by Len Lear
The coronavirus pandemic started in March just as Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) was getting ready to launch its spring semester of 260 courses. For obvious reasons, all 260 in-person courses had to be cancelled, but MALT was able to move 108 of the classes online with video conferencing.
“Many of the classes ran with lower enrollment than they would have had in person, but overall, we feel proud to have adapted to the crisis so quickly,” said Stephanie Elsan Bruneau, 42, Mt. Airy native and author who had instructed MALT’s beekeeping course prior to being named MALT executive director in mid-2018, replacing Judy Weinstein, who had been at the helm for 10 years.
“Needless to say, we had a significantly diminished revenue stream than we’d planned on. But we received funding through the Payroll Protection Program and a small but much appreciