Read Robin Clifford Wood’s article about OBS HERE. Great work Connie!
Connie founded Operation Breaking Stereotypes with her daughter, Cami, in 2001, when Connie was teaching in the Orono schools and Cami was teaching in the Bronx in New York City. Since then, Connie has overseen cross-cultural exchanges for more than 2,000 young people in several school districts in Maine and New York, working to open boundaries for them and for the communities. Unlike international exchange programs, Operation Breaking Stereotypes focuses on navigating differences that exist in our own country — differences in race, urban versus rural environments and socio-economic status. Stereotypes abound in every direction.
“The urban-rural piece is huge,” said Connie. Before you even begin to address race, she said, you have to address fears about living with a strange family in an unknown environment. Some city children were as terrified of wild animals and woods as the Maine children were terrified of their imagined dangers of city streets. And most of the children had never even been in the home of someone racially different from themselves.
Operation Breaking Stereotypes is a huge undertaking, and funding is limited. Connie recruits the participant schools and teachers largely on her own, and she admits that she has considered quitting.
“But then I see the discoveries these kids make,” she said.
Before Connie founded Operation Breaking Stereotypes, she worked with the visually impaired, in special education, then in the Orono schools as a service learning coordinator. I first thought that facilitating cross-cultural/cross-racial exchanges had no connection to her previous work, but after talking with Connie, it became clear that seeing beyond differences had infused her whole career. No matter one’s challenge, Connie focuses on the ability to adapt and overcome obstacles.
“I always look at people based on potential, not deficit,” she said.