Interview with Aaron Hayes, Teacher, Mentor, Pastor, Coach & more...

Joey: Redding is a beautiful place. We have national parks in three different directions and two world-class lakes. This is a sportsman's paradise, but it's also full of wonderful people. We have business leaders, community leaders, faith-based leaders, all of them working towards a singular goal, and that's to make this a great place to live. I wanted to showcase these people and give their perception of the place that they call home. This is AllRedding. So, we're back.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: All Redding's back. I'm here with Aaron Hayes, and I was going to say, Catalyst, Adventure Academy, you... Help me out, what are all the... because there's... You've been involved in several projects.

Aaron: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Joey: Tell me about them.

Aaron: So definitely, Catalyst Mentoring, I launched a few years ago. We've launched the California Adventure Academy recently. I also have a consulting company where I work with leaders dealing with burnout and also just leaders who want to really make sense of the structure of their business and really clarify their strategy. So I've got quite a few different irons in the fire. I also helped start a church in a town called The Stirring. So I was...

Joey: Really?

Aaron: With The Stirring for 11 years. Yeah, I was one of the original people.

Joey: That was... That's kind of a big one that I didn't... I never caught it. Because I know The Stirring. I've never heard of it many times...

Aaron: Yeah, my wife and I helped start that. But we stepped out of there about four years ago, 'cause I had launched Catalyst, and I was running all of their kids and their junior high and their high school ministries. But I launched this non-profit, and it had gotten so big that I really had to make a decision. Basically, I burned it out, I was like, "I can't do everything anymore." So I've been working really hard, but I decided that I really wanted to see the hurting youth of our city find mentors. And so... And it was really catching steam, and so about four years ago, I separated it from the church, 'cause it was originally a ministry of the church to mentor at-risk youth, and we separated it and then launched Catalyst on its own, which is pretty awesome.

Joey:So is Catalyst for all youth, or is it just for at-risk youth or what... Can you give me the guidelines for Catalyst?

Aaron: It's for all youth. It is for all youth. Originally, I was really targeting our most at-risk youth, 'cause they're the kids who need it the most. But as we grew... Originally, we were this collective impact model. And collective impact means you look at your community and you go, "What does our community need? And let's not recreate wheels that already exist." So originally, we looked out and we went, "Well, who's doing mentoring?" Well, there were about 25 mentoring organizations in the community, and nobody knew who they were, and then there were a couple of organizations that didn't have mentoring programs that everyone thought they did, like the YMCA. So we had gone over to the YMCA and said, hey, you guys should have the mentoring program, 'cause everyone already thinks you have one, it would take off. And they did, and they have a mentoring program that's totally blown up, which is amazing. So Catalyst originally launched to recruit mentors, train mentors, and place mentors, because that's what all the organizations, the 25 organizations that were doing mentoring had in common.

Aaron: They all needed more mentors, recruit, they all needed better trained mentors, 'cause if you're not trained and you're mentoring a kid, you generally will get frustrated or you'll get discouraged and then you drop out. So we were training mentors, and then we were placing them into all these organizations. So, we launched. And in my time, we basically recruited, trained and placed about 450 mentors in that time.

Joey: Wow, just in the Redding area?

Aaron: Just in the Redding area.

Joey: Wow. So, the 25 organizations don't necessarily work together, they kinda get their mentors from... Through the Catalyst group?

Aaron: Yeah. And so that's how we originally started, and that was up until the fires. But what had happened is, we were handing off mentors to the organization. Some of the organizations did a really great job of taking care of the mentors, some of the organizations would never call the mentor back. So we would do all this work to recruit them and train them, and then we'd go to place them, and then what would happen with the mentors, if you don't get a callback, you're like... You're not gonna go try again. And so we lost a ton of those mentors. Of those 430 mentors, we probably only kept around 60 or 80 of them that actually got through to kids. So when the fires hit, we were in... We had just launched, we had been only going for four or five months before the fires hit. And a ton of our donors were in the west side of Redding, so we lost over half our donors. And we were kind of in a tailspin financially, it was like, how do we keep this thing alive?

Aaron: And so basically, I went out on a limb, I believed in the vision. And so I went without... After five months without a paycheck, I had to lay off the team. But when we were in that process, it was like, we have to re-envision Catalyst. I can't keep recruiting this many mentors to have 70% or 80% of them fall off the bandwagon 'cause our partner organizations weren't taking care of the people. So then we decided to do a direct-to-kid mentoring program, meaning we're gonna own the mentors ourselves. And so when we got through that phase, we were able to rebuild, and we launched onto five school campuses. So we were serving about 150 kids a week on five junior high campuses around the community. We got through that year, and it was incredible, we were seeing a huge change in these kids. We were seeing kids going from fighting and failing to passing their grades and graduating and gaining character awards at the school.

Joey: That's awesome.

Aaron: It was incredible. But we got right towards the end of the year, and then COVID hit. And so we got like less than 24 hours' notice, and none of the mentors got to say goodbye to the kids. It would be like, you're there one week, and then you find out the next day, we can't go back. And so then we launched... We basically were trying to figure it out just like everyone. Zoom mentoring doesn't work for kids.

Joey: No.

Aaron: Especially not when they're doing school, staring at a computer all day. And so we had... Parents were like, "If you guys open an office or something, I'll bring my kid." And these are like... A lot of them were hurting families and single moms, and they're like, "I'll find a way." But I'm not gonna put my kid in front of a computer again. And so basically, we opened up an office, and we were... We did the social distance thing, we did it in a safe way, and the gal that I had been training to replace me, 'cause my plan was to hand off Catalyst at some point after we made it through kind of that challenging time, we were set to have our biggest year ever, a lot of the funding paused or froze and didn't come through. And so we went from having our biggest year ever to... I thought we were gonna have to close Catalyst. And when we got down to like two weeks, I had told the board, I said, guys, I think we're gonna shut doors on Catalyst. And within that two-week period, two long-shot grants that I had gone after and written that I didn't think we were gonna get somehow came through. Grants and partnerships.

Aaron: And so we had a chunk of change come in. I reached back out to the gal I had been training and I said, "Are you ready?" Because I don't have it in me to go another round, but Catalyst needs to live. And so she was super excited, and she's...

Joey: Awesome.

Aaron: Her name's Jenna Berry, she's incredible.

Joey: Shout-out to Jenna Berry.

Aaron: Jenna Berry, Catalyst Mentoring. Jenna here. This is Catalyst all the way.

Joey: Right on.

Aaron: But Jenna was working with SCOE, she just got her master's degree and she's got us on the high school campuses, and now we still have our mentoring happening in our office. And so kids and families are still coming there, and we're rebuilding our relationships with all of the schools that we had pre-COVID. Of course, they've all been sending us families saying, "Hey, this family really needs it." But now they're, "How do we get you back on campus?" So that was the Catalyst journey and I'm really proud of it.

Joey: And there's so many moving parts to that. You're sitting here telling me this, and I'm thinking about, just getting the funding is a huge piece on its own. And it sounds like you were in that. Then you have the whole like... We have to train mentors like you said, the wrong kind of training. You have to get the buy-in from the organizations, 'cause I can imagine those 25 organizations, they... Having that, "No, this is ours." And trying to say, "Hey look, this will do... You'll be part of something much bigger if you invest in us. If you really wanna help youths, then don't make it about you and yours, make it about a system that's actually effective."

Aaron: Absolutely. So there's this thing... So when you create a new category, it's a category creation. So collective impact isn't a new idea, but it's a new idea to most people. I've never heard of it before. Collective impact, what does that mean? You look at your community and you don't recreate wheels. So now it's two of the same wheel fighting for the same amount of grant money.

Joey: That's what I was thinking when you said 25, I'm like, "It's so much... "

Aaron: Isn't that insane?

Joey: The left hand not knowing the right hand. That kind of...

Aaron: Exactly. And they're not talking to each other, and so there's no best practices. So we were creating all of that, but I don't think there was much of an appetite for it. Most of those mentoring organizations were pretty small. And I don't want to disparage them. I'm really glad they're doing the work, but they were small for a reason, and they needed more leadership support. And we tried, but at the same time, we finally got to a place where the ultimate goal is to serve kids. So, are we accomplishing our ultimate goal if we're bleeding 70 to 80% of the people that we've recruited and trained?

Joey: No.

Aaron: And this isn't... I went to the national mentoring summit, what they were saying is the very best of the best in training, we were already doing. I didn't know until I got there, I'm like, wow, we are actually like... We're Sammy Sosa over here. We're crushing it. We were just in a smaller fish bowl and...

Joey: You just gave away your age, you know that right?

Aaron: Yeah, yeah, yeah, totally.

Joey: Young is like, "Who?"

Aaron: Yeah, yeah. So when you create a new category, it's hard because you're not just convincing them, let's do mentoring. You have to convince them of this whole other concept, which is collective impact. And so that was the challenging part 'cause everyone would go, "How many kids are you mentoring?" And I'd go, "That's a great question." A better question would be, "How many mentors have we recruited and trained?" And that's great to me because I know what that means. But to the business person or to you people who might donate to the mission of Catalyst at that point in time, it was very hard because they're like, "Wait, what?" They didn't understand the collective impact. So every time I'd have to answer, it would lead me down this rabbit hole of having to sell them on the idea of collective impact. And here's the other thing, people don't wanna donate to something that's administrative in nature. They wanna donate to the thing that directly impacts the kids. And I'm like, "Here's the deal, every mentor I train directly impacts three kids."

Aaron: But the problem is I'm handing out mentor, mentor, mentor, mentor, but they may or may not be getting caught by these organizations. So that's why we had to switch and say... Now when people say, "How many kids are you mentioning?" We can tell you exactly how many kids we're mentoring, because that just closed the loop in that new kind of creation that we had created here of this collective impact model for a mentoring program. We realized we needed to switch gears so that we could answer that question for Joey, the business owner, who could say, "How many kids are you mentioning?" "Hey, we're mentoring 50. We're mentoring 150. We're mentoring 350." Really, with Catalyst, there's... We have such high ACE scores in our community. ACEs stand for adverse childhood experiences. We're double the state and double the national average, here in Shasta County.

Joey: Really?

Aaron: It's insane.

Joey: That doesn't make any sense. I would think...

Aaron: It's generational, it's... Basically, it's generational trauma. So that generational trauma gets passed down. And so the idea of ACEs is that... It's the science of epigenetics. They used to think poverty was the underlying cause of these repeating cycles of violence and drug abuse and all of the things that we look at in our community go, "Man, can we do something about that?" Mental health issues. Well, the reality is that... They've studied this, they've studied this through this ACEs study. It was a 15-year longitudinal study, and then they started doing this all over the place and go, "What is your ACE score?" Like, "How much trauma essentially have you absorbed in your life... In your early childhood?" Because I can't make it... If... Let's say your dad was an abusive alcoholic, I can't change that he was an abusive alcoholic. You have an ACEs score of seven or eight, and I can't change that. But what I can do, and this is the power of mentoring now. 'Cause I can't change what you've experienced, I can give you tools so that you don't have to repeat it.

Joey: Oh, very good.

Aaron: See? We as humans, repeat the stories we see.

Joey: Yes.

Aaron: But we don't very often repeat stories we've never seen before. So what if the own story you've seen when a conflict shows up is that Dad solves his problems with violence? Dad solves his problems with violence. Dad solves his problems with violence. I solve my problem with?

Joey: Violence.

Aaron: I repeat the stories that I see. It's literally a high-level communal situation of a lot of people who are playing monkey see, monkey do, on a really painful level for our kids. And so the power of mentoring is that you're giving kids another narrative to live by.

Joey: Very good.

Aaron: So that's what mentors do. And I handed Catalyst off... I am still really passionate about it.

Joey: I could tell.

Aaron: I'm always gonna be passionate for kids. I used to be a teacher, I worked with the most at-risk kids in our community. And it's kind of led me to go, "How can I create the greatest impact with my life?" So this is what's led me towards consulting, where I love working with teams, I love working with leaders of leaders and helping people look at their organizations and their businesses and go, "How do we create the culture that we want here so that everyone thrives and ultimately so that our customers are served?" Or, in the case of schools, 'cause I work a lot with school still, so that everyone here thrives, from the teacher to the janitor, to the secretary, to the administrator, so that our clients, I.e., the kids, can thrive. Because it's an entire environment there, so all of this work that I've done with mentoring and then with training and working with teachers and staff has turned into this consulting company, and then I also launched a school this last year, because we were looking out and just going like, there's gotta be a better alternative for our kids in the middle of all this chaos.

Joey: You just unleashed so much. My mind's trying to keep up, and there are questions popping up. There's something that... Even before we met, and I saw just a few of your accolades, the word that kept popping up was calling, not career, calling. And I thought, man, I really wanna ask him, what... 'Cause you sit there and you go back with my dad and violence, so I'm thinking I did... Was Aaron's dad a pastor, and he's like, hey, we're gonna change the world? How did you get... 'cause we'll come back and we'll go... You've got a lot of stuff, but how did you start on this path?

Aaron: Well, first of all, I... Well, let's go back to Todd Franklin for a second.

Joey: Okay.

Aaron: Okay?

Joey: We were talking about the coach...

Aaron: Coach Todd Franklin.

Joey: Todd Franklin, off camera. Go ahead.

Aaron: Yeah, so Todd Franklin, he was one of my early, early mentors. He was my high school basketball coach. And what I discovered was that I just sucked at school.

Joey: Wow.

Aaron: I really... It wasn't that I wasn't intelligent, it was that...

Joey: Clearly.

Aaron: I just didn't have the focus. So we got into high school, and I basically... In junior high, I had failed enough classes that I couldn't play, and I loved basketball, but I couldn't play because I kept failing. So I got to high school, and I remember my eighth-grade year, all my friends were on the team. And for whatever reason, I couldn't even bring myself into the gym 'cause I was gonna just start sobbing. I couldn't even go in and watch the game. It was the only thing that gave me any motivation, and no one could really... I saw that. Instead, it was just black and white. You failed your classes, you're out. And so I remember standing outside the gym crying, I couldn't go in. So when I got to high school, I was like, "I will do whatever it takes at least to pass my class enough to be on the basketball team." And so basketball gave me this driving force and motivation, but educationally I could never quite get there. So I just felt like the stupid kid. I even had... Small school, but a couple of small colleges that I probably could have gotten some scholarships out to play basketball, I got pretty good at basketball. And I got really good, but didn't have any self-belief.

Aaron: So what this turned into was that I always felt like the underdog. And so, when I graduated from high school, I was living with Todd. Actually, Todd and I became roommates. And I was... He got me literally the shittiest job in Redding. I was working for some concrete guy, getting up at 5:00 AM, and nobody... Those guys there, I won't say the name of the company, this is 25 years ago. They could... They were doing so many drugs that they couldn't remember my name. So they called me Fucking Joe for six months.

Joey: Wow.

Aaron: "Fucking Joe." And they just had me mucking out all of these footings for these houses at 5:00 AM, and then one day... This is all gonna tie together by the way, just in case you're wondering...

Joey: No, I can... I'm following.

Aaron: Where the heck is he going right now?

Joey: I'm with you, man. No, I like it, I like backstories.

Aaron: Yeah. One day, one rainy day, I'm mucking out the footing. So you have to imagine, when you build a house, you literally outline it and you dig down the dirt about a foot, two feet deep, 16 inches deep, or something. And in the winter, when the water fills, you have to get all that water out before you pour the concrete. So you gotta muck out the footings. Well, I'm out there mucking out the footings, I have headphones in, I look over and I see a couple of these guys are smoking weed in their truck, you can't even see 'em, there's so much smoke in there. And then one of them gets out and he's running like a dozer on this property, and I had my back turned to him at this point. And as I turn around, the blade of this thing comes within six inches of my leg. I don't even think he saw me. And I just laid my shovel down and I was like, I quit.

Joey: Good man.

Aaron: I quit. 'Cause he was about to take my leg off. Right?

Joey: 'Cause he'd be sorry though bro. He'd be really sorry bro.

Aaron: Yeah, he...

Joey: Walk it off, walk it off, bro.

Aaron: Totally. Fucking Joe, what are you doing? Over there grabbing your leg. So anyhow, that day I quit with my girlfriend at the time, who was my high school sweetheart, so we started dating when she was 13 and I was 14. Now, we've been married for 20 years.

Joey: Good man.

Aaron: But she was like, "You need to go to school." And I'm like, I can't, what am I gonna do going to school? So she talks me into going to college. I proceeded to fail 36 units worth of Shasta College classes.

Joey: Consistency. You've got... I'm seeing consistency here. We can work with that, man. We can work with that.

Aaron: I just never gave up. I just never gave up.

Joey: We just gotta move your aim in. Right?

Aaron: Exactly.

Joey: You're precise, you're just... Your accuracy's off.

Aaron: Exactly.

Joey: You just gotta move it in there.

