Saturday, September 15, 2012

Da God Squad

On July 28th I gathered some close friends together who were a part of the California Wind Children with me in my youth.  This is a group that is difficult to describe briefly, but I will try for those who are unfamiliar with this part of my past.

Based at an Episcopalian church, this ecumenical group of teens from 14 and up, created musical performances and performed them locally to raise money for their summer work projects.  Those same performances were sung and played on one-night stands across the country as they continued to earn money while traveling to the projects.  Individual responsibility and teamwork were important to the group, as the teens were completely responsible for all aspects of their functioning, from purchasing, repairing and maintaining the buses and other vehicles used for travel to finances, public relations, sound, choreography, every aspect necessary to keep the group functioning and meeting their goals.  There was a director, yes, but he did some steering, that was about it.

The group worked with the Cree, Navajo, Shoshone and Arapahoe tribes on reservation projects and helping run summer camps for children.  Other projects included establishing a summer program for youth in Camp Meeker, CA modeled after the Outward Bound programs in Europe, a trip to Wales to work with the rangers there on renovation, bridge and fence building, erosion control and other projects, and a peace focused project in Ireland.  Francis Ford Copola supported the group's work with Native Americans by providing studio time and the opportunity to record three record albums at his studio in San Francisco.  There is so much more to tell, but suffice to say that for many who participated (last count is 234 individuals participated in the group in one form or another over a span of nearly a decade) it was a life-changing experience.

I like to get together with my old friends from this group from time to time, and although only five could make it that July weekend, we had such a good time and a great visit, lasting long into the night, which unfortunately caused a couple of my guests to arrive at their South Bay homes in the wee hours of the morning.

I discovered the day after this visit that a youth group would be camping on the property behind my house, which belongs to the Bishop's Ranch - yes, an Episcopalian retreat center and a terrific neighbor.  So ...  Episcopalian youth group from the Bay Area, camping and working at the retreat center, what is this group all about?  I was told they are "The God Squad," so I went to the internet and did a search.  It's a group of teens from several churches in the Alameda County area who do work projects, including work with the Lakota in North Dakota.  And Lakota youth and adults that these kids knew would be joining them that weekend.

I made some queries and found out that we could go visit the group one evening.  I got together a large quantity of ice cream and a couple jars of cajeta (caramel sauce I make from goat's milk) and we headed down there to dispense some cheer after their long hot day of work clearing campsites and trails, and to find out what they were all about.  Unfortunately, due to family issues at home, the Lakota were unable to make this trip, but what a great group of kids were there.  Becca and I drove down to the campsite with our neighbor, Bette, bouncing over ruts in the trail and driving through a dry creek bed.  I introduced myself to one of the leaders of the group, and he asked the kids to gather round.  Several of them had already been sitting near the campfire with guitars.  He explained that I used to be with a youth group in Novato, and one of the other adults interrupted and asked, "Were you in the Wind Children?"  Surprised, I said yes.  She then stated excitedly, "I have one of your albums!"  The kids oohed and aaahed, looking at me with fresh eyes.  Album?  As we dished out the ice cream with lots of cajeta over top, we chatted with some of the kids, who were really appreciative and came back for more.  I asked the woman with the album which one she had, and she couldn't remember.  Then she said that she knew all the songs, and her favorite went like this:  "Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind Children of the Wind."  I laughed with delight.  That theme song was on the Flower and Flag musical history of the US, written in response to an invitation to perform on the White House Lawn for the bicentennial in 1976.  I told her that I have extras of the third and final album we recorded and that I would bring some down for them in the morning.  (For those in the know, yes, I was expecting her to sing Sim Cu Na!)

I enjoyed learning about the projects these kids have worked on, in East LA, on the Lakota reservation, helping with recovery efforts in New Orleans after Katrina, and in Galveston.  These kids are hard working and inspirational, much like we in the CWC were as teens.  I am looking forward to finding out more about what they are doing and how I can support them in their efforts.  How exciting that this spirit of helping others, learning how to be responsible, and how you can do more than you ever imagined possible, is still around and being nurtured in young people. 

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