Mountain Alliance, a non-profit based on Boone, NC, is a local organization that provides meaningful experiences to teenagers in Watauga and Avery County. These experiences are free and open to all students regardless of means or backgrounds – and like the Zoon Garden Promotional Tour, connection is at the crux of their mission.
“One of our biggest focuses is to build a safe and supportive environment for all students,” says Rachel Witmer, the Watauga Program Director. “Creating connections is one of the most important things we do because that is the gateway into students finding they are stronger than they believe, seeing the positive impact they can make on the lives of others, and growing in their leadership and as a person.”
This vision of connection has manifested in incredible ways for Mountain Alliance. In April of 2014, the non-profit launched a trip to New York City to help with disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy – and when their bus broke down, they experienced the power of compassion and connection first-hand.
“Instead of it becoming a story of tragedy, it became one of hospitality and generosity,” says Witmer. “When we found out that we needed a second night of lodging, the mayor of the town ended up helping us out and connecting us to some others in the government that paid for hotel rooms for us and helped connect us with transportation.”
That transportation was provided by a book publishing company, which offered the group a free tour of their facilities. Through this experience, the students witnessed the power of compassion and connection in a profoundly personal way. Then, upon their arrival to New York, the students deepened this inner work by extending care to demographics different than their own.
“It became clear to the students that our older gray-haired hosts were a little different from some of our multi-colored hair students,” says Witmer. “But we learned to live together despite our differences and worked side by side to help others impacted by Hurricane Sandy, even creating bonds of friendship across generations.”
It seems like the world has much to learn from small town non-profits such as Mountain Alliance. As the Zoon Garden team expands its reach across the United States, we aim to cultivate similar experiences of trust, empathy, and connection, all with the aim of building a more compassionate world.
“We use stories to recall trips of the past and share memories but also to connect and to teach,” says Witmer. “Sharing stories from our memory is sharing a part of us – and sharing fictional stories helps create new memories and impart lessons.”