to the open house on Saturday, March 10, board members came out to Leaven to gather all of the memory-laden pieces of pottery, art, craft supplies, mugs, and more in the Leaven Lodge and Farmhouse onto tables.

The Lodge meeting room became a gallery March 10 during the Leaven open house.

As we gathered these items I came across my favorite mug. It fits perfectly in my hand and has the colors of the sunset on it. I sat and tried to connect with all the people who had held this mug in the meeting room as they worked through all the pieces of their identity, or who drank out of it during a meal of cheese toast and tomato soup, and I took a deep breath to keep all those memories close.

The process of selling of the Lodge and Farmhouse has been a complex process, full of deep emotions and growing acceptance. We as a board and staff realize more and more that we need to find a buyer for these properties as soon as we can, and we need you — the Leaven community — to keep spreading the word about these properties.

This is an amazing space that has a divine purpose, and we need to help connect this space to its new inhabitants as soon as we can.

So please, tell your friends, your loved ones, and your friends’ loved ones, about these properties; because it is our duty as a community of caretakers of this space and everything that has happened in it.

Sarah Cleaver
Leaven board member

‘At the heart of the dream was a bold vision’

Eleanor Morrison teaching.

[Leaven Co-founder Melanie Morrison shared these words at Leaven’s closing celebration, January 29, 2012.]

It was August 1987 when Eleanor Morrison and I looked at each other and said, “Let’s do it! Let’s start an organization that nurtures spirituality and social justice!”  I was 38, eager to learn the art of designing and facilitating group process and my mother, 66, had years of experience doing just that, so she proved to be an incredible mentor. We felt called to work with religious organizations, challenging them to examine the homophobia and heterosexism that marginalized LGBT people and we hoped to create a context for grass-roots feminist reflection, study and dialogue, where spiritual seekers of every tradition could ask hard, heretical questions, and experience they are not alone.  We chose the name “Leaven,” a symbol of change, invited a gifted group of twelve women to serve as the first board of directors, and adopted this mission statement: Leaven provides resources, education, and training in the areas of feminism, spiritual development, and sexual justice.

In Leaven’s first years, my mother and I travelled throughout North America, speaking at conferences, leading retreats and workshops, and offering intensive eight-month seminars for women. It was in those seminars that we were challenged by women of color to re-examine our mission and to ask how race and class privilege were at play in the workshops and seminars we were offering. We began to grapple with the fact that Leaven could not adequately address sexism and homophobia unless we made racial justice core to everything we undertook.  Vowing that this intention be more than just words on paper, Leaven’s board revised the mission statement in the early nineties to include anti-racism as a core commitment.

Melanie Morrison

In those early years, we rented retreat centers for overnight programs and held evening sessions in my mother’s living room.  We dreamed of starting a Leaven Center, but couldn’t imagine how this small non-profit that struggled to pay its co-directors would ever obtain the financial backing to make that dream a reality. Nevertheless, through a wondrous unfolding of events, that dream began to take root in 1995. Through the generosity of John and Betty Duley, April and I were able to purchase the 20 acres adjacent to this land, including the house we moved into and a Guest House, and April’s involvement with Leaven deepened as she assumed the role of Director of Operations. Initially we thought that we would sell some of our land to Leaven and build a Lodge, but things took another unexpected turn.

Had I time, I would tell you the amazing stories of how this 20 acres and this beautiful home became available, how the board organized and led a capital campaign, and how 260 people – believing in the dream — donated a total of $220,000, making it possible to obtain a mortgage and renovate this sacred space.

Remodeling included making the entire main floor wheelchair accessible, transforming a two-car garage into this beautiful meeting room, installing the exterior ramp, renovating three bedrooms, and adding four bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs. The renovation was completed on the last day of March 2000. That very same evening, 24 people arrived for the first retreat to be held in the new Leaven Center Lodge. Led by Mandy Carter, it was entitled Building Multiracial/Multicultural Coalitions and Organizations.

