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Field Notes: Adopting a Growth Mindset

Good afternoon,

This week, I have had several joyful encounters related to our upcoming Benefit Concert. First of all, I've been practicing the mandolin part on "Jublilee," a song written by our headline artist, Becky Buller, and Aoife O'Donovan, a great songwriter who often plays with the band, "I'm with Her." ( I'm practicing because Becky said I could play with her at our next promotional interview, this time on Tullahoma public access television on April 30. (

I'm a little nervous about playing with a professional musician, which helps me identify with Gavin Sturgeon, a 6th grader at Swiss Memorial School in Gruetli-Laager, who will be playing his banjo in the student portion of the concert on May 2. I met with Gavin and his mother, Crystal, at the Coalmont Community Center, where he was taking a lesson with Michael Klug to work on his song. "He was really nervous last year," Crystal told me. And it seems clear that he still is, but he's clawhammering away at "Soldier's Joy," and gamely learning "June Apple." Michael provides quiet encouragement and calls Crystal over to record him playing the song, so Gavin can watch it later.

"He won't watch it," she told me. "He has a great memory and knows the tune; he just needs to gain confidence."

As a 68-year-old, I have had ample opportunity to do something I felt nervous about, and I know there is nothing better for personal growth. Gavin, who loves the banjo and his papaw (just a little more than his mother) is getting that opportunity thanks to these music lessons, his family's unflagging support, and the generosity of our donors, who have helped touch the lives of music students across the Plateau. Every primary school in Grundy County will be represented at the concert, as well as Monteagle Elementary, and each child has a story like Gavin's and the opportunity to experience personal growth, working through the nerves as their fingers dance on the strings or they lift their voices to sing.

Becky Buller, herself, is enormously supportive of the traditional music program. "The Plateau has such a rich tradition of music, and I think it's just great that Ben Ayers and Bob Townsend and Michael Klug have this program to teach about that tradition and give the kids the opportunity to perform it." Those students, along with the Top of the Rock Choir, will be the warm up act and also perform with the band on "The Barber's Fiddle," near the beginning of Buller's set.

The last joyful encounter was on Thursday night, when a team from Sewanee and South Cumberland Community Fund participated in a community design conversation in Monteagle. Thursday night was the fifth such conversation the community fund held, thanks to a grant from the TN Dept. of Health. After five of these participatory design meetings, I am a convert to the idea that the healthiest communities are those where everyday citizens have the opportunity to say how they want it designed. Not all our community conversations were completely comfortable. We had to sit with people who were excited about the future but also some who were fearful. It was a growth experience for everyone involved.

I was super happy to run into two of our sponsors for the Benefit Concert concert at the Monteagle design event: Andy Patel of Village Wine and Liquors, which provides drinks for our events and helps us plan what we need, and Joe Gray of South Cumberland Getaways, which has a suite of vacation rentals, including Greeter Lodge, which Joe worked hard on creating. Joe came to the community conversation with his wife, Dawn, who has been one of our community liaisons at the community conversations. Dawn and the other liaisons really helped us understand how people envision a healthy built environment. We are hoping to get them all involved with upcoming projects related to public health on the Plateau.

With less than a week left, tickets are still available for an amazing concert on Thursday, May 2. Kids 12 and under are free, and we have special pricing for adults 35 and under and for anyone who works for one of our eighty community partners. Come on out and enjoy the music, pizza from Pyro Pie, and the fellowship of people who love working together toward a common purpose--and better health!

If you have not yet purchased a ticket, please do. You can use this link to get to the registration page:

If you know you cannot attend, consider forwarding that link to your friends. Proceeds from the concert help us do our work in fostering hope and prosperity on the Plateau, work that includes grant making as well as collaborative work on education (music, for example), housing, transportation, access to health care, and economic development. Everything we do happens because of the generosity of our donors. 

This concert is not just a fundraising effort; it is also an expression of our mission–building partnerships wherever we find them, even when we have to perform outside our comfort zone. .


Tom Sanders

Executive Director


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