Alan’s Story: Working with Others, for Others

We envision a world in which all young people lead creative, purposeful lives.

Alan Wong is an independent facilitator and poet who has organized and facilitated experiential art and leadership programs for thousands of teens and adults in North and South America. Alan is also the former program director of the Power of Hope. He is known for leading engaging and inspiring trainings, retreats and workshops which provide participants with practical tools for re-imagining and revitalizing their lives and work. Here, Alan tells us why he believes that groups are so integral to human experience and explains what it’s like to be in control of your own business as an independent facilitator.

What is your vision as an independent facilitator? What do you hope to achieve?

My vision as an independent facilitator is to create spaces where both young people and adults can access their deepest wisdom and compassion. I really believe that it is in community that we can see ourselves most clearly – when we can be mirrors to one another. How extraordinary when our mirrors begin to reflect back to us our brilliance, rather than just our blemishes!

I think it’s crucial for us to access our own wholeness – our simultaneous imperfection and perfection. Experiencing our deeper humanity can be a source of such strength – a place where we can hold the truth of pain, conflict and oppression side-by-side with the truth of joy, connection and collective liberation. The apparent contradiction of our lives, the sense of being torn apart by dualities can be eased, and we can experience an integration that allows us to live more fully and freely and help others to do the same. That’s what I hope my work is contributing to.

What do you think is your greatest asset or gift as a facilitator?

I believe deeply in the inherent worth and ability of every human being. I believe there is a basic goodness and brilliance in all of us. I see the broken-ness we may experience not as a sign of weakness or failure, but a potential source of strength. I really care for the people who I work with and want them to live beautiful lives.

“I felt as if I’d come home to the life I wanted to live.”

What’s one challenge that you face in your work?

I’d say that the biggest challenge I face as an independent facilitator is the somewhat scattered nature of the work. When working as part of a larger organization, it’s easier to build sustained relationships and see change happen over time. When I was at Power of Hope it was common for me to facilitate programs with youth that met repeatedly over the course a year or more. Now, I tend to lead trainings or youth programs for a few days or weeks, and I might not see those folks again for a while, which is hard. Also, working independently, it takes extra work to stay connected to a community of peers. Obviously, that’s part of what is so wonderful about Partners for Youth Empowerment – they create a space for us to gather and connect with other social artists – to know that we are always part of a larger movement.

What advice to you have for people who want to create a business from their facilitation, like you have?

This work is all about relationships. We are social artists and it is the quality of connection that we foster within groups and with groups that matters. So, when I began facilitating as an independent contractor, my focus was on sustaining the relationships with communities I already had and extending them. This was a very organic process – facilitating for a group and then asking them if there were other ways I could be of service, or if they knew other organizations who might benefit from the work I do. That’s how things have grown slowly and steadily for the last three years. I’m not the best poster-person for active self promotion as I don’t naturally enjoy it, so my approach has been to keep doing the work that I love, serving communities I want to support and see what happens from there. I’ve only now gotten around to creating a website and facebook page.

What do you remember about your early Power of Hope experiences?

I first connected with Power of Hope in 2001 at a workshop for Americorps members on “using the arts with youth”. Charlie and Peggy were conducting the session. It was just an hour-and-a-half, but it blew my mind. I was working as a reading tutor in a very scripted program at the time, and I was searching for ways to make learning more creative, engaging and inspired – when I came to that workshop I knew I’d found what I’d been looking for.

The next year I came to the Power of Hope as an Americorps member. I remember being shown the Power of Hope camp video at my orientation. I was deeply touched by what I saw. I particularly remember seeing Gina Sala – who is now a good friend – speaking, nearly in tears, about the power of the program – not just for the youth but for her. I was inspired, but also a little intimidated by how extraordinary all the people at Power of Hope seemed to be – I found myself wondering if I would measure up.

I had participated as a mentor at the Power of Hope camp on Cortes Island the summer before my PoH Americorps year began. Hanif Fazal and Peggy Taylor were the lead facilitators and many of the people who are now my dear friends in this work were on staff. The experience was deeply transformative – I have such vivid pictures in my mind of everyone who was there, and the moments that we shared.

At that camp, I felt as if I’d come home to the life I wanted to live. From witnessing our deepest pain and resilience during Heart Circle, to our greatest creativity and joy on Open Mic night, and closing the week with such a profound experience of unconditional love during “Angels Fall In” – my heart opened further than I had thought possible. I knew that I had found my life’s work.

“I really believe this is work that the world needs.”

After having led countless Power of Hope/Creative Community Model camps over the last 12 years, that camp’s still a touchstone for me. That is the core experience – the level of depth and empowerment that this model allows for and that I strive to facilitate as a leader.

What inspires you to do this work?

I really believe this is work that the world needs. The only logical response I see to the suffering and injustice that is so deeply rooted in our communities is to create spaces where we can attempt collective liberation. Augusto Boal talked about the work of “liberating the imagination” – I really believe that’s what we do in the Creative Community model – we free our individual and collective imaginations and transform our concept of what is possible in our own lives and the world. We experience connection, community, creativity and love on levels that many of us crave, but don’t experience in our daily lives.

I believe this work is necessary to bring some level of balance, equity, and sustainability to our communities and world. And on a more personal level, I love and am so inspired by the young people and the youth workers I am in community with. I am deeply touched by the heart, depth, and deep wisdom I experience from them. Ultimately, this work brings me deep joy – it helps to liberate me as I strive to help others to experience freedom themselves.

Who is your biggest role model in this work?

Working with Power of Hope and Partners for Youth Empowerment for so many years, there are countless colleagues and teachers who inspire me and show me what’s possible. There are, however, three people who I’d say have been my biggest mentors as a facilitator.

Charlie and Peggy were my first mentors – and still are such an important part of my growth in it. Both of them gave me the opportunity to do this work from an early age and have been the ones who taught (and still teach) me how to do it effectively. Charlie has such an extraordinary ability to be real with people – not just with individuals, but whole groups. He’s really shown me what it means to be authentic as a facilitator. Peggy is such an embodiment of social artistry – she is constantly thinking creatively, seeing what is possible in a group and helping them to experiment with new ways of being. Her excitement for people’s growth is infectious.

The other major mentor I’ve had as a facilitator is Hanif Fazal, particularly in my early years with Power of Hope. He has such an extraordinary way of being with people – of holding them accountable for their own brilliance. The level of intimacy and honesty he develops with groups and individuals is incredible and his commitment to young people is so clear.

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