By Jonathan Molai

Sullivan alumnus Jonathan Molai, a May 2019 graduate of Campbell University, writes about his life-changing experiences with the Ignite Retreat, a twice-yearly event for college students with a passion for creating social change. The next Ignite Retreat takes place March 27-29, 2020, in Wake Forest, N.C. Deadline to register is Wednesday, March 11. Click here to learn more about the next Ignite Retreat and to sign up to attend.

The 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat was an entirely wholesome experience that caused me to deeply appreciate the fruits which can be cultivated if young people who genuinely care collectively focus on emotional intelligence and personal development. Taking place in an environment where social discourse could safely occur amidst strangers, the Ignite Retreat allowed for a unique type of transparency to manifest among the group, where vulnerabilities could be shed, and a purely personal focus on growth could emerge from every interaction.

It was evident that the facilitators functioned as a seamless team, even in moments that may have been completely improvised. The facilitators were exceptional in weaving the network of narratives and motifs, which served to enhance both the individual and group experience.

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Furthermore, the engagement tools, cards, and teambuilding materials were highly effective for promoting discussion about ideas and topics that students cared about. The changemaking field guide proved to be useful in allowing me to document my experience in a way that preserved the original framework of the message and to remember the important points even after the retreat.

Jonathan Molai at the Sullivan Foundation's Ignite Retreat

Jonathan Molai (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

The exercises and techniques employed at the Ignite Retreat were very well thought out while fostering excitement and reflection simultaneously. Perhaps it was sheer awe at how such activities were successfully executed among such a large group, but it was clear to many who attended the retreat that these workshops and exercises served a purpose far greater than to stimulate the creative pathways of problem-solving and innovation. The Ignite Retreat demonstrated unapologetic and honest empowerment of the youth by unlocking the passions and curiosities of both extroverts and introverts alike. It was truly amazing to see how much each individual had grown by the end of the retreat, whether it was the satisfaction of having clear goals, the appreciation of collaborating with like-minded individuals, or the increased comfort with one’s own sense of self. These activities and interactions, balanced with time for reflection and recreation, brought both students and facilitators together in a way that felt like family.

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Choosing My Own Path
It was crucial that I had the ability to choose my own path throughout my adventure in social entrepreneurship and the freedom to change my track to best reach my goals. The ability to engage autonomously in a learning experience and create what I wanted from it allowed me to appreciate the inherent freedoms and responsibilities that come with changemaking. In this way, there were several memorable concepts that resonated with me, especially the “Connection Before Content” exercise that occurred Saturday morning before the workshops began. This exercise, following the message on the importance of “being present,” allowed me to fully interact with someone I had never met in a way that yielded some of the most valuable personal feedback on first impressions and relationship building that I’ve ever received. It really helped set the tone for the workshops, as it left me and other students excited to follow our curiosity.

Jonathan Molai takes part in a Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat activity

Jonathan Molai became a Sullivan Foundation Student Ambassador after attending multiple Ignite Retreats and social entrepreneurship field trips. (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)

I personally chose to engage with the Project track and then switch to the Personal track later in the day. The Project track helped me clearly define and classify parameters of a social initiative I have been working with through the creation of a vision board that will serve to guide my team in addressing the project’s strengths and needs. The Personal track allowed me to embark on an immensely valuable part of my adventure at the Ignite Retreat via the Deep Listening exercise. I have always wanted to become a better listener, but I had constantly struggled in futility until I found this workshop at the Ignite Retreat. After the exercise in deep listening, my life was forever changed regarding the approaches I took towards allowing comfortable silences to function and manifest in my conversations. It not only allowed me to become a better listener but also showed me the unique perspectives I had previously missed out on by carving out and steering conversations with interjections. In effect, the exercise significantly helped me communicate with others so that they could be heard and feel more connected to what I had to say.

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In its ability to develop both hard and soft skills pertaining to social entrepreneurship, the Ignite Retreat kindled my passion and curiosity for both the subjects at hand and myself even more than I had ever anticipated. I deeply appreciate the students, exercises, and facilitators of the 2019 Spring Ignite Retreat, as they laid the foundation and helped reconstruct the framework for lifelong personal growth in such a short period of time. Such an immensely valuable experience is rare, and I credit the Sullivan Foundation for their contribution to my most valuable possession: my manifestation.

Jonathan Molai received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Sullivan Foundation partner school Campbell University (CU) in May 2019. He attended multiple Ignite Retreats while attending CU and served as a Sullivan Ambassador. He plans to attend medical school and become an Osteopathic Primary Care Physician with the goal of effecting both individual and policy-level population change within the healthcare delivery systems of rural America.

Jonathan Molai and Michelle Vazquez at a Sullivan Ignite Retreat event

Jonathan Molai and fellow Ignite Retreat attendee Michelle Vazquez (Photo by Amber Merklinger, Amber Faith Photography)


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