Aaron: Yeah. So here I'm failing college classes because of this belief. I had this belief about myself that I was stupid. And so I am coaching basketball at Liberty now. I'd gone back and I was coaching the JV team. And my wife was like, "You're so good with kids, you should be a teacher." And I'm like, have you lost your mind? I'm like, I can't even pass a college class. And she's like, "That's not because you're not smart, it's 'cause you don't apply yourself when it comes to school." And I'm like, I'm... I just didn't believe her. Well her grandma gets involved at some point, and her grandma's like Sarah, it's just as easy to marry a doctor or lawyers as it is that guy over there. And I was like...

Joey: Wise words grandma. Wise words. She's right.

Aaron: Yeah, I was like, damn grandma threw me under the bus here. But my wife and I had a real serious conversation 'cause here I am mucking out footings and burning through classes and wasting a ton of money. My wife's like... Well, not my wife then. My girlfriend at the time was like, "What are you doing?" So she said, "How about this? Let's take two classes together, and I'm gonna make sure that you do your homework, and we're gonna prove to you that you're not stupid, basically." So we went to classes. Pretty soon, I'm getting involved in the debates and 'cause I like talking, as you can tell, I haven't stopped talking yet, and [chuckle] we get in these classes and I passed the class and I got an A, first A in my life.

Joey: Nice.

Aaron: And at that point, it just flipped a switch in me. I was like, holy crap, I can do this. And from then on, it just rolled me into this thing. I ended up becoming a teacher. And then when I started teaching, I started substitute teaching, I got hired before my credential was done. I got hired on an emergency credential out in Anderson 'cause they were needing teachers and they saw that I was a natural with the kids. And so they hired me, and I was getting paid to do my student teaching. And then when I started working, I literally subbed at every high school in Shasta County, but I was somehow super attracted to the alt Ed schools because I like the underdogs. So I proceeded, and I got hired at Pioneer High School. I got told to F off every day for the first year I taught, and I absolutely loved it.

Joey: See, that concrete job was preparing you for teaching.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: See how that works?

Aaron: It totally was.

Joey: Instant callback.

Aaron: It totally was. And so here I was now, and I've got these kids. And I remember one moment, it was Christmas time, it was my first or second year. And I was super excited for Christmas break. I've got a young family now, I'm looking for... My parents were coming up, Christmas and I'm all excited and we're in my classroom and I'm like, oh man, what are you guys gonna do? And some kids are talking with me, and one girl's over in the corner, she just looks freaking pissed. Finally, I went over and I was like, hey, what's going on? I'm like, Aren't you excited that it's the last day before Christmas break? And she's like, "It's not exciting for me." Like what do you mean it's not exciting? And she's like, "Hey," she's like, "you're going home. You've told us your family's coming, you guys are doing a big dinner." She's like, "I don't even know where I'm going, and this is the only place where I get consistent meals."

Joey: Oh, wow, man.

Aaron: I was like, "She's living in her car with her mom." And I was like, wow. I really didn't understand the kids that... The people that I was serving. So here I was, I loved the underdog. Right? 'Cause I felt like I was the underdog. There's a whole other level of underdog out there. And when I started having those experiences like that, I had relationships with those people too. It's not just freaking homeless people. There are different kinds of homelessness.

Joey: Oh, yeah.

Aaron: One of the other things that I did was I helped create the Homeless Youth Alliance here and in Redding. And this is part... Part of one of the reasons why was because I had these kids that you look at the homeless population. Not everyone has this story, but for some people it's situational.

Joey: Oh, absolutely.

Aaron: And a lot of the kids... There's no voice for homeless youth, there's not really any support for them 'cause it would be to send them back into foster care. Well, nobody wants a teenage foster kid who's been living homeless. No one wants to bring that person into their house. So those kids, like for them to even show up at school, it's like a freaking miracle. So all of a sudden you've got these kids here, and I guess all of those moments and experiences just kind of gave me a true north for kids.

Joey: That's awesome.

Aaron: And so... I think throughout my life, you said it's a calling, I think it is a calling.

Joey: Totally. The reason why it was 'cause a career is like, "Okay, I'll make this is... " None of that is guaranteed. The story that you started to tell about how we didn't have funding, I didn't take a salary for five months, that's a call. Most people are like, "I didn't take a salary for a day, so I went on and did something else." But to say, "I didn't take a salary for five months there's... " the heart was leading the path, not the financial part of your brain. You know what I mean?

Aaron: Yeah, I've got this young business guy that I'm working with, and I've been mentoring him, he's like, "I have watched you. You've kind of pivoted a lot the last couple of years." 'Cause I handed it off the catalyst, I've got my consulting thing, and then I've got the school. And he's like, "You're doing all these things?" He's like, "How have you been choosing your next career?" And I was like, that's funny, you should say that because I'm not choosing a career anymore. I'm not in pursuit of a career. I'm in pursuit of honoring the gifts and the talents and the strengths that I feel God's given me, and when I honor those things and when I grow those things, somehow the path lays itself out before me. So what started as a calling to serve kids turned into a skill set that I didn't know at the time that I was growing, but it's this ability to sit with people and complex issues and create clarity. That really started at Pioneer High School. It started with at-risk Kids who are hurting, some of them living in cars, some of them stuck on drugs, that would be very easy to judge, just gosh, this is a bad kid.

Joey: Very easy to dismiss.

Aaron: Very easy to dismiss. But then you get to know them and you build a relationship with them and you go, wait, there's actually potential here. But for them to get to their potential, they have to be able to make meaning of their suffering.

Joey: Man, there is something powerful... In what you're saying, there are some powerful ideas, and I'm thinking along the lines of like, "This is historically something that has been a struggle for humanity. Historically getting people to... " Something in our biology is very guarded and paranoid, and you know what I mean? There are just certain things that are built into all of us. And when you meet people that it's not built into them, you're kind of shocked. And so you have that, but then on top of that, we're at a point in society where just our communication tools seem to lend themselves towards not getting along. So I'm thinking of social media where it's just...

Aaron: Oh, yeah.

Joey: The jab. And I remember before the rise of Facebook, I noticed it in forums. That was pre-forums. And I always thought the anonymity.

Aaron: Anonymity. Yeah.

Joey: Thank you, sir. Led to... Because it wasn't John Smith, the guy on the street. It was road dog 24 telling you, you're an idiot. And I thought, "Yeah, you're saying that because your road dog and I knew where, that kind of thing. But now I felt like that was a precursor to the tools now where it's like, sure, hey, I'm John. I lived down the street, and I think you're an idiot. You're like, you'd never say that to my face, but it's...

Aaron: On Facebook, he would.

Joey: I feel like it's coming towards that. And so it's like you're coming from the other angle, where like, "Look, we need to get together, we need to get face-to-face and see each other as humans. Respect each other. I think you're wrong, but at the same time, I'm going to respect you. One of the big things that I've talked about was... In our last interview, I was trying to push civil discourse. Civil. You're not Hitler. If you disagree with me, I don't hate you, just because... And discourse, just you and I are not gonna agree on everything. We've got a lot of our communication is people that even agree on 95% are fixated on the 5%, they don't agree with. And so both of them are like Hitler. And you're like, yeah, maybe you haven't studied history enough to understand what that label means. But also you're really... You're focusing on the 5%. You guys are like 95% the same person, and they don't... But I feel like all the mechanisms, like our news, and social media, it's very much wired to drive us into that conflicted space.

Aaron: Yeah, I've got some thoughts on that. One is, have you seen the funny Facebook meme, where there are these two dogs and there's a gate in between them, and they're just like, they're just going crazy you think they're gonna rip each other's throats out, and then it's an electric gate and the gate backs away, both of the dogs, ears go down and they just kind of like... They both look away in a different direction. You're like, that's Facebook, that's social media. It's just like if you said... If you acted the way you talk on Facebook, you would probably, like in person, you'd probably get knocked out. But on Facebook, all of a sudden everyone's brave, and I'll just say whatever. And so you get in these crazy fights. Well, it's fascinating, isn't it? But the thing is, if we really wanna solve the problems, this is like the thing, is if we got in a room with those people and I'd say, do you wanna solve the problem or you just wanna feel powerful? I think part of the issue here is a lot of people genuinely don't know how to feel powerful in the world.

Joey: Agreed.

Aaron: Because if you're really busy changing the world, changing kids' lives, helping people literally change the potential of their future, you won't talk to people like that no matter what the avenue was. But because people don't have avenues where they feel powerful, their only place to feel powerful is to get on a soapbox and then do say, and act ridiculous on social media, but they would never act that way in real life because they don't actually have courage. And so I think part of the problem here is that people don't know how to truly feel powerful.