Over the years, countless people gave of their time, energy, skills, and money to help this center survive and thrive by planting trees, cooking meals, priming and painting this entire Lodge, donating legal and accounting services, attending work camps, serving on the board, donating honoraria as workshop leaders, and so much more.  Each year, talented young people came to learn and serve as interns or VISTA volunteers.  And funders such as the Arcus Foundation in Kalamazoo and the Carpenter Foundation in Philadelphia, provided grants that helped underwrite new programs and collaborations.

At the heart of the dream was a bold vision: to create a place of beauty where people of many races, abilities, orientations, and spiritual traditions might find refreshment and renewed courage in the never-ending struggle for justice.  We knew the world didn’t need another place where only economically privileged white people could afford the programs or feel welcomed and at home.  We needed tangible, visible manifestations of what Dr. King called “Beloved Community.”  And that is what we have found here.  And, yes, it has been challenging to sustain that dream financially because conventional business models don’t lend themselves to providing a radical welcome for people on the margins. I often wondered how something so mighty could be at the same time so fragile and then I remembered that the organizations and movements committed to social justice are often on the edge — especially in a time such as this.

I estimate that at least 7,000 people have gathered in life-changing circles in this meeting room since March 2000 — for writing retreats and other events that featured the arts and social change. Hundreds have attended programs for people who share in common particular experiences of oppression and liberation – for example, retreats for women of color, disability activists, Jewish feminists, and Christian lesbians.  Others came to programs that challenged them to critically examine their privilege and learn the skills of being allies — at Doing Our Own Work, men confronting sexism, and disability justice workshops for nondisabled allies.  GrrrlFest, Getting Real, and A Shining Thread of Hope offered young people a unique context that nurtured their gifts, questions, hopes, and dreams. Leaven also brought together diverse communities for difficult conversations, cross-fertilization, and the creation of friendships, coalitions, and alliances across differences.  And let’s not forget the incredibly powerful and life-giving work that rental groups have offered in this space.

So many stories, so many lives transformed. It is both breathtaking and in-spiring what we created here together.  I am humbled and thankful beyond all telling of it to have taken part in this work — with my mother, with April, and with so many of you. And I am deeply grateful to you, Karen, and to each board member, for the tenacious hope and leadership you provided to carry the dream forward, as well as to shepherd the task of laying this work down.

I mentioned that Mandy Carter led the first event here in March 2000, inviting us to do work at the intersections of race, class, and sexual orientation.  Last weekend, I had the privilege of leading – with Dionardo Pizana and Rahnee Patrick – the last workshop to be held here: a training for faculty and graduate students at MSU’s College of Education entitled Race, Dis/ability, and Class: Confronting Interlocking Systems of Privilege and Oppression.  Again, deep work at the intersections.  That group, grateful to have been one part of Leaven’s rich history, created and signed a gift for this closing ceremony – a circle linking the first and the last events – with these words in the center “May the circle be unbroken and the work continue…”  So be it. Thank you.

Melanie Morrison
January 29, 2012

‘Like the River’

The piece is shared by Brenda Clark, who wrote it at her first retreat at Leaven in January 2001, with Laura Apol.

The Grand River in winter.

Like the River

The beginning darkness of dawn creeps into the sky; the birds’
melody sings them on their way as icy daggers of winter break free and
enter the perpetual flow of the cold black river. A spawning journey to join
an uncharted and collective destiny.  Each bringing their own beauty, flavor,
wisdom and uniqueness to this migration.  Being drawn where the curve leans
and gathers, gaining momentum, trusting in the unseen that guides and brings
them home.

Listening to society’s hypnotic call to nestle in and seek security, I exhaust
myself searching the universe for my truth.  All the while I’m on a collision
course with truth. Truth peeps around the edges of my reality, my fantasies,
my illusions and my dreams. Truth, the persistent visitor, haunting me till I
look it full in the face, only then can I break free.  Truth slipping into the
silent moments, a bone-aching undercurrent clawing, clutching at my swollen
ankles, hounding me to risk, unfold and soar.

Will I break loose from the bondage of the river’s edge?
Will I go wide-eyed into the spiral, smelling and tasting the risk and danger?
Will I believe that hidden within, I hold my own truth and wisdom?
Will I accept the mystery of unanswerable questions?
Will I be willing to pay the price of something Beautiful?
Will I answer the call?

My senses fragment, spin and dance outward from the rivers edge.

