January 2017: Leadership Retreat

2017 Perspectives from the Field, Part I
Throughout the 2017 seminar year, the LNJ staff  will ask two class members to reflect on their experiences following the monthly two-day seminars. The perspectives will change each month to include a wide spectrum of view points and expertise.

For more information visit our website at http://www.leadnj.org/.

(Oyster Point Hotel- January 2017)

Lead NJ 2017 Leadership Retreat
January 19-20th
Red Bank, NJ
By: Kelly Bonventre 

Flying back to New Jersey from Pasadena, having just attended the Rose Parade, I eagerly began the assigned reading project for my first Lead NJ program. I thought the first chapter of the SIMSOC Participants Manual would make for some interesting reading and give me some insight into what I could expect at the upcoming Lead NJ Retreat.  To be perfectly honest, I was contemplating jumping out of the plane by the time I got to page 15.  Holy moly!  Confusion, panic, dread and thoughts of, “Oh my God! What did I get myself into?” simultaneously ran through my mind.   I forced myself to continue reading, trying desperately not to get overwhelmed by the daunting content of the SIMSOC manual. No use, I gave up by page 19 and put my reading material away.  For the remainder of the flight, I prayed the next time I attempted to read and absorb the information contained in this first chapter handout that I would be more successful.

I will point out now, having completed the SIMSOC program and having received the entire manual, it would have been most beneficial had the preface been included in our handout. That would have given all of us a much better idea of what to expect and what the program was really all about. That being said, I realize the program was highly experiential and, had we been privy to this information prior to participating in the program, our experience would have been very different; not necessarily producing the intended outcome.

Some of my fears were allayed when I received an email from another Lead NJ Fellow who also read the material and seemed equally as perplexed as I was about the SIMSOC experience.  However, I did manage to complete the reading assignment, but was still a bit puzzled by all of the rules, roles and guidelines.  Basically, I understood I would be placed on a team with other Lead NJ Fellows, who at that point in time would be complete and total strangers, to form a simulated society that would exist for the greater good. Got it!  But what exactly does Subsistence look like, how will I make sure I obtain enough Subsistence cards not to be declared dead and out of program? 

Simbucks seemed easy enough to comprehend; they are the basic currency of SIMSOC. Transportation cards also seemed easy enough to handle; you would need either a travel card or private transportation certificate to travel anywhere outside your assigned region. Travel restrictions, however, were a bit more complicated. Although, compared to trying to understand and decipher BASIN and RETSIN, POP and SOP, EMPIN and HUMSERVE, MASMED and JUDCO, understanding travel restrictions was a piece of cake!

So how exactly did this all come together and to what did all of this lead?  It led to an incredible, dynamic group exercise and team building activity where we all worked hard to try and create a successful simulated society.  In the process, we faced real world challenges, such as abuses of power, miscommunication and lack of trust.   We found ourselves recognizing the nature of the social order and the injustices associated with that order. That was never clearer than when the exercise continued into what we thought was our lunch break. Wow, what an eye opener that was!

For the remainder of the afternoon, my team worked diligently to try and overcome the barriers and injustices we faced, help our fellow man, succeed in keeping ourselves and teammates in the game and create a healthy society where everyone would thrive.  This was not an easy set of tasks to accomplish, but what I learned in the process are lessons that will stay with me forever.

I learned so much, but the first thing that comes to mind is how essential it is to have open and honest communication. What a key component that is to building and creating successful relationships! Without it, it is virtually impossible to have a healthy society.  I learned misconceptions, no matter how unfounded they may be, can unnecessarily complicate matters and quite possibly change the outcome of a situation.  

What will stay with me most is having witnessed firsthand the lack of dignity, humiliation and desperation that is all too common among the lower socio-economic community. I could see that even in a simulated society it is so degrading and frustrating for people to be in a situation in which they feel powerless.  Having been involved in the nonprofit arena, creating, developing and offering programs that serve that exact population, I know full well how deep those emotions run and how they can shape the direction of people’s lives.  It was beyond painful for me to listen to people share their “simulated experiences” knowing that those experiences in the real world have far more devastating consequences. 

As complicated and challenging as SIMSOC was, it was equally as enlightening, interesting and such an insight into human behavior. It was a unique way to get to know our Lead NJ classmates up close and personal and made me remember why I was excited to be part of Lead NJ in the first place. Go Yellow!

Photo Jan 20, 9 15 32 AM.jpg
(Project U.S.E. at Elks Lodge- Red Bank, NJ)

Lead NJ 2017 Leadership Retreat
Red Bank, NJ
By: Ed MacQueen

Exactly one week ago I met 50 people for the first time.  After introductions and breakfast, we were equipped to set about the day’s modest task: forming the ideal society in six hours flat.  I’m referring to the Lead New Jersey (LNJ) 2017 leadership retreat, of course, and its featured simulated society exercise (SimSoc). 

Just among friends, I will admit that as we started SimSoc I didn’t exactly know what we were supposed to do, but it was okay because I could tell that everybody else did.  There were some bumps in the road initially, but before too long we were on to grappling with moral, legal and socioeconomic issues and, for the most part, having fun all the while.  I was moved by my colleagues’ genuine compassion and concern for others.  Two of the day’s aims were to become better acquainted with one another and to have fun, both of which in my experience were accomplished. 

The third aim was to learn something through the SimSoc exercise.  From the group discussion at the close of the day, it was clear that this goal was met collectively several times over.  Here I will mention just one take-away, namely, that it appeared to me there was a relationship between one’s being content and one’s having a genuinely productive task in which to engage.  I saw this on both ends of the simulated socioeconomic spectrum: on the one hand, there were people who by default had the necessary means to support themselves, but they were not satisfied until they were increasing societal well-being in one form or another.  On the other hand, those Fellows without the means of subsistence were not content merely to accept hand-outs.  Yes, the hand-outs were appreciated, as is almost any help in emergent situations, but at the end of the day the message from these participants was clear: we want productive, gainful employment more than charity!  

One of my favorite parts of retreat was the Fellow introductions, in which we saw that each LNJ Fellow, without exception, could point to an influential person who had made a positive, lasting impact on his or her life.  For some of the Fellows it was a mentor through work, for others a teacher or professor, and for the majority of us, it was immediate family (e.g., parents) who provided the nurture, guidance and inspiration which helped us become who we are today.  I thought this was a meaningful way to conduct introductions, not to mention a source of valuable insight. 

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