Aaron: And so if you really wanted to help someone else feel powerful, even your enemy, this is part of the problem. People do need to feel powerful, but how do you make them feel powerful in a way that's not destructive? Now, this is for both sides. It doesn't matter if you're a Republican, or a Democrat, or red, white, blueprint or whatever you are, you need to feel that sense of power, don't forget that the other side, if they don't feel seen and heard and understood, you'll never get to the place where you actually solve the problem. So this is why it's so confusing. Everyone's out there, they think they're arguing about the problem, but really what they're doing is they're trying to find their own place of power. And because there's confusion about that, we're not actually solving the problems. We're just fighting each other.

Joey: And I brought it up a couple of times. Every now and then, I get on my soapbox, and I try not to be negative. I tried. I'll tell you what, the struggle is real. But I said something about our leaders, and Jillian Dillon, who was a good friend of mine, immediately said, "No, they're not our leaders. They are our elected officials." There's a difference. Because if they were leaders, they wouldn't do that. And where I was going with that is they are having that type of dialogue. You see the two parties, and when the camera's on, it's... The rhetoric is insane from both sides across the board. It's been there for a long time, and it's just ramping up. And then we emulate that. Why? Because that's our leader. So if our leader calls the other person a Hitler, an idiot, and a Nazi...

Aaron: Permission.

Joey: Then yeah, the guy didn't pick up the dog poop that he left on my lawn, so he's Hitler, he's an idiot. It escalates. And so, she corrected me, and that was an awesome correction.

Aaron: Jillian's a good friend of mine. What a crazy distinction, though. That's our elected official; it's not a leader.

Joey: That's not a leader at all.

Aaron: A leader is someone who takes others with them and who can convert people who don't necessarily fully agree to understand where they're coming from, and then take them with them. Leaders, it's not... Your story only gets better when you take others with you, and that means also you have to be able to take others with you who don't fully agree with you but they trust you because of your character, or they trust you because they can understand where you're headed and that your intent for them is not evil, but it's also good. The problem is, I think we have a massive lack of leadership.

Joey: Oh, absolutely.

Aaron: And the same thing I was talking about people pursuing power instead of solving the problem is the same thing with our leaders or elected officials. They're more concerned about preserving their sense of power than they are solving problems, and that's a challenge.

Joey: And I think that... I have that quote. It's... Obviously, I didn't make it up. I posted it. In fact, I asked a buddy of mine, Brandon Wolik at Sign Creations. You have to print this, Brandon. I wrote that for him.

Aaron: He's an awesome guy, by the way.

Joey: He's hilarious. I have some funny stories off-camera to tell you, but the famous quote said great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events and small minds discuss people. And so that idea is that our system is fostering that. Our system is pushing leaders away because... And it's saying, Who wants power? That's who we want to rise through the ranks. True leaders don't want to be part of that. It's a toxic environment. But people that want power, they're like, I want to be part of that. And we've seen that over time, and now the scales are overwhelmingly in that the vast majority of our elected officials are there for power and money, and you can see it. And it doesn't matter, and it gets caught up. This whole blue, red, Democrat, Repub... It's a complete facade. It's the absolute Wizard of Oz curtain. And to see people get caught up in it is sad. I remember... No, I wouldn't say because it'll just... But somebody once said parties are for the bovine cattle. You need to look at the individual. What is their track record? What are they saying? What have they done? That's how you should be picking leaders, but we don't.

Aaron: So the challenge is that our society right now is pushing us to be binary in our thinking.

Joey: Very.

Aaron: It's in or out.

Joey: And the founding fathers always... They warned us.

Aaron: They warned us.

Joey: Thomas Jefferson desperately warned us of a two-party system.

Aaron: Yeah, don't get to this place where it's in or out, up or down, red or blue, because the moment that you get to that, the problem is when you make the other person your enemy and all they are is your enemy, you lose all of this nuance. There are Democrats who have 90% of the things that we care about in common, and there are Republicans who have 90% of the things that we care about in common, and then both of them have a 10% we disagree with. And so there's... You have to be able to sift through the nuance, but there are not a lot of people who are willing to sit in nuance anymore.

Joey: Eric Weinstein, who is a mathematician and a physicist, he's a super-intelligent guy, and he's a strong proponent of what you call the... I hate even saying this stuff, but it's like we need words to communicate, but a proponent of the classic liberal left, and then he went on to Senator Ted Cruz, which I think most people would say he's a proponent of the classic conservative right. And that's what he talked about: " hey, we have to meet in the middle. This is not going to be solved by the two extremes that have the microphone right now. They're getting all the bang, and they're getting the attention. But they're going to drive us right into a... Both of us are going to go right into the ditch with them.

Aaron: Oh yeah.

Joey: It's going to take the moderates on both sides that are reasonable, can compromise, and then realize like you said, 90%... Who wouldn't want a thriving American economy? Who wouldn't wanna see us lift people out of poverty? Who wouldn't wanna see a healthy population? Who wouldn't wanna see an educated population? Who wouldn't want that?

Aaron: What's funny is when you can demonize the other side, it's literally the process of dehumanization. Both sides are doing it. I had a friend who is out right now from Colorado, and he's out visiting, and our family's going on an annual camping trip, and he brought up a local political issue that he had heard about from Facebook from one side. And so he was talking about it, and he said, what do you think about that? Oh man, isn't that good? And what do you think about it?

Aaron: I was like, I know those people. I happened to... One of them, if... We were working in the same coffee shop for a year and a half. We'd sit across from each other and come in and go, hey, how is it going? And we called it our office. Hey, you got to the office late today. And we were working across from each other all the time, and people were dehumanizing him and saying he was evil. And I'm like, have you met him? Have you actually sat down and talked with him about his ideas? Because until you can do that, how can you go binary to this point? And of course, my friend was like, well, I didn't know, I just was saying... I thought, I'm like, I know, but that's part of the problem. See, even for myself. This happened to me last night. One of our local elected officials, not leaders, but one of our local elected officials posted something, and everyone was getting on here, and then some woman who I don't know said something that I'm being really vague here because I have no desire to get involved and throw gas on these fires.

Joey: Absolutely, I understand.

Aaron: But they said something, and I saw it, and I was like, What is your problem? Like, who the hell are you to say something like that? You have a major problem.

Joey: I want to come back to that because it's tied into something you said a minute ago about personal empowerment.

Aaron: But I got really upset, and I wrote about a three-paragraph response to eviscerate her. I've done this, and I do this about once a week.

Joey: Me too.

Aaron: And I literally... I feel it right now. My heart is pumping. I'm feeling pissed. I'm just like, damn. And I was right about sending, and I was like, will this create change, or will it just create another round of more people, that barking dogs like the meme? And I was like. It's more of the barking dogs. What would I do if I cared about this human being and had a relationship? I would call them and say, hey, let's go get coffee and talk. I think a lot of this could be solved if, like, Hey, all you people fighting to the death over here on Facebook, how about you stop acting like you are the toughest, smartest person in the room, and what if you said, Hey, let's go get coffee, hey, let's sit down and talk about that? Because I think a lot of our problems would be solved there, because then I can go, what if you and I disagree, Joey? Well, we're probably not gonna solve it by making each other look stupid on Facebook because one of the things that keeps this level of high conflict going is humiliation.

Joey: It's an arms race.

Aaron: Yeah. Where we're...

Joey: Just keep, you know what I mean?

Aaron: Who can humiliate the other person more? The moment humiliation comes in, it triggers our fight, flight, or freeze. They say that if you attack a person's strongly held beliefs, it releases the same amount of chemicals into your body that would happen if we released a lion into this room right now. Isn't that insane?

Joey: Yes.

Aaron: If they put a lion into this room, our hearts would be racing. We would go into fight, flight, or freeze mode, which is the lower... It's the reactive part of your brain. It's the lower limbic system part of your brain. When that part happens, there's this part in your brain called the amygdala. And the amygdala, when it blows up the bridge between the forward-thinking, planning part of your brain that's called the prefrontal cortex, and then the lower limbic system part of your brain, when it blows that up, you can no longer forward-think and plan, which means you're living out of pure reaction, I.e., Facebook.

Joey: Fight or flight.

Aaron: I'm going to fight you, or I'm going to run from you. Or I'm going to freeze and then become a victim of the whole thing?

