Dream Catcher’s Story
This is the story of how REM was formed. Faye Nicholson, REM’s “Dream Catcher” and founder is REM’s volunteer Co-Executive Director with Jackie Dalton. This piece was written by Faye in 1997. Obviously, the picture is from 1997 too! by Faye Wells Nicholson
One night in 1995 my husband, Jim Nicholson and I, Faye, were coming back from a very uninteresting movie. To this day we can’t think of what it was, even though we have been asked many times. But it does help explain how we came that night to be talking about the economy. At 50, having been together since we were 16 years old, you could count on a woodsman’s hand the number of times we had settled into that topic of conversation.
Being a CPA, Jim was thinking about his clients who had recently suffered through a recession and had tightened up their ships nicely. He felt that if people would just start supporting them locally, they would do just fine.
We talked about what we could do to help and decided to put a series of ads in the paper urging people to support local businesses. The first two ads offered to feature the names of people who contacted us saying that they agreed that supporting local businesses was important in the third ad.
It was tax season which means things were crazy busy. People started calling and just dropping in to discuss issues related to the ads. Even though I was the office manager, I could not let these conversations go. It was like someone had opened a dam and people were willing to speak openly and honestly about their past and present fears as well as their dreams for what could be. I became so embroiled in these conversations that I had to remove myself from the office. I found a cubby in the basement of Jim’s office building, set up a computer there and continued the conversations, writing a careful log of all that was said so I could relate everything back to Jim.
Every night, using my notes from the log, Jim and I would talk about what was happening in the basement during the many conversations. Each person who visited would tell me, “You need to talk to so-in-so.” I would call them up; most usually they were people I had never met or even heard of before. “Hello Jack Chinn, I’m the Dream Catcher. We have something very exciting being born here in Mid-Maine and I’d love to talk to you about it.”
Jim named me the “Dream Catcher” one day and someone even made me a logo and stationary. I had stopped writing what the people said in a log form because many people had the same dreams and no one’s superseded anyone else’s dreams. They were creating such a wonderful picture in my head, I began to write it in narrative form, adding to it each day after meeting with a person. I called it “The Dream.”
Over the next year I spoke with over 300 people in sessions lasting from one to seven and one half hours. Quite often someone would enter the room saying, “I have fifteen minutes and then I need to be back” and would in fact stay talking a couple of hours. Each person determined how long the conversation lasted and most stayed an hour or two. One person talked for seven and one half hours and to this day remains one of REM’s most treasured and giving members.
I would meet mayors and prior mayors, leaders of our largest businesses, colleges and service organizations, people on public welfare, office workers, and teachers, people from Colby, Thomas and KVTC, men, women and a few children. People from Waterville and all the towns around and eventually, from villages and cities all over the world in my trip to Istanbul, Turkey to present REM, the organization that would be born out of it all.
The conversations very early took on a pattern. People would tell me about their pain first thing. I heard leaders speak about suicide thoughts and even an attempt. I had a picture of people in pain. I never tried to close that off, but got pretty good at leading people out and to the next steps . . . their concepts of root causes and then, dreams and aspirations of what could be.
Much distilled, the pain and causes were a feeling of disconnectedness and of a world out of control and no one person being able to have any effect. They spoke of the frustrations of those who are charged with making the decisions, both locally and nationally, of being in constant gridlock caused by partisan games and we the people were in the middle and drowning. No one was able to act for the common good any more. All decisions were being made for the short term; that leaders term in office.
All agreed that short term decisions were a disaster for a healthy future. The primary cause really was that citizens had abdicated their responsibilities. “Let government do it. It was never going to be enough but we took the easy way out.” They spoke of giving everyone else the power to make decisions about their lives . . . “even giving our children to the schools and welfare systems” one person said. Everything was someone else’s responsibility. “Look at our choked justice systems; everyone out to sue someone else . . . even if you spill your coffee it’s someone else’s fault.”
Everyone named the top priority in their lives as their family. It never took even a second for people to catapult that response. But they all expressed dismay that their lives were so “busy” and everyone going frantically in different directions, that they were constantly fearful that they were failing to create the warm, cozy nest they so wanted for their loved ones.
I was struck particularly with men. I remember one man in particular was sharing honestly with me his fear that his daughter was seriously ill. She had that very morning done something terrible. I asked him whom he had spoken to about this. We got into a conversation about what men talk about when they are together . . . sports, politics, business, current events. I then reminded him that he had declared that the thing he cared most about was his family and did he talk with his friends about this. He answered “no” as if I had suggested he run nude through the Concourse. When I asked him if he talked with his wife about this he blurted . . . “hell no, she thinks I’m in control.”
Deeply concerned and wanting to find some healing words for him I pursued the issue. As it turned out, his daughter was in fact two years old and what she had done was look at him with a “hateful eye” and yell in a very loud voice, “no!” My first thought was, “and you are going to hear that many times more! This is so normal for a two year old and yet he was going to carry that fear through it all. At that moment one of my main dreams was that I would find a way to encourage men to gather in a way that would allow them to speak about things that are truly important to them.
I remember another statement: “If I worked 24 hours around it would not be enough to make my business enough. If you could help me build something so that when I had a few moments to be with my family we could do something together that was meaningful, I would give you everything I had.” It struck me that maybe somehow the business and inner world are so divided that people do not create the economic realities they need because they are unwilling to discuss things on that level.
Many times I had a strong feeling that these conversations were happening on a level with me that wasn’t happening anywhere outside. The cause of that I thought was my sharing with each what had gone before. People were both excited and stunned that their feelings were shared. So was I. I began to dream of a group process that would design community projects built on the real needs and assets of the community by allowing an opportunity for people to share openly what is important to them and discover how similar people are at their core values, needs and dreams.
Every day I met new people and they fed and energized me in a way I’ll never be able to explain to anyone. I literally fell in love all over again every day. I suppose there is something about me that transmits that openness and general love of people that helped people open up and trust. I imagine that a fly on the wall would have watched me learn and grow. I was amazed that people would even come . . . yet only one or two people in all that time refused to come. These wonderful people who came taught me that anyone can be approached.
What my father taught me is true; people do really want to help. People want to make things better. It is significant and important to the future of REM that I was not a community leader and yet people accepted my struggling attempt to create a new way of working together. Me, as close to “everyman” as you can get. Not a leader, not particularly smart . . . but sometimes wise, not pretty, fat in a thin obsessed world. Not someone normally sought out. REM is about everyone; including those who have not felt themselves to have a part in building community. All are welcome; all are needed. REM is based on the principle that each of us has a piece of the puzzle; a piece of awareness of the root causes and a piece of the solution. Together, we can make great decisions. Together, we can do anything