When I was 15 , I hated going to high school. My deep-thinking teenage-self loathed the fakeness of all the adults pretending to care about me but not even remembering my name or their own joy. I was so disillusioned with the microcosm of society that was evident in hallways, concepts such as rich, popular, pretty, cool, ugly, dirty, stupid and promiscuous were the identities noosed around your neck without your consent and everyone believed them. I vowed at 15 that when I grew up I was going to make an alternative program that taught kids the REAL things they wanted to learn – the big questions and profound answers to “ Why are we here?” Who Am I? and “What is the point of living?” .
I stumbled through the rest of high school looking for truth and realness in a lot of dark corners, anywhere it was offered. I was crippled with anxiety and uncertainty. I had a lot of sleepless nights and racing thoughts. I was naive and desperate for something tangible and real. I got caught up with a lot of ignorant behavior as a result and am truly grateful to God , my family and my guardian angels for carrying me through those years relatively unscathed.
At that time, I longed desperately for wisdom from a true teacher. Someone who would be real with me; who had lived life and gained wisdom. Who was truly happy and overcame many trials. Someone who was further ahead on the path of having a good, healthy, life of truth and love and would shepherd me along the way.
At 18 I met her. A woman named Brenda Kelleher who was 26 years my senior and lived on a 30 acre nature commune in Land o Lakes. She was smart, deep, sassy, beautiful, talented real and kind. She knew things and had many life experiences. She was willing to entertain my angst and endless questions for hours on her porch, without judgement of annoyance. She was present and loving. She never gave me answers, but would just validate what I was going through and encourage me that I was able to find the right answer on my own inner wisdom and power. She changed my life forever and she is the reason The Cicada Institute exists.
For about 17 years we worked together in this mentor/mentee scenario, until one day, just like that, we both realized I “graduated” and was fully grown up within myself. It was that day – still hanging out on the porch by the way- we decided every young person with a sensitive spirit and existential thoughts should have access to their own personal Brenda of sorts- and so we created Cicada.
It took about 10 years to really get us to where we are now- 2 campuses ( in Saint Pete and outside Asheville, NC) as well as our year round online program. There were many challenges and lessons learned in the last decade. Most notably- we were available online during covid and really felt blessed to work with self-harming youth in crisis at that crucial time. We specialize in BIPOC and LGBTQIA populations and being stuck at home for a few years without friends or security and support was really rough for these kids. Getting to be real with them, validate their experience and encourage them that they have the answers and power to persevere was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Now , The Cicada Institute is working to bring its positive mental wellness programming into the local school systems through staff, student and parent workshops. In 2024 we will be offering in person summer and winter camps in NC and FL. Of course, we will continue providing donation only holistic counseling services on a weekly basis to BIPOC and LGBTQIA as this is the core of who we serve and who we are as an organization.
Together We Rise.