By Katie Zakrzewski
Last year, Arkansas CCL State Leaders Jan Schaper and Jean Larson completed an in-depth program to strengthen their leadership skills — now they’re fired up to make a difference.
Jan and Jean recently completed Jean Ritok’s Empowerment Partnership Program (EPP), a 6-month program that takes place once a week. Jean Ritok is a CCL volunteer from North Carolina. “The way to have vibrant chapters is to have empowered group leaders,” Jean R. explains. “When you have an empowered group leader, they can get volunteers engaged so that group development and organizing are based on teamwork…without risking group leader burnout.”
Empowering a group leader takes time. “We ask people to commit to 26 1-hour-a-week sessions and assignments between sessions. In other words, 26 1-hour conference calls, scheduled at a time that participants are available. The sessions and the assignments focus on bringing the topics alive, and on translating the practices into a set of tools, which are then used on a CCL project that is created by each participant.”
Jean Larson was in one of the first groups to go through Jean R.’s course. She found out about the program in a group leader call. “I’m always trying to figure myself out so I can do better work,” Jean says. She signed up in February in 2020, before the pandemic started. The pandemic was very hard for Jean, and seemed to amplify division instead of uniting all sides like she had originally hoped. “I would just read the news and doom scroll, and I was so upset every day.”
Jan found herself in a similar position, so she reached out to Jean R. in late summer 2020 about taking the course. “My life was really stressful at that time. I was working on the election, working my job at a local health food grocery store in the middle of the raging pandemic, and was really feeling the weight of climate change.”
A lot of volunteers at that time, including Jan, had been feeling burnout creeping ever closer. Jan found herself feeling bitter toward her members of Congress.
“I felt like I was dragging CCL in Arkansas down with my melancholy and attitude. On the one hand, it seemed like the worst time to be signing up for a dive-deep course. On the other hand, it seemed perfect. I decided I was just going to do it. I am so glad I did,” Jan recalled.
Taking the Empowerment Partnership Program
Jean started taking the EPP course, which she feels skillfully combines eastern and western approaches to business and personal success strategies. The course is designed for executives, while the theme of the course is to fulfill an impossible task. “Now I realize how much this class has percolated down through me, and it bubbles up at beautiful times and helps me maintain a ‘happy warrior’ spirit for climate work,” Jean explains. “When Jan and I have a challenge with our CCL work, we look at it as an opportunity and find ways we can engage in a solution. Jan and I would talk about the program, and then Jan took it.”
Jan explained that conversations with her close friend and fellow state coordinator piqued her interest in the EPP course. “Jean Larson really was my bridge to EPP. She and I would call each other a few times a week to check in about CCL in Arkansas, and Jean would be using EPP lingo and would talk about some really intriguing tools — practices like ‘Dump Your Head,’ ‘Winning Strategy,’ and ‘Dying Before Going Into Battle.’ It seemed like a lifeline, and I was really interested.” Jan said. “The course is very much about learning and trying to integrate the transformative tools that Jean Ritok makes available. Taking the course with a committed group of CCLers is very powerful. I have a bond with my EPP cohort and love seeing these amazing volunteers on CCL calls.”
One’s “way of being” is one of the many concepts that come up in Jean Ritok’s Empowerment Partnership Program. Jean L. explains that in practice, one’s way of being is an affirmation statement that you create and use every day after investigating yourself.
“This lets you interact with the world in a very profound way. Sometimes it gets covered up with other emotions and other problems. You recognize these emotions, but you’re no longer directed by them. It’s a great example of the eastern/western ideology of this class.”
Jan elaborates on the usefulness of the program in recognizing and ensuring personal success. “Before the start of the EPP program, Jean Ritok asked all the participants to make a list of what we had accomplished in CCL. We didn’t share this with anyone but Jean Ritok. I remember writing mine out and thinking, ‘I’ve helped make some good things happen. Why do I feel so stuck?’ I learned in EPP that taking on a big venture like getting a Member of Congress to support carbon pricing or revolutionizing volunteer engagement means reinventing oneself,” she says.
How are Jan and Jean applying EPP to climate work?
Now that they’ve graduated from the Empowerment Partnership Program, Jan and Jean have set out with a toolbox of new skills and a fresh new mindset. The two are ready to tackle climate change in Arkansas by trying new methods of strategizing and executing climate solutions.
“One of the most important things for me is cultivating my way of being. Because everything else flows from there.” Jan prefaced. “For me, that means including self-care — things like meditation, exercise, and stargazing into my venture plan. I can tell when I skip a day; I feel myself being caught up in my stresses about democracy and climate.”
“The existence system that we learned in EPP allows you to do anything — from running errands to passing carbon fee and dividend — without heroic effort,” Jean said. She shared that she feels like she is now in a place where things are happening for her, and opportunities can be found everywhere. “There was a moment where Jan became discouraged last fall with low member turnout for a chapter meeting. I immediately looked at it as, ‘What’s the opportunity? Here’s the problem that Jan is bringing up, and it’s a good one: how do we approach it?’ I was able to turn this situation into an opportunity. That’s because of the class. We came up with a Lunch for the Planet idea to engage our members, and it’s been a really successful monthly event for us. But it’s still a development. We take all of the (EPP) tools, continue to go over them, and apply them to finding a solution.”
Jan explained that she feels like she’s pursuing making the impossible possible.
“I’m doing what the course refers to as a venture, which is a future reality that currently seems impossible. This for me is to help triple the CCLers in Arkansas who are self-initiating some kind of CCL-related action every single month. Based on EPP, I created a backward venture plan where I map out the way there. So I’m making requests, keeping agreements, and creating existence systems based on this plan. A good part of the time I’m outside my comfort zone, but EPP has given me the tools and experience to better swim in those waters.” She explained that another valuable piece of the Empowerment Partnership Program is learning flexibility. “Of course now that I’ve written down my venture plan, the path to the end is already changing. I volunteer with fantastic CCLers in Arkansas, people who bring ideas and connections to the table that I never thought of. And thanks to the new onboarding trainings, we’re gradually starting to have more conversations with new folks on our state roster. It’s a fluid, organic situation. There’s a lot of beauty in that.”
Jean explains her goals after the Empowerment Partnership Program. “My first venture was to make our Arkansas members of Congress strong climate advocates. And now I’m trying to meet them and connect their conservative values with climate change. It’s been a really interesting process.”
Jan discussed that it’s easier for her to accomplish her goals than it was before she took the class. “I’m finally starting to understand the EPP idea of doing things without heroic effort. I stand right on the edge of breakthrough possibilities and I am opening the door to them. Sure, my personal concerns and the world’s problems are still there, but on more and more days I’m moved forward by excitement for my venture and the possibilities it holds for Arkansas CCL and the climate. I’m so very thankful to Jean Ritok and the EPP program.”
“One of the mottos or lessons of the EPP class is: ‘Life doesn’t turn out the way it should. It turns out the way it does.’ And we have to accept that. But that doesn’t mean denying our emotions. The Empowerment Partnership Program taught me how to balance all of that and more effectively tackle climate change,” Jean agreed.