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  • Writer's pictureKirk Hinkleman

Welcome to the Northern California Learning Institute 2.0

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

Greetings to all whom have found their way to this piece. On behalf of Beth Gallagher, Kirk Hinkleman and the Far Northern Regional Center, we want to welcome all of you to the Northern California Learning Institute exploration of person-centered pathways to the realization of a Beloved Community for all.

The Call

The beginnings of this movement came in the form of an invitation from Melissa Gruhler, Executive Director of Far Northern Regional Center, in September of 2021. The invitation: reboot, recreate and revive the energy of the original Northern California Learning Institute (NCLI). You may ask, why so long from "the Call" to now? Massive events spanning from local natural catastrophes and a global pandemic, coupled with the challenge of corralling and harvesting of commitment from Service Providers and Facilitators, who also identify as Service Providers in our home community of San Diego County, all feeling the same attrition and real-time trauma present in our day to day lives within our chosen field of work. Alas, here we are now, largely due to the resounding heartbeat still present in the Far Northern area, born and cultivated through the original NCLI. From this heartbeat, we find life in an emerging initiative we call The Northern California Learning Institute 2.0 (NCLI 2.0).


Originally partnering with FNRC back in 2016 with the design of the NCLI, Far Northern Regional Center partnered not only with the team of Facilitators (John O'Brien, Beth Mount, Beth Gallagher and Kirk Hinkleman), but also with the Vendor Community in the Far Northern area. It's the spirit of this latter partnership which drives NCLI 2.0. Through our past efforts, we discovered learning opportunities from the practical application of theory and practice. We see what worked. We see what perhaps did not. Nobody could have predicted what was to come in 2020 by way of the global pandemic. In this forced 'slowing down', we all found ourselves in reflective spaces. Settled into our new realities, we had time to take stalk of our current realities, muddle our way through dark waters & challenges, with hopes of emerging into a clearing of sorts. And yet, this clearing isn't so clear. From our desire to find clarity, we find each other in partnership once again. Good humans in search of good lives for the people we support...and isn't this the most important of all Partnerships?


For many of us, the answer to the question of 'Why?' comes from an edict, a rule set forth by the government via the Home and Community Based Services Rule (HCBS) and the need to be 'Compliant' with the rule. That can also feel like a decree from a higher source "Thou Shalt Be Person Centered!"

When a law or rule exists as our foundation, the heartbeat providing the life-blood of the movement begins to fade away, flat-lining one person at a time. This trajectory is one we seek to avoid, yet feels unavoidable and all-consuming. Becoming 'Compliant' with the HCBS Rule is important, as are the services 'delivered' by well-intentioned organizations. However, if becoming 'compliant' is what drives us, we'll lose sight of the real lives affected by this energy and continue on our path of doing things to serve the greater System, and not the Humans 'served' by it. Our call is to a greater, deeper purpose. Rediscovering our deeper purpose is our Collective Why here in the container of the NCLI 2.0. Finding our Collective Why starts at an individual level, as any System or Field is comprised of individual human beings. Isn't that a thought-provoking observation? If I am one human comprising the System, and We in partnership with one another are humans together comprising the System, wouldn't that mean shifting my personal path can and will affect the System as a whole?

These are some of the questions we hold with us as we move forward. We also want to be clear about the HCBS rule as it pertains to NCLI 2.0. We will not be handing anyone a set of guidelines, strategies or solutions to becoming compliant as an organization. Rather, we'll be landing important, meaningful philosophies and values as a means to navigate how to implement ideas focused on a 'good life' and the realization of a Beloved Community for the people we partner with in our organizations. If we're on this path, we WILL become compliant in an organic way. It's also vital to understand the backing and support all of us have, moving along here, from the Far Northern Regional Center team. With that backing, anything is possible!

World Cafe

As a kickstarter, we gathered in October of 2022 in search of our Collective Why. 12-ish organizations invited to be part of a World Cafe, an intentional framing of conversations around a particular issue(s). Together we held space for open and vulnerable conversations

centered around what we need to let go of, our intentions and our hopes. We mixed, shifted and moved around the room, connecting across organizations, regardless of label or role, connecting on a human level. Humans living together in community, with a shared interest in making the world a better place, in our very local ways, in our places on this planet. Honoring a connectivity between us, we held each other and our stories in high regard and with compassion. We took to the task of weaving together the common threads from our conversations as a means of strengthening our connection and partnerships.

Threads of Letting Go consisted of:

  • Rigidity

  • Preconceived notions

  • Waiting for better circumstances

  • Fear of change

  • Control

  • The past

  • Loss

  • Guilt

  • Us vs. Them

  • Old habits

  • Limits and boundaries

  • Systemic control

Our Intentions consisted of:

  • Embodying change

  • Positivity

  • Fearlessness

  • Purposeful energy

  • Cultivating

  • Embracing change

  • Accepting guidance

  • Vulnerability

  • Reframing

  • Practices: Self Care, daily intention setting

  • Growth

  • Open Mind

  • Open Heart

  • Open Will

The culmination of our time together explored elements of Hope, such as:

  • Growth in myself and my organization

  • Breaking down barriers

  • Being the best version of myself

  • Expanding knowledge

  • Resilience

  • Listening with great intention

  • Love

  • Leadership

  • Change making

  • Systems Change

After several rounds of holding questions of exploration and depth of purpose, we embodied Letting Go, Setting Intentions and Our Hopes by placing post-its up on the visual map of our time together. An act of taking ownership of the beginning of our long journey ahead, leading us to the precipice of Design.


The 2.0 version of NCLI will look and feel similar to those returning and also different in many ways. We want to learn from past initiatives, engage in elements that worked well, let go of certain elements and co-create new movements together. The idea of Co-Creation or Co-Design leans into the idea of Partnerships, which are mentioned throughout this piece and will continue to be a foundational energy throughout the Institute and beyond. Much of what we will be doing is emergent, meaning, we don't know fully, "How" we will do things. Our intention is to provide the space needed for people to Rise Up and Be the Change. We'll be facilitating an Open Marketplace when we gather in March as a community, providing participants the opportunity to offer ideas/questions/concerns to dive into via smaller group conversations. This is a collaborative and iterative process, and as such, we as facilitators largely just do the holding...holding the space and energy when we're together so all of us have a voice and lay claim to the Design as it unfolds. What we do know, and will explain a bit about, is what rests around the heartbeat of NCLI 2.0, the core framework for our journey...Theory U. (Otto Scharmer & The Presencing Institute)

We'll explain, lightly, what Theory U is and the ordering that comprises it, but we won't belabor it. Our intention is to shed light onto that which holds the Institute up, without asking everyone to fully understand it. Understanding a mostly brand new framework isn't so important. Knowing there is purpose behind what, when and why we are facilitating things in certain ways IS important. Our hope is to ensure all of you with each step along our path, you know and feel comfort knowing, that everything has a purpose. My friend, Charlie Felgate, once told me, in the midst of a challenging initiative, "Trust the people. Trust the process."

Open Mind...Reflect...Let Go (Curiosity)

We started our journey together with our World Cafe in October of 2022. This gathering was and is an example of the first element of Theory U. Having an Open Mind means combatting the Voice of Judgment, while reflecting with curiosity on what our experience is right now, right where we are. Another way of classifying this stage of the journey is observe, observe, observe. A critical component of any sort of transformational work is slowing down. We work in a field of go-go-go, meeting-meeting-meeting, report-report-report. We lose sight of the human element of human services. We lose sight of ourselves. Theory U invites us to slow down and spend as much time needed to observe with an Open Mind, our current realities. What is the narrative of my life? The lives of others? The System? What aspects of this narrative can we let go of, MUST let go of, if we're to clear space to move forward? We spoke of many in our World Cafe i.e. control, fear, limits.