Joey: It's real. It's biochemistry. It's not just like, oh, Facebook. So I'm... Man, I almost had my Star Jones moment there. I'm a lawyer, so I know what good barbecue tastes like. But I do... My day job is online marketing. And so I've done a lot of studies on how people are interacting with Facebook, and it's rewiring our biochemistry. The dopamine hits, the... Social media, Facebook being the big dog, combined with these devices, we're in this constant state of checking. We're in a constant state of dopamine. We're the rat that goes and gets into this. Oh yeah, we put a little bit of cocaine in this water, and you'll see the rat just keeps going back in the wheel, and it's changing us, and it's putting us in a high level of anxiety all the time. All the time.

Aaron: Which is why we're seeing burnout now. So you correlate that to burnout rates right now, pre-COVID and then after COVID.

Joey: And suicide rates?

Aaron: They're off the charts right now.

Joey: They're off the charts. And what else does it do? It triggers eating. So we also have obesity, and America is over 60% and climbing. Diabetes is technically considered a pandemic in America. It gets kinda hush, hush. But it is by classification, by the CDC, diabetes and pre-diabetes is a pandemic and we're not... What's going on. Part of it's a polluted food source, but a big part of it is that we're in a constant state of this cortisol just flowing, fight or flight, anxiety, and these devices that we're connected to, which I'm streaming on right now. Oh, the irony, the hypocrisy and all.

Aaron: I'm not judging.

Joey: Yeah, no judging.

Aaron: The truth is like, I work a lot with leaders on this, and leaders who have burnt out. I burned out really hard. I burned out really hard. I'm talking like, I couldn't make it till one or two o'clock without starting to have tears and be crying, and that's really sad to say, that I get to one or two o'clock and I'd be calling my wife and being like, I need you to pray for me right now, because I'm a freaking basket case. And then I had physical exhaustion. I still at times will have physical exhaustion out of the blue. I'll grind. I like working hard by the way. I'm not like...

Joey: Clearly.

Aaron: I love working hard, but I can't work hard like I used to. I have to have boundaries and limits. But my whole point in this is that, one of the things that I teach people is you have to have a consistent time of digital detox in your day. How you go to bed. Like what, how, when you're looking at your phone and not. There's things that you have to do, they're very practical. 'Cause you hear all this, it could just get really overwhelming and doom and gloom. But if I just look straight at the camera and say, there's hope for you, and actually that hope looks like actually resetting and getting back to having some boundaries and putting some boundaries on that social media time, and on those devices. And it actually is a huge place where a lot of people will get a lot of freedom just by having a digital detox. And so for me, I haven't been very good about it lately, but...

Joey: You're forgiven.

Aaron: Yeah. But when I was really going through burnout, I had to move my phone out of my room. And two or three hours before bed, I wouldn't look at it, because literally the blue light off the phone turns your brain back on. And the problem is when your brain turns back on, you immediately go back to work. It doesn't matter if you're laying in your bed, it doesn't matter if you just got to make love with your significant other. You immediately go back to work in your head. Now, you're laying in bed, and you're gnawing on the problems of your day. And then you wonder why you're having anxiety attacks and you're wondering, because now you're losing sleep. You start losing sleep, and it starts compounding your stress.

Joey: Fatigue.

Aaron: And as your stress, and then every... All of a sudden the small problems become big problems. The conflict that normally you would've when you first started and you were passionate, you're like, oh yeah, we can deal with that problem. That's just a people problem. Let's do this. Let's have that meeting. Okay, let's... Hey, if we just do the... You're able to solve all these problems. Now, these basic problems are coming and you feel like they're going to eat you for lunch. See, that, that's what happened to me. And part of that path out, well, one was, you talked about all the chemicals that flood into your body, 'cause it's changing our biochemistry. When you have that kind of endorphin release into your body, but you're not getting exercise, those chemicals don't go away. They're in your body, and exercise is what releases them.

Joey: And that's great that... When we're talking about this, we can get... I would like to get deeper into it. But I was thinking, okay, your diet is a big proponent. So we're bashing on social media and technology, and that is a big piece of it. Another big piece of it is what you're consuming. Not just your social media, but like what are you physically consuming?

Aaron: Absolutely.

Joey: Because unfortunately, our processed food source is, for lack of a better way, polluted.

Aaron: Oh, totally.

Joey: Okay. And there's a lot of chemicals in it to keep it shiny, to keep it on the shelf, to keep it here, to make it taste really good that we're poisoning ourselves. And then the physical activity of working out to these... These things are really important. But what's, to me, really great about them is small changes. I've made small changes in my life and seen big impacts. Just like...

Aaron: Exactly.

Joey: Just go for a 30-minute walk a day. 30 minutes.

Aaron: There's nothing crazy. 30 minutes. Yeah.

Joey: Yeah, 30 minutes. Put your headphones in if you have to. I'd like you to take technology and go, but just 30 minutes of walking will change. Drinking a lot more water will change. Trying to get fruits and vegetables a little bit closer to the tree. It's a big deal, these little tiny things. I have so many friends that I made... I just turned 50. So we're at that age.

Aaron: I just turned 40. You got a decade on me here.

Joey: He's bragging. Okay.

Aaron: I've only got a couple gray hairs. You're beating me.

Joey: Oh, I'm all gray. It's all gray, bro. No, don't... We're gonna touch this up in post-production.

Aaron: We're gonna call you the silver fox.

Joey: There you go. I'll take that. I've been called a lot worse. But several of my friends were at that age where it's like all of a sudden, we get the old commercials about Geritol and stuff, and now we know why magnesium's so important and that sort of thing. So these little adjustments of like, no, no, I started eating this oatmeal for breakfast and taking vitamin D and now I'm sleeping better. And then I noticed I'm walking, and pretty soon it's 45 minutes. It's like little tiny things. I like giving people these type of solutions, because you and I have sat and talked about a lot of the things that are causing the problems, but it's like you have to transition to solutions.

Aaron: You gotta get to the solution.

Joey: And it's gotta be daily little habits. Just a gallon of water a day. Not that hard. I saw you, you walked in here with a canteen. You've taken a cup. That's a huge piece. I'd be like, no, I had soda.

Aaron: I stopped drinking caffeine. I have a great story about this actually. So I use it like a coffeeholic. Matter of fact, at the Stirring Coffeehouse, for two years in a row, I drank so much coffee there that they said I drank the most coffee out of anyone in Redding and they would give me a coffee mug. So I was having a meeting, and I'd be like, oh, I have a meeting in the morning. I have some coffee, and have a meeting in that... And at lunchtime, have some coffee, have a meeting in the late afternoon, have some coffee. So I'm drinking like three or four coffees a day. Don't even think about my coffee budget. My wife was pissed back then. She'd be like, how many coffees are you drinking? And I'm like, it's for business.

Joey: At whose expense?

Aaron: It's a business expense. But what happened was I was drinking so much coffee and then I went to LA because I was speaking at this school, and I was doing some training. So Monday, basically the schedule was in the mornings from eight to noon, I'm training, and then I have the afternoon free. Well, the guy who ran the school is a coffee aficionado and he roasts his own coffee. So we went to every unbelievable amazing coffee place in LA for a week. We'd get up extra early, and we'd go hit it in the morning, and then come and then teach and then eat lunch. And then in the afternoon, we would have one. And then in the evening, we'd go out to dinner and then we'd have coffee in the evening. So I did this for a week. So it comes down to the end of the week, and I'm gonna speak to the entire school on Friday night.

Aaron: And I get up and speak. I don't even remember what I said, but I had trouble sleeping the whole week. I said whatever I said, I brought a friend with me. And afterward, I got out of there really quick and I went back to my room and I called him. I'm like, bro, you need to come over here really... Something's wrong. And I was weeping, and I was freaking out. I thought I was having a mental breakdown. I couldn't figure out what it was. So then I get home, thankfully my friend was with me. I got home and somehow I stumbled upon this article, the other benefit of Facebook, about coffee. And how some people can hit a lifetime limit of caffeine. If you're using... I was using caffeine like a drug.

Joey: It is a drug.

Aaron: It is a drug, but I was using it as my upper. And so, it didn't even faze me. It didn't matter how much I drank, I didn't feel hyped, but I just had this like low-level buzzing, like...

Aaron: I was fried. So I read this article that, for some people, they can hit their lifetime limit, and then it'll just start causing them to have anxiety attacks. And I was like, maybe that's what happened to me. So I cut coffee, cold turkey like six years ago.

Joey: That wasn't easy. That wasn't easy.

Aaron: It was easier than you thought because the anxiety attacks freaking sucked.

Joey: I guess so. Okay. There you go.