Frightened yet reaching, I whisper, “Give me wings.”

Brenda S. Clark
© January 2001

‘This land, these eagles, have borne witness to it all.’

[These words were shared at Leaven’s closing celebration January 29 by April Allison, who wore many hats at Leaven, including interim director.]

April Allison

Last week a friend of mine told me about the weekend she had spent here with Valerie Brown earlier this month. With excitement, she described the depth of her experience during the retreat; then exclaimed “the eagle flew right past the window. Amazing! Its wingspan was this big, as she held her arms out.”

Her story was both so familiar and so unique and wonderful. We have seen the eagle; each time an unspeakable gift to those clustered at this window, gazing in admiration.

Later, I began reflecting on what the eagle has seen, here on this land that we know as The Leaven Center. Do they pass the stories on from generation to generation as they fly from the north down to their winter home on the Grand River near Lyons?

Perhaps they share stories about time before the humans, when the eagles arrived each year at their winter home to find themselves the rulers of all they surveyed as they soared above the river. Do they tell of how things changed when the first humans arrived, and it became necessary to share the fish; but there was still plenty for all. Do they point out where the settlement was near modern day Lyons for the Maple River Band of Ottawa?

About 170 migrations ago, a whole different set of humans arrived, slowly at first, but then flowing in to cut the forest, drive out most of the Maple River Band, and convert the land into farms. Do the eagles remember the Faxon family that arrived on this very plot of earth in 1853 and continued to live here for approximately 100 years? Then, more recently. Skip and Barb Newman built their home on this very spot that was to become the Leaven Center lodge; while next door John and Betty Duley were constructing our own home and the guest house by hand.

Over these millennia, we humans have dreamed big dreams, brought our families and built houses and villages, altered the land to suit our own needs and visions. We have brought our pain and our tragedy, our love and our cruelty. This land has witnessed the murder of a young Native American woman by white men on the river, has seen Faxon sons sent off to fight in the Civil War, has seen so many of us gather here at the Leaven Center to share our dreams and gain strength from one another.

And this complex mix of love, heartbreak, soaring dreams and dashed hopes, continues. It will continue after we have left today. We don’t know what the future holds here. We do know that this land, these eagles, have borne witness to it all. It has nurtured us and held us safe; held our pain and our dreams, along with its own. And it will continue…

At one of Laura Apol’s writing workshops, Ann Flescher wrote a poem for Leaven, and I would like to close by sharing it. Many of you knew Ann, who died too soon several years ago.

Anywhere, Everywhere, Nowhere or Here

A sacred place, with particular location, becomes hallowed ground. Maybe it has been such for centuries and experienced by thousands.  Or maybe it became so, five minutes ago, due to a spiritual encounter just now experienced.

Under the proper conditions a sacred space may be anywhere, everywhere or nowhere.
Requirements for entrance is ones open loving heart,
or ones wounded, fearful, closed off heart.
It is where truth telling is spoken and witnessed;
and where shame and doubt are replaced by atonement, humility and centering strength.

There is a feeling that begins to take hold as I approach a sacred place.
Time begins to slow,
as does my breath.

I feel my body moving from the shallow living pool
to the deep.
Where complicated is not hard but accepted for itself.

As I drive down this winding country road,
turning into the long drive way,
I know I have arrived at such a place.

Sound is at once amplified yet hushed,
as Nature whispers its familiar greetings.

Here, my soul will be both soothed and challenged as I am met by ancestors past and future.
Homage will be paid to those who have forged the way.
I will be supported and inspired by their strength,
as I am held to my own account.

Ann Flescher
Completed February 6, 2008

April Allison


Closing words from Leaven’s closing celebration, January 29

L to R: Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom, Debbie Wollard and Oletha Haller, board members

In spite of a sudden blizzard on Sunday, January 29, about 60 people made it to the “Hope for the Journey” celebration at the Lodge. Board member Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom brought the beautiful, moving, and powerful ceremony to an end with these words.

Our theme for today is “Hope for the Journey.”

