Whatcom County group guides youth through rite of passage



Dearbhla O'Leary gives her daughter, Aine, a crown of flowers as part of a blessing ceremony during a rite of passage program offered by Rooted Emerging at The Carrot and Stick community farm on Y Road on Saturday, May 3, 2014 east of Bellingham, Wash.


The transition into adolescence can be rough for children and their parents.

As youth shift their attention from family to focus more on their peers, developing bodies and the impending pressures of the teenage years can leave children and their families uncertain how to deal with puberty.

Rooted Emerging, a Whatcom County business, tries to ease that transition through coming-of-age programs that celebrate the changes with a community-oriented rite of passage.

Ask parents and participants how they feel about the experience and they will enthusiastically agree: it helps.

At least that was the case with this year's girls' class, which met for a picnic and blessing ceremony as part of the conclusion of the program May 3 at The Carrot and Stick community farm off Mount Baker Highway.

"I think every boy and girl in Whatcom County should take this class," said Dearbhla O'Leary, a mother whose daughter, Aine, was the second in her family to go through the program. "You see this magic in their eye and there is no pressure to be anything other than who they are."

The group of five girls in this year's Chrysalis Sisters program met for a few hours once a week for four months, learning about their bodies and building their confidence along the way.

"The girls are all from different schools, so it was really cool because they are in a safe place where they don't have to worry about image," said Brooke Kaemingk, whose daughter Lesaya Kennedy participated this year.

Doula and sexual educator Vanessa Osage founded the program in 2010, a few years after giving birth to her daughter. She had helped families prepare to welcome a child into the world and believed there could be similar preparations for puberty.

The Chrysalis Sisters is now in its third year. The group's counterpart for boys, called Apollo's Crossing, has been in the works for two years.

At the first meeting, girls and their mothers went to Days for Girls, a Lynden nonprofit that distributes feminine hygiene kits around the world and provides education on menstrual cycles. The group helps girls around the world from missing days of school and work due to a lack of sanitary supplies.

"My dad never told me about 'the cycle' or womanhood, so that was good," said participant Gabryella Recio. "I didn't expect (the program) would be like this, but I have a new perspective on life. Now I can really open up."

The girls also experienced a day of massage with body blessing; danced; went outdoors; talked about health, self-care and relationships; and worked on building their confidence before the culmination weekend.

"Before, I was really shy," Kennedy said. "I learned to bring out the 'inner you.' I'm way more confident."

Parents shared tales of pressures they faced during their own adolescence before blessing their daughters and sending them on an overnight camping trip to test their newfound confidence.

Amy McGregor, who was a teenager when she gave birth to her daughter Jaedyn, said she knows young teens feel they have to take on a certain maturity that they may not want to. Before the blessing she fondly recalled a sleepover when she and a friend, as teenagers, wound up playing games all night.

"I hadn't played in so long," McGregor said. "I hope you have the ability to continue to play and be light-hearted, and that you don't feel like you have to be cool."

The parents blessed their daughters on their journey, marking the first stage of the rite of passage - severance - and the girls set out on a bus for their guided test.

Rites of passage have three phases, Osage said.

First, there is a severance, and second, a threshold, where a person needs to test their limits on their own.

The girls set out to camp outside without a tent, despite the rain, each spending the night in their own part of a field. While independence in defining the edge is an important step, mentors accompany the girls and sleep in the field in a separate area in case anyone needs anything, Osage said.

"If we can do it in a supported way, we can give them a challenge and still allow them to encounter themselves in nature," Osage said.

The third and final phase is incorporation, marked by reintegration into the community. Family members witness each young woman after her journey and welcome her into the new phase of her life.

For more information and pricing options, go to rootedemerging.org.


Rooted Emerging will host "Reimagining the Village: Why Modern Rites of Passage Are Important," from 4 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 29, at St. Luke's Community Health Education Center at 3333 Squalicum Parkway in Bellingham.

Fairhaven College professor Scot Nichols will give a presentation on how and why a young person's development can benefit from a rite of passage, especially at sexual maturity.

The event is geared for teachers, parents, coaches, counselors, health-care workers and others who work with youth.

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