Aaron: So I cut it, I cut it. And I'll tell you what, 99% of that anxiety went away. What was left was what was real. But every time I have coffee, to this day, if I have... And I can do decaf, but if I have regular coffee or anything with caffeine in it, I'll start having anxiety. And if I have enough of it, like if I were to get some espresso, we could film this, I would be over here in the corner trying not to cry, sucking my thumb, feeling like an elephant was sitting on me.

Joey: Okay. We'll have to try that. I have to order an espresso then. I have to see it.

Aaron: Yeah, let's see it.

Joey: Okay, good. What happens is these microphones are attuned to this desk and sometimes if you hit it, it's like a bass drum, boom, boom, boom. I know.

Aaron: I keep getting it too.

Joey: No, you did great. You got excited about that. You hit a couple. I was like, hmm. I wonder. So we talked about Catalyst. I wanna talk about the... Give me the proper title for the Adventure Academy.

Aaron: California Adventure Academy.

Joey: I wanna talk about that. Okay. So help me out. How did that get started? What's going on there?

Aaron: Okay, so California Adventure Academy, this is super exciting. So I'm good friends with this guy, Ryan Spitz. And Ryan is pretty famous in our area. He was developing the California Adventure District, and he was also the owner of Shasta Trail runs. And so Ryan is an incredible human being and he's really a world-class athlete.

Joey: I've heard that.

Aaron: So he created this run called the California Untamed, where he ran from the ocean to Mount Shasta in five days.

Joey: Oh, he beat my record.

Aaron: Yeah, that's 77 miles a day.

Joey: That's crazy.

Aaron: Over the Trinity Alps.

Joey: And it isn't flat, it isn't downhill.

Aaron: Oh no, that's like, it's like 10,000 feet of elevation gain a day.

Joey: Wow. Wow.

Aaron: Pure insanity. Right?

Joey: Yeah.

Aaron: So Ryan had bought this trail company. And what had happened was he bought it, and he built all these races up and he got all these amazing corporate sponsors. And then the fires hit and he had to cancel all of his runs.

Joey: It's done. Yeah.

Aaron: They all got burned out. It totally sucked for Ryan. So then, he rebuilds and he rebuilds and he gets everyone back. And now he's gonna do all these races. He got one race through, and then COVID hit. Shut down all of his races again. So now his...

Joey: Is that on a side note?

Aaron: It doesn't make sense.

Joey: It makes, does...

Aaron: We're talking about people who are running.

Joey: Out in nature.

Aaron: In nature, and they're far away from each other. I mean legitimately, but what they were gonna require was masks. And you can't do these ultra runs with that kind of... You can't mask like that.

Joey: That's ridiculous. That's insane.

Aaron: Right. Well, in it, you're running through a lot of federal property. So the other part is, when COVID hit, everybody freaked out. And so the only race that he did run, they almost canceled it on him or they tried to cancel it on him and he said, listen guys, I have 300 runners coming from all across the country. This is a protest then.

Joey: And how were they getting here?

Aaron: Planes and trains, automobiles.

Joey: Stuck inside a capsule with recirculated air, with a piece of paper with it. Yeah, that's the whole side. I'm sorry.

Aaron: Whole side.

Joey: I get off on that, the ridiculousness and the lack of leadership and logic that has... You still see remnants of it.

Aaron: And this is not about logic, this is about politics, but you know.

Joey: Oh, it's totally, yeah.

Aaron: Get Ryan in here. You gotta hear his story of this 'cause it's totally insane.

Joey: You heard that Ryan. You're invited.

Aaron: You gotta be here, Ryan. But the crazy thing that had happened was Ryan was like, listen, I got people coming, and you want to call it a protest? Whatever you want to call it, we're doing it.

Joey: Exactly. Call it a protest, no problem.

Aaron: So, they did it and then... But all of the rest of his race was canceled. So now, mind you, COVID's hit, and he's got his son who he's about to put in kindergarten, and he's looking out and he's like... His son is an active kid. His boy is I mean... He's got Ryan's...

Joey: Well, they're his kids.

Aaron: He's got Ryan's genes. He's climbing off the walls, but he's looking at his son who's in kindergarten, he's going, I'm gonna put a mask on him. He's not allowed to touch any other kids. He's gonna be separated by plexiglass walls. He's like, I can't do this to my kid. And so he's like, what can we do? And so they decided they're gonna homeschool their kids. And so then, him, his wife, and all of her friends who are also homeschooling their kids, 'cause they're not gonna put their kids in that, they're trying to figure out a solution. And then Ryan's like, I should create a school that combines homeschool with adventure programming 'cause he's an adventure guy. So he called me up 'cause we'd been friends, we kept running into each other in coffee shops, and I was there to help send him off at the beginning of his race, the Untamed.

Aaron: And so we had kind of built this relationship, and he knew I worked with schools and so he called me and said, Hey, I'm thinking of starting a school. I'm like, awesome, when are you thinking, 2022/2023? And he's like, no, I'm thinking in six weeks. So he called me at the end of July and he wanted to start this school on September 8th.

Joey: Nice.

Aaron: I was like, wow. I'm like, are you driving to my house right now or what's happening? So he came over that night, and we basically white-boarded a completely new iteration of school for homeschool families. So the California Adventure Academy is essentially a homeschool collaborative with a learning center and unbelievable adventure programming. So we have... Basically, our adventure programming is like STEM learning. So if you've ever heard of STEM, it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Math.

Aaron: We actually call it STEAM, because we're adding creative arts into it. So it's science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. And so what's happening is our kids are getting to be outdoors and doing all kinds of experiential learning. And then we take what's happening over here in our learning center, and we bring it over into these outdoor experiences. So before, where you're just doing archery, now, you're learning about trajectory and you're learning about momentum, and you're learning all of these different pieces where we're pulling in science and math. And so, we basically launched this school with six weeks' notice last year, and it was incredible. And what we discovered was that, even though our learning center is just two days a week, this was last year's model. It was just two days a week, because of our other three days of adventure programming where we're tying what's happening in the classroom into what's happening out here, we're doing...

Aaron: By the way, our adventure programming is like we're equestrian, we're doing archery, we're paddling, like kayaking, we're doing bushcraft, outdoor wilderness survival. We're doing sustainability farming because we believe kids need to know where their food comes from. We did fly fishing. We did regular fishing. We went hiking. We did all these things where we're getting kids outdoors and giving them immersive experiences, right? By the time we got back in the classroom, these kids were ready to learn, and they'd already been learning out here, but then when they would get into our learning center, they were like going... It was really weird, honestly, being a public school teacher. And see, classrooms are overcrowded in the public school, and it's no fault of the teachers. Right.

Joey: Before you go further, I wanna say something there because... Is that anyone... That disclaimer that Aaron just gave was a perfect example of how if somebody says, hey, look, we need to fix our school system. A bunch of people are like, he just personally assaulted me. By saying, hey, let's take this system and make it better, what you're saying is, I'm useless and horrible, and so now I must attack you.

Aaron: It's totally true.

Joey: It's just that disclaimer, like, when you...

Aaron: That disclaimer comes because I still work with teachers and staff and I, and I want educators to know.

Joey: But how can a reasonable person hear what you've just said? What I just heard you say was awesome.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: And for somebody to say, he just attacked me, I just, I want us to catch that. I want us to catch those moments when we're feeding that demon in our mind that says, did he just call me an idiot? No, I think he said he would try to improve it. No, I'm pretty sure he attacked me. I'm feeling attacked now, and now I need to... Because that's that lady that made the Facebook comment. I'm sorry, I didn't want to derail you, but it had... It's such a natural part of our communication now.

Aaron: It's true.

Joey: That we have to walk on eggshells, that if we even try to say, hey, could we make this system better? Somebody goes, you're attacking me.

Aaron: Yeah. And it's... Most of the teachers I know, especially those that know me personally, know that I love and care for teachers. I mean, I still... I have a whole business where.

Joey: You love and care for people. It's really obvious listening to you.

Aaron: Yeah. It's people. It's people. But I do say that because some people might see. And really, we are creating an alternative. The reason why is that we're looking out and going, I want to create the best educational experience for my kids. I mean, this really was the heart of why Ryan originally launched it. And then he needed support. So he pulled me in. So I've been the strategist in the structure, and then he implements like no one's business. He implements the way he runs races if that makes. I mean, the guy implements like no one I've ever met because he implements, and he goes at it with the tenacity that he would run 330 miles in five days. Pure insanity. That guy just works hard, but he's doing it for his kids. Yeah.

Joey: He got a very important reason.

Aaron: This is a true north. And you know, one of the things that Ryan... It's a quote, I don't know where he got the quote, but Ryan says this all the time. He says, if your why doesn't make you cry, your why isn't big enough.

Joey: That's right.

Aaron: And so for him, he looked out and went, we have to create something. So we created this adventure programming, and then what we created was this amazing learning center to support homeschool parents. So as homeschool parents, every parent that comes... A part of the academy signs a homeschool affidavit. You have so much flexibility. So, Joey, your kids are going to come next year. You know, they get to do all this incredible adventure programming. They have credentialed teachers who have gone through programs and know how to teach, taking what's happening in the learning center. And now it's like getting like three days a week to go on basically, oh, what do you call it when kids... I'm losing my mind here.

Joey: Camp.

Aaron: No, no, no. When they go, when they get to go out, and they go on a trip, they go on an adventure.

Joey: Field trip.

Aaron: Field trip. Thank you. I don't know why I'm losing my mind here. It's like three days a week. They're getting to go on field trips. When do kids learn the most? When it's experiential, hands-on. But for some reason, our educational system is created so that we treat all these kids like mini university students. You know, even when you go through teacher credentialing, they say whatever you do, don't do the sage on the stage thing. It's where the teacher gets up and talks and everyone's just supposed to listen and take notes. It's the least effective way to teach. The most effective way to teach is to get kids hands-on, immersive in what they're learning. And then to have them teach it to someone else.

Aaron: Teacher always learns the most. But you have to have them be immersive. So we've created this environment where all of this outdoor education programming is the vehicle for our indoor learning to give it legs to understand why this matter. So in the educational world, everyone wants to raise the bar for rigor. We all want to go. Our kids are the smartest kids in the world, and look how rigorous their work is. But the truth is for kids, that if kids don't see why it matters, that's called relevance. You can't get to rigor if they don't see why it matters. But there's one step before that: if kids don't believe that you care about them, if they don't believe that you truly care about them and what's happening in their world, that part's called a relationship, you can never establish relevance.

Aaron: So you gotta go from relationships to relevance to rigor. And the cool thing about the academy is we've built this school around building phenomenal relationships with kids where they get to have an immersive experience, and the immersive experience lays out the relevance. Why does this matter? Let's show you in the real world why biology matters. Because we're going to have a sustainability garden here. Do you know? And when you discover why it matters, now you can raise the bar for rigor. Kids dig in because kids naturally have a curiosity. They naturally have a desire to learn. But the way our system is set up, and this is not a dig on teachers, it is a dig on the system, is that we sit you in seats. We treat you like mini university students, where you're just supposed to take notes. But we omit all of the curiosity and all of the creativity that kids naturally have.

Aaron: And it's not because teachers don't care. I actually think it's because our system has set our teachers up to fail. 35, 40 kids in a classroom. How can one person create that experience for that many kids? The answer is they can't. So at the academy, we've actually done a bunch of things. One is that we keep our class sizes small, 15 to 20 max in a classroom. The second thing is all of this adventure programming. The third thing is our learning center now becomes quality over quantity. It was crazy. My son, Wyatt, when he was in school, was a wonderful school, but he's a kindergartener. We're dropping him off at 7:30, we're picking him up at two, and then he would have to do homework until six or seven or eight o'clock at night. Insanity. We finally told his teacher we were not doing it.

Aaron: And she was like, well, I have to meet all of these requirements, and I have to be able to show it. And we're like, great, but our kid's not doing it because he got depressed, he hated school. He didn't want to go. Every day was a straight-up fight to get this little kid, who, by the way, of all of my kids, he's the most educated... Other than my daughter, he's the most educationally bent. He's scientific. He's a mathematician. He's constantly like... We're going camping after this, by the way.

Joey: Nice.

Aaron: I couldn't find any lanterns. I'm like, what happened to all of our lanterns? And my wife was like, "Wyatt got them." I'm like, what do you mean Wyatt got them? His thing is he loves taking things apart to figure out how they work. The problem is I've got five lanterns. I just can't tell which one goes with which.

Joey: Now we're going to move to phase two, putting them back together. This is the phase... We've mastered phase one, taking them apart.

Aaron: That's called junior high. He's still in fourth grade. So he was losing his love for learning. Whereas now we have kids at this academy where they're doing all this immersive learning, which leads them to understand why it matters. And then you get into a classroom, and you can raise that rigor. And so, for my son, this was a huge deal. For my kids, this is a huge deal. This dynamic has become a dynamic where we don't have to make excuses for it, but we have to innovate. We have to innovate if we want to see something different in education. And I don't see the educational environment innovating from the inside out. I think innovation's going to come from the outside in. It's going to come from people, parents, like us that are going. What is the best scenario for my kid to learn?

Joey: And then create it and find other people and other families to go. That's what I want for my kid. The other piece about the academy that I think is so essential and important is that character education isn't an afterthought for what we're doing. It is the thought. We're not... We're not growing kids to be test takers and rule followers. We're growing kids to be decision-makers, to be decision-makers. And so it's one of the most important pieces about it: here you are with all this outdoor experiential learning, here you are at this incredible learning center, but ultimately all of these are vehicles for our kids to become decision-makers because the world is complex.

Joey: Very.

Aaron: And there's so much nuance. And if we can't get people and train kids to be able to sit and weigh the facts and the truth, how can we hope they're going to create something new and improve what we have? See, ultimately, every investment we make in our kids, and we talked about calling earlier, like if, what's a calling for Aaron? A calling for me is that I want to see that the next generation gets the tools they need to create a better future. That is our job as parents. That is our job as educators. That is why mentoring matters so much. We can give our kids tools so they can create something even better for our grandkids. You know, that would be a true legacy. That is what we're moving towards. And I think the school, I know it's true for Ryan. I know it's true for me. It's like a legacy play. This is a legacy play. Can we create something that produces kids who are truly decision-makers, not just rule followers? This is our grand experiment. We believe that this immersive environment, this powerful learning center with character education built into it, is developing young people's minds to be decision-makers. And that's what our world needs right now. We don't need more people with their brains on fire in reaction to what's happening on social media. We need kids who can weigh out things and create something new.

Joey: Oh man, that's very... I completely agree. It's very, very powerful. I've heard nothing but good things. Like you brought up, our kids are going to... Our boys are going in, in the fall. I think my wife came and saw a demonstration by you and Ryan.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: And immediately... And we had a friend that... Alicia, I won't say her name. She'll be like, you can't use my name. No, Alicia, no ma, I'm not going to win. Because she's gonna see this, why didn't you say my name? So there's no win, Alicia. Remember that.

Aaron: But you know who you are.

Joey: You know who you are. But she, her son, and her daughter went through it and just raved about it. And said, absolutely gotta do this. They loved it. So my boys are going to do it, but it's that we struggle with that same thing because we homeschool. And my wife is a classically trained school teacher and worked in the Redding School District for many years and has great stories of her coworkers and loves these coworkers. And also has stories of a system that, as you said, we must pass these tests. Like the teachers aren't the ones clamoring for the criteria. They're getting told, look, you have to do this. So it's coming from the very top, the state down, and even the fed, like that famous No Child Left Behind, which was just... I use it all the time, how to label something.

Aaron: Right.

Joey: Like who would vote against No Child Left Behind? That's the greatest thing I've ever heard. And then you read it, and it's like, what we're going to do is we're going to lower the standards, and we're going to fix this testing so that somebody that was a D minus F student, well, now they're a C student, so they weren't left behind. It's like that's the ultimate left behind. They have that you did not give them any skill, but you gotta, you got the money. Horrible, horrible program.

Aaron: And you tie your funding to that. And what about the schools working with 90% of the kids and families in survival mode financially? And then you go, man, now you're going to get less and less and less funding because you can't produce these results.

Joey: Exactly.

Aaron: You know, that's the challenge, is... And the other part is for our at-risk and hurting families. How do you not fall farther behind when you are not getting the tools, when you're not getting the same level of support that the other schools are getting? It's a challenge.

Joey: So I was... I quoted this. This is a famous quote. I'm getting... Brandon's making a poster for me on that one. But it's the, you know, great minds that discuss ideas. Mediocre minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. Right. So when we talk about the things that you and I are talking about, we're talking about ideas. We're not talking about people. The people that will take it, like he's talking about me.

Aaron: No.

Joey: No. We're talking about a system that is flawed. This is why I love... There's a philosophy that came out of the East that was, I think, Toyota made really famous called Kaizen. And part of it is continuous improvement. And it sounds great. Yeah. Continuous... Oh, I love that idea. Continuous improvement. But there's a tenet of it that Western philosophy struggles with. So for you to continuously improve, you have to accept that you're in a constant state of imperfection. So when in the East when they say, hey, John just pointed out a flaw in the system. Thank you, John. Let's fix the system. And the West be like John, you idiot. You just screwed everything up.