Open Heart...Reconnect...Let Come (Compassion)

Opening our hearts requires an awareness of the opposing energy coming from the Voice of Cynicism. Here at the bottom of the U, we're asked to sit, literally, and be still. Embodying the idea of slowing down by coming to a stop. Reconnecting to ourselves and tapping into that sense of a deeper purpose. Here we explore what wants to be born from the opening and space created by the letting go from the previous stop along the U. Holding the question of our individual "Why?" as a way of re-centering our attention and energy in the direction of what truly matters in our work...with and for the people we partner with daily. The hope is to access our authenticity with self-compassion. Then, in collaboration with our organization and the greater NCLI 2.0 community, we have the foundation for Awareness-Based Compassionate Action.

Open Will...Reimagine...Prototype (Courage)

As we find ourselves working up the right side of the U, we get to action. Prior to this action, we spent a great deal of time in our first stops in the process, observing, letting go and getting to stillness. In the wake of observation, with an awakened awareness to our current realities and the lives of the people we partner with daily, we have a choice. In Theory U, Otto Scharmer speaks of this in terms of having an Open Will, which is in direct opposition to the one of the more powerful energies within all of us, the Voice of Fear. In letting go, accessing our inner knowing, we find ourselves at a launching point to Crystallize ideas and jump to action via Prototyping. What do we mean by prototyping? We simply mean to co-create innovative ideas and put them into action. We may fail, we may succeed. The important element of this process is to NOT let Fear block us from moving forward. We can iterate, try over and over again, until we land on something that feels meaningful and provides a pathway to a good life for the people we partner with daily. When we let go of fear, we find ourselves in an exciting position, one which psychologist Viktor Frankl speaks about in terms of power and freedom:

“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space is your power and freedom.”


A brief note about who makes up a team. NCLI 2.0 will be comprised of 12-13 organizations, represented by a team constructed by your organization. Best practice, and your invitation, is to have a team of 8-10 people from your organization, with all layers of the organization represented. Leadership, management, people supported, direct supporters, family members, board members, etc. Everyone has a voice!


What is next? The facilitation team will be coming to the north state March 13th-15th, 2023. We'll be traveling around to conduct Organizational Interviews on Monday March 13th and Tuesday March 14th (look for a schedule of visits from the FNRC team soon) and we'll all convene as the large NCLI 2.0 Community on Wednesday March 15th for an all-day launch event! The intention of the Organizational Interviews is to get a sense for your unique stories, successes, struggles, and trajectories. We know some of you participated in the original NCLI, so it will be good to hear how things have been going since then. For newcomers, we're so excited to get to know you on a deeper level and walk with you through this process. We want to gain a sense of your understanding of NCLI 2.0. Do you understand the commitment? Why did you accept the invitation? What are your questions?

During our time together as the larger community of NCLI 2.0 on Wednesday March 15th, we'll be spending the first portion of our day together deepening our understanding of what this is all about. We'll connect with ourselves, our team members and with others, across organizations, unifying us as a collective. The second portion of the day will be spent co-creating our agenda via the Open Marketplace we alluded to earlier in this piece. No need to explain more, just know that your participation will be invited and encouraged.

Beyond our 3 days together in March, the rhythm of our Institute will be an alternating monthly situation. Every other month, we intend to gather as the large NCLI 2.0 community. On the every other month, or in-between large gathering months, we'll be facilitating targeted organizational coaching sessions so we can dive deeper into specifics and work with what you and your organization are doing during the month we're together.

Does all this make sense? Not yet? That's OK!! We're here in a supportive capacity. We want everyone to breathe as much as possible and understand we are all in this together. The expectation is to give fully of yourself, in partnership with your team and the NCLI 2.0 Community. You will get out of this, what you put into this!

What a gift. What an opportunity. We are so grateful to be partnering with you, the Northern California Learning Institute 2.0 and Far Northern Regional Center. This work is vital. This movement is needed. Our Open Minds, Open Hearts and Open Wills will lead us on this journey together. A journey in search of a good life and the realization of a Beloved Community for all.

~Big love,

Kirk and Beth

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