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Elephant Thoughts taking big steps forward this year

Board chair Deb Keep will be stepping back, while the Collingwood non-profit acquires two new properties and sees their operations expand throughout pandemic

Elephant Thoughts’ board chair is moving on after eight years at the helm.

Also this year, the Collingwood non-profit has sold its location on Highway 26, and has expanded their programming after taking on ownership of two larger outdoor spaces in Durham and Kimberley.

Deb Keep has served as chair of the board of directors at Elephant Thoughts Educational Outreach for the past eight years, and is about to step down from the position. She will still be serving as a past chair on the board, and board member Mike Ready will be stepping up to take on the chair role.

“I believe one of the things that can happen to boards is they get stagnant because the same people are there. There are no new, cool ideas coming in,” Keep told “We now have a solid board where I felt we had individuals that would grow in different roles.”

“It’s time somebody else gets in there and has some fun too,” she said.

Keep has a bachelor of science honours degree in chemistry and a master's degree, and has held various management roles at DuPont Canada and General Electric prior to retiring in Collingwood. She was inspired to join the board after volunteering as a grant writer.

“As a person with a science degree, I thought what they were doing – primarily children’s education – was fabulous,” said Keep. “It was mind-boggling how this little organization in Collingwood could be completely changing the lives of so many kids.”

“It was impressive stuff,” she said.

For the past eight years, she’s been chair of the board, Keep says she’s seen Elephant Thoughts explode from a roughly $800,000-per-year organization to a more than $3-million-a-year organization.

Keep plans to still write grants for Elephant Thoughts and be a visible face in the community, but is happy to let someone else take the reins.

Over the past year, Elephant Thoughts has also acquired two new locations, which has seen their previous home base on Highway 26 sold. The non-profit is now running its operations out of Riverstone Retreat in Durham and The Woods at Kimbercote in Kimberley, Ont.

Riverstone Retreat, a 135-acre property, was purchased by Elephant Thoughts this past year for environmental programming, internships and community gardens.

“It’s really a teaching and outdoor-education centre,” said Lisa Farano, of Elephant Thoughts. “It’s been an amazing evolution.”

Farano says The Woods at Kimbercote was donated to Elephant Thoughts by a charity that previously owned the land. The property is home to two alternative education programs – Hundred Acre Wood Forest Preschool and the Blue Mountain Wild School – which will continue on the property.

“We are, by no means, closed. In fact, our operations have expanded exponentially, and we’re also working globally through the Child Freedom Project,” said Farano.

The Child Freedom Project launched in 2020.

At the end of 2018, the non-profit’s Indigenous Journey project was started as a series of multimedia educational modules designed to fit into a 45-minute class. Some of the modules have included camera and production work by Indigenous youth, and all include personal stories and history. The Child Freedom Project took the Indigenous Journey model and expanded it to include more diverse cultural experiences.

“It has been a progression of change. We’ve definitely pivoted during the pandemic,” said Farano. “The progression has been a result of need in the community.”

Elephant Thoughts is currently looking for educators, especially those with French-language skills. For more information on current job postings, click here.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen brings 12 years of experience to her role as regional reporter for Village Media, primarily covering Collingwood, County of Simcoe and education.
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