Why I’m Here: An Open Letter from Vinny Ferraro

I wanted to take this opportunity to let folks know what I’m up to these days. And as I began writing this it was hard to figure out where to begin. So in an attempt to keep this short & interesting, we’ll pick up the saga when I was 20 years old.

A week off of crack, 110 lbs, ready to die, it was 1987. I find myself talking in front of a room of junkies, about my life… and something happened. I’m not sure what to call it, but as I walked out of that room, a thought crossed my mind that maybe I had something to offer, that maybe I could still do something good with this life. This was the first moment I felt value as a human being.

They told me it was called service, so I did groups inside jails and prisons, schools, rehabs, hospice—wherever they would let somebody like me talk to people.

I was a Union Drywall foreman by day, and a volunteer by night. I think my motivation was just to feel human, to feel connected, to listen.

Jump to 1999 and I came into contact with Challenge Day, a phenomenal group of people that were going into schools and blowing the minds of a hundred teenagers every day. I learned so much from them that my debt of gratitude continues to this day.

After 10 years with them, the last 8 as their Training Director, I decided it was time to return to the incarcerated population. I have a personal connection to these folks, not only because I’d spent some time on the inside, but because my father had done a lot of time, so I knew firsthand how deeply that effects everyone involved.

Some friends of mine had started the Mind Body Awareness Project and had been going inside. They hired me as their Training Director, and I loved what we were doing. The courage of incarcerated youth is nothing short of revolutionary. The experiences I had there in the last few years fundamentally changed my view of what I thought was possible.

I have a deep desire to feel like I am making a difference. As I offered what I can, in whatever ways I could, my view began to broaden. As I surveyed the landscape of the various systems in which these offerings were made, it became clear to me that to really have an impact on the system, I’d have to water the roots… Ironically, I was literally taking what I had learned from the youth, and helping the people that actually worked in those systems.

This was a difficult realization, because I love the direct service side of being with the youth. But a lot like leaving Challenge Day I knew the work of the Mind Body Awareness Project would continue and prosper with people in those organizations that are following their own deepest knowing.

As for me, I found my next step. It came in the form of 2 people, my former Executive Director at MBA, Chris McKenna and a dear friend from Mindful Schools, Megan Cowan. Together with the rest of the Mindful Schools team, we share a vision of creating an offering for the guardians of our children: the Teachers, Corrections Officers, Parents, Social Workers, etc., anyone that is in constant contact with youth. We know the toxic levels of stress and burnout can be overwhelming.

We believe mindfulness and social-emotional learning could transform the face of education, incarceration, and what it means to really be with the youth. So with this vision we are helping to expand the training offerings of Mindful Schools to reach adolescents as well as children.

If you’re interested, check us out at http://www.mindfulschools.org

If not, thanks for your time and attention. They are precious gifts and I hope I haven’t wasted them.

In Service,
Vinny Ferraro