Aaron: Totally.

Joey: You have to change that mindset of if we say, hey, look, we are going to change these things in education because our education system is not perfect. But we all want it to get better. All the people that naturally get defensive have to stop. Or their voices have to be countered with, look, we're not attacking you. We want a better system. And if you don't want a better system, well, then your motivations need to be questioned.

Aaron: And I think... So let me say a couple of things. Number one is at the academy, one of the things that is our slogan, one of our slogans is we're in pursuit of excellence, not perfection. Perfection's not totally possible. Personal excellence is, and excellence can change every day. So meaning today, my level of excellence is here, now what I'm producing. But maybe there's something that you say that you know unloosens a new idea in my mind. And all of a sudden, tomorrow we talk, and I'm on a different podcast. And all of a sudden, I'm able to elevate that conversation even more because of what you just shared, and my excellence bar just went up a little bit higher. Excellence is the pursuit of giving my greatest effort. And perfection is something that's not totally attainable.

Joey: No.

Aaron: And so we're teaching kids to be in pursuit of excellence. And you know, the challenge is that in that pursuit of excellence over perfection, I know so many administrators and teachers, they would be right here with us, going absolutely. And I know that they do care, especially Redding. This is the All Redding podcast. There are so many of our local educators, incredible. And they really, truly care. There is a part where it's really hard for them to acknowledge where... When do you stand up against some of these crazy things? Like this new mask mandate is just... People are upset, and rightly so. I think the fallout of these decisions that have been made on a state level for our kids is going to be enormous. Now, I'm not going to say the school, but I've been consulting with a school in this region, not in Redding, but in this region. They're a small school, and they had 90 kids in their schools. One of the schools I was doing some consulting work with. They started with 90 at the beginning of the year. Guess how many they finished with at last year's end?

Joey: No Clue.

Aaron: Twenty-five. They're not talking about the numbers right now. Foothill, Shasta, Enterprise, and all of our public schools right now, there is a massive fallout of kids who have left and may not be returning. We're going to see a lost generation of kids because of suicide dropping out. And you know, the statistics that follow a kid who drops out. It's bad. Super bad. It's bad. And it's not because the teachers don't care. I feel our administrators. Our superintendents are in a near-impossible situation because in our community or in our government right now, money is tied to rule-following. But what happens when the rules are not what's best for kids? See you at the academy. We call that being youth-focused. We are youth-focused. And the way that we get away with truly being youth-focused is because every single family is a homeschooled family. And you sign a homeschool affidavit and a form that says, we give permission for you guys to do school this way.

Aaron: That's what we're signing up for. And so it gives us permission actually to be youth-focused. The administrators and the superintendents they're fighting a monster right now, a monster of these rules. And they're going to have to either stand up or they're going to have to pay the price for the local level of frustration. And I think there's going to be a mass exodus from the schools.

Joey: I think you're right. You know, you said something earlier about how the change is going to have to come from the outside. And I thought it's the inside's going to have to be there too. I remember...

Aaron: It is both.

Joey: It's gotta be.

Aaron: It's inside and out.

Joey: I agree with you. They probably start, but if everybody on the inside fights, it's not going to change.

Aaron: Well, one thing to say about this is like, you know, the temptation is to make this innovation, and the frustration that you feel towards your school personal towards the superintendent, personal towards the administrator. And I think what happens is you have to ask yourself, do I want to solve the problem, or do I want to attack a person? And there's a nuance there because sometimes it is individuals.

Joey: It is.

Aaron: Sometimes, it is specific people who are holding up the process. But what I think you can do is, if you're going to get through and solve the actual problem, spend your efforts and your time on the problem and recognize where these people sit in the greater system. And if you can do that, it's a lot of work. It's extra work. It would be much easier just to say, " hey, Aaron, you're the principal here. You suck. You didn't do this. You didn't do that. I would challenge you. Go in and try and understand where they're coming from. Try and understand how I can get behind, how change can actually happen. Because of the environments that they're working in, and the rules in which they're trying to conduct business, there are ways to get around these things. But you as parents have to go advocate and challenge those administrators to be courageous, to stand up for their rights. And If you demonize them, you never get to have that conversation.

Joey: I was going to say in a respectful manner. We need some type of mechanism. Both sides are going to have to work on this because there are a lot of... I think I always come back to... Here we go on a long one. But Eisenhower's famous last speech, beware the military-industrial complex. So he gave that speech when he was leaving the presidency, and he said, just be careful because they're going to get you in wars. I don't know if you're familiar with it. It was a famous speech. And sure enough, we've been at war ever since. Right? Because there was monetization. And I think about how we live in a police industrial complex. And we live in an educational, industrial complex, where money is how we decide criminals and how we... Who's a criminal, and how do we handle criminals, you know? And how we enforce laws. And money is how we decide on education. And we have it in healthcare as well. I think we have to go. I don't know. The producer is, like, off... Shuffling his foot.

Joey: Okay.

Aaron: Okay. I'm going to say this really quickly. I heard this whole Gallup poll about university and college, and if we were basing this on solving a problem and effectively creating change, right? Okay. You're talking about the education system. We would abolish this whole system. Why? Because this system of our schooling into the university is like 15... They have like a 15% success rate. And here was their low bar for success rate. Did you graduate? Are you working anywhere near the field that you graduated in? 15%. It doesn't matter if you go to Harvard or if you go to Columbia, it doesn't matter if you go to an Ivy League or if you go to Simpson University, 15% of the people who make it through the system are actually working. And it's because we're going through and we've sold a generation that you make it to success by going and graduating from college. The problem is it's just not true.

Joey: No. The number is overwhelming. Not true.

Aaron: No. We're feeding a system. We're not actually solving a problem. We're not actually producing problem solvers.

Joey: This has been awesome, and I'm sorry that we gotta cut short. Technological constraints. We're going to work on that. But I definitely want you to come back because we didn't get to talk about your consulting.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: I want to talk more about some of the solutions that we can have for education. I'd love to get. This is a call out to any administrator in this area or superintendent or even teacher that wants to come on. One of my big goals for All Redding this year was, as I said at the beginning, I want to help people learn that we can have civil discourse and that it is an illusion that we are on opposite sides. We all live right here. There's no... None of us is going to win, and the other loses. It's whether we all lose or we all win, and we have to start seeing that we have to start working together.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: So I want to thank you. My hands were clammy from listening. That was... You got me excited and stuff. So such a pleasure to meet you. Off camera, we're gonna book you for coming on a second time 'cause we got a lot more to talk about.

Aaron: I would love that. Can I share one micro story?

Joey: Do it.

Aaron: Okay. This is just a story for you guys. I love what you just said. We all win, or we all lose together. I had just finished teaching at Pioneer High School at-risk school. Okay. I'm working with at-risk kids. I went into pastoring. And so, here, I had helped start this church. I'm running this youth ministry. There was this kid that had followed me over from Pioneer. Okay. Now, at that point in time, I was overworking a lot. I was getting up early, and I was out late. And this one particular day, I was totally exhausted. I was heading home. It was summer, and it was hot, and it was about eight o'clock at night. And I'm getting ready to get on the Cypress. I'm going under the Cypress Bridge there or under the overpass at Cypress to get on the freeway headed south.

Aaron: And I see this kid. And I look, and I recognize the kid, and he's sobbing, crying, and he's sitting by himself, and he's a kid that I know. I know he doesn't have a father in his picture. I know that he's been in and out of the juvenile hall, and I was so tired, and I really didn't want to stop. And I was right about to get on the freeway, and I was like, dang it, if I don't step up for him, who will? And so I turned back around, and I picked him up. And that night, I listened to his problems and the stuff he was going through, and I was able to get him the help that he needed. And when I drove home that night, I had a feeling I had never experienced. And the feeling I had was that this is my city, my town, that is my kid.

Aaron: And if I demonize him, and if I humiliate him, and if I treat him as if he doesn't matter, that becomes the reality for my town. But I had the choice to do something about it, and I took it. And I challenge you, this is the All Redding podcast. Take your opportunity this week to do something, to treat another human being with respect. You don't have to agree with them. That kid happened to be on drugs when I was talking to him, but I had a chance to show up big and create a better Redding. And it happens one person and one relationship at a time. And you can do that.

Joey: Oh Man. Mic drop. Thank you, Aaron.

Aaron: All right, brother.

Joey: Okay. Next time.

Aaron: Yeah.

Joey: Wow. I got teary-eyed. You got me.


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Saturday, 02 December 2023

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