“Dear World” from Happiness Hills

April 2020
Dear World,

The past several months have been an emotional (and financial) roller coaster for us here at Happiness Hills! I don’t even know where to begin this journal entry – maybe with the interesting year-long legal journey through the bureaucracy of our county codes department, or maybe with the amazing folk education summit in Denmark last fall, or maybe with the emotional and spiritual struggle our family has had with the decisions we need to make (and re-make) as we go through the process of establishing Happiness Hills Folk School. I think I’ll save the physical and fiscal stuff for a later edition and write instead about the philosophical journey we’ve found ourselves on these past few months.

Do we really want to build a folk school? That’s the question that has been on all our minds as we face the future. Our area needs a folk school. Our state needs a folk school. Heck, our world needs more folk schools… but are we the ones to do it? Is this farm the place to build it? The answers to those questions have varied by the day, and sometimes by the hour. Like with any great undertaking, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t smooth. With something this important, it’s worth being sure; worth being right (at least as “right” as we know how), from the start.

It’s easy for our family to think about hosting classes in craft and sustainability for adults and arts programs for kids. We know how to do those things. We know lots of people who know how to do those things. But the Folk Education Summit in Denmark last September challenged me to dig deeper than just what’s easy. I know from experience as a mom of older teens, and from working with high school and college students in dance programs, that young adults are having a harder and harder time discovering who they are and what path they want to travel. I was absolutely inspired by the young adults I met on the tours of several folkehøjskoler during the Summit, and spent a lot of time thinking about how we might try to be more like the Danish folk high schools, which focus on offering learning experiences in a range of subjects, in a residential environment for a period of about three months, geared towards young adults. When I got home from the Summit, we talked about that as a family. We decided to continue working toward offering weekend sessions in the arts and crafts during the fall and summer, and start laying the foundation for a yearly residential session during the months of January, February and March.

The Great Pause of 2020 has given us additional time to think about all of this, and to move steadily ahead with our construction projects of two log cabins and two tiny bunkhouses. While it is worrisome to have no income, and no idea when tourism will open back up, we are counting our blessings – we’re in a rural area with plenty of space, and we’re all in good health. When Berea College closed suddenly in early March, we had space to allow a student and a recent graduate to stay with us. Next week, five more students will be moving in to stay for the summer. It occurred to me a couple of days ago that, with our teens plus the 7 young adults that will be here this summer, plus the young couple that live in the little stone cabin, plus the five or six young adults that store their landscaping equipment here, we suddenly have the population we have been talking about having! What a wonderful opportunity to see how it feels to have a group of 15 or 20 young adults around for three months. Even though they’re not here for the express purpose of “folk school,” that continues to be our purpose, and hopefully when they look back at the experience, they’ll remember that they were in a place where they felt enlightened and enlivened, and where they know they’ll always “belong.”

Jennifer Rose Escobar
Happiness Hills Folk School