Leaven has always been a place of hope – a fierce hope born of a faith in the power that we have when we gather to share our stories, name the injustice and oppression in our lives, and affirm one another’s dignity and place in the human family. So many have come to Leaven and left with a renewed sense of hope, a hope which helps them deepen their commitment to doing work for justice and healing, a hope which restores the spirit after years in the trenches.

We are bringing around candles for each of you, and will soon be coming around to light each of your candles with the light from the main candle up front.  As we light the candle of the first person in each row, we invite you to light your neighbor’s candle, until all the candles are lit.

We are laying down Leaven because we have been unable to keep it open financially.  But we are not laying down the work.  We have gathered today to celebrate all that Leaven has meant and continues to mean in our lives and our work.  We gather one final time on this hallowed ground to remember, to celebrate, and to pledge together to honor the hope that we have witnessed and created and felt grow among us.  We honor that hope by committing together to continue the work, to take the small light of hope that lives in each of us, and to carry that light with us as we go out and go forth.   We have gathered today to affirm that we have Hope for the Journey.

We invite you to look around this room, to celebrate the fact that each of us is a witness to Hope, and that each of us will take this light with us as we leave. Let us lift up our candles now and commit to keep on carrying on. Feel the spirit that is here with us, remember it, that you may call it forth weeks, months, years from now when you are in place where you need to draw on some Hope to get you through, to help you keep going…  In just a minute we will be blowing out these candles, but we will be taking with us the light and the spirit that is with us here and now.  Take the light that you are holding, and welcome it into you, so that you can take it with you when you leave this place.

And now, let us lower our candles, and let us pledge to honor the light by continuing to do the work, together.  Let us blow out our candles together.

Let us go forth, filled with Hope for the Journey.

Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom
Board Member

Preparing for the journey

Sarah as a VISTA volunteer at Leaven.

In one week the Leaven Community will gather to remember, commemorate, look forward, and say goodbye.

On January 29th I look forward to gathering with a community of people I have known most of my adult life and also with new friends that have been touched in the same ways that I have by the work of Leaven. Together we will share stories, song, and food like so many times before.

I will be spending this upcoming week remembering those that have gone before in this work.  Asking how I can bring them into this event and continue to keep them and this community as part of my life journey.  I encourage you to do the same, to take time and remember.

The Leaven Center is a lodge and farmhouse full of memories of growth, transformation, healing, and love. I hope that all of us can keep a piece of this overwhelming feeling of peace and home that I have felt when I have entered the Center’s doors.  We can use this feeling to encourage us to keep being brave and to continue to speak truths to power.

We as a Leaven board greatly encourage you to come to this gathering that will create a space for us all to collectively give voice to our personal journeys of growth and resilience.

Sarah Cleaver

Reflections on what is, was, and can be

[Some reflections from board member Oletha Haller. ~ kb]

Some thoughts about the Leaven we know and love so well, on the edge of more steps at the dawning of certainty toward the future; yet, we still long to expect the unexpected in the journey toward tomorrow.

Some were fortunate to visit, participate in workshops, seminars and other settings of truth and life, embracing activities that shaped a paradigm shift of being and doing – believing and perceiving.      While many participated in ongoing workshops and seminars, I experienced Leaven as a board member over a 15-year period.  I was impacted by the vision and mission and became a carrier of a vision and implementation of mission at a distance. It was invigorating and challenging to be a part of the planning, implementation and fundraising – the Capital Campaign, Seeds of Hope, and Carry the Dream.

It is apparent that there have been truth seekers and infectious vision carriers for Leaven to have been in existence for a significant amount of clock time.  As a shared dream emerged over the years, Leaven became a symbol of peace, justice and inclusion.

It was said by someone – I can only paraphrase it here as a reminder – that anything that is deeply embedded in the human consciousness is attainable.  So it is that Leaven, as some know it and others have experienced it in various settings, stands between memory and hope. Leaven became a teaching and learning community; a place where imagining was made concrete. Participants and others have been impacted by the memory of teaching, learning, being and doing in transformative settings as a safe place for truths – sometimes dangerous truths – liberating truths.  Another way of stating this truth is to suggest that seeds planted in nurturing soil can produce a bountiful harvest.  Ideas planted in teaching and learning, dialogue and discernment can produce a depth of being and doing that surpasses surface or depth. Many became, I think, dreamers and visionary believers of the impossible possibility and the imagining of what can be the divine order for creatures and creation.

It is said that hope is the melody of the future and unbounded grounded faith is to dance to it. It is said that many are able to walk the talk they espouse – thank goodness for them – as light bearers in the ever expansive circles of truth and possibility and hope. This posture will continue to be expansive between memory and hope.

Oletha Haller
Leaven Board Member

On Peckins Road

8142 Peckins Rd.

The Leaven Center came into my life in a very unique way. I grew up on Peckins Road in an old farmhouse, which later became Leaven’s office.

It was a pleasure to get to know Melanie and April as our neighbors first, and we were equally pleased to learn about the wide variety of inspiring workshops and retreats that they offered. Best of all, to us, the center was in the big beautiful log cabin right across the road.

That was March of 2000, and as you know, so much has happened between then and now. There have been so many wonderful workshops, we have learned so many interesting and insightful things, and we have met so many beautiful people.

One of my favorite memories is of my very first time with Melanie and April, when they held an all-day event on the fourth of July, called “How Can I Keep From Singing?” It was really the first time I had ever been with a group of people who got together just to sing. And it was delightful!

All of the memories of that “first” day flooded back to me during a Saturday event that we had at the lodge two weeks ago, “1 Last JAM for Leaven.”

Much like the first time, we did SO much wonderful singing. Intertwined with that, there was drumming and playing with other rhythm instruments, and even some quiet time learning a few yoga techniques. Everything about the day, the music, the food and laughter, the people connecting — it was truly phenomenal.

The whole day reminded me of ALL of the connections and synchronicities that had been created at Leaven, every single time a group gathered in that sacred circle. I also realized, again, that even outside of the circle, we will continue to create and witness these amazing synchronicities throughout the rest of our lives.

Because of this, and despite the economic situation affecting all of us at The Leaven Center, we STILL have hope.  We know that every single person who has ever been on the Leaven land was touched in a miraculous way. We know that each and every person now carries with them this seed of miracles and beautiful connections. In the Leaven name and our hope-filled mission, we know each person will continue to grow and connect with others in the same creative and inspiring way, long after the Leaven sign has been taken down from Peckins Road.

Vanessa Mitchner
Leaven Board Member

Waiting with Anticipation

Giving with Gratitude and Hope

Advent is my favorite time of the year in the Christian church. I love the slower pace, the sense of mystery and the darkness that is threaded throughout the Advent stories.

I am glad this year to be reminded that:

  • Waiting with anticipation is a sign of Hope and,
  • Periods of darkness and mystery often produce miracles of unimagined proportion.

I remember when I first came to The Leaven Center, and when I began to meet some of the people in the Leaven community. I felt such hope! And still do. The people who come to Leaven are brave, committed people who dedicate themselves to creating a better world. You are a community of people who carve new pathways, create new norms and break the patterns that oppress and depress. That is a community that fosters Hope for sure, and will continue to do so into the future.

In this season of Hope and giving I invite you to join me in sending a tax-deductible gift in honor of, celebration of, or thanksgiving for someone special in your life. If you have been profoundly impacted by a workshop leader at Leaven, or by the founders or current director, might I suggest that you send a financial gift as one way to express your gratitude. If you have had a powerful experience on the land at The Leaven Center, I hope you will consider joining others in sending along a year-end gift to express your gratitude.

As a community we continue to wait with anticipation …

  • to see who will buy the Lodge and Farmhouse and how Leaven’s legacy will continue,
  • to strive to reach our goal of raising $85,000 in order to pay off all of the debt owed from Leaven’s amazing mission, service, and advocacy,
  • to see what miracles will continue to emerge from this time that feels to some like a time of darkness and
  • to watch for the ways that the Hope is carried forward by each of you.

I have been so inspired by all of the signs of Hope that have already been shared, and by the director, Karen, who continues to anticipate success for this final fundraising appeal. I am choosing to wait with anticipation along with Karen and the other board members — watching for the miracles that come in unimagined proportions when a collection of hopeful people comes together with a common purpose.

With deep gratitude, high hopes and wishing you peace,

Debbie Wollard
Acting President
Leaven Board