The Story of Sierra Friends Center and the Woolman Programs

Woolman at Sierra Friends Center sits in a stunning, expansive foothills landscape surrounded by trees and meadows. Here  youth from diverse identities and geographies experience programs based on Quaker ideals for peace, justice and sustainability. They reconnect with  personal values of fairness, diversity and equality in our social systems, and learn to take action to heal the planet while living in a nurturing community.

Woolman has a 55-year history of delivering on this very promise. The turmoil of the ‘60s led the founders of Woolman to foster change and progress through the Quaker way.  Decades of Woolman students report life changing experiences when they attended the programs here.  

We are now engaging in a new plan to prepare Woolman for the times ahead.  Woolman Rising is a five-year blueprint to deliver the promise of our mission. Woolman Rising offers rich educational experiences in nature through an outdoor school, camp and nonviolence leadership training. Woolman Rising calls upon the alumni, Quaker community and supporters-at-large to rally and ensure the next generation which is confronting these overwhelming challenges will be ready.

Woolman History

Sixty years ago, a group of Quaker and like-minded families came together with the dream of creating a Quaker/Friends residential high school on the West Coast. Josephine Duvenek, social activist and founder of the Hidden Villa farm and wilderness preserve in Los Altos Hills California, identified the following ideals for the school:

  1. A spiritual emphasis running through and undergirding all phases of study, work and living.
  2. The experience of brotherhood in day-to-day relationships with all races, with different economic levels, differently endowed individuals, and the acceptance of the disciplines involved.
  3. The training for rigorous and sustained intellectual or creative work.

In 1958, College Park Quarterly Meeting took the fledgling College Park Friends Educational Association (CPFEA) under its care. Five years later, in September 1963, John Woolman School opened with Del Reynolds as Head of School.
The school continued for 38 years until it was suspended in 2001.

At that time a steering committee met to create a new programs that would carry the vision of the original founders into the 21st Century. The campus was renamed Sierra Friends Center and Camp Woolman and The Woolman Semester were born.
Camp Woolman, currently in its 12th year, is a vibrant camping program modeled on the Baltimore Yearly Meeting camping programs.

The Woolman Semester was launched in the Spring of 2004. From that time until the Spring of 2016, over 300 students took part in this challenging program emphasizing peace, justice and sustainability. While programmatically successful, The Woolman Semester continued to be challenged by the high costs of running the program. The CPFEA Board decided to suspend the program after the Spring Semester 2016, and began discerning the way forward.

Our first priority was to become stable and healthy! We are grateful to the many F/friends who have supported us over this last year. We have made improvements to the campus, improved internal systems and strengthened our committees.  

All the programs at Sierra Friends Center carry the name Woolman, inspired by the life of John Woolman, a Quaker born during the 1700's. During his adult life he walked thousands of miles urging Quakers to abolish the institution of slavery by freeing their slaves and boycotting various goods made by slave labor. He worked diligently to promote peace among settlers and indigenous tribes, truly "letting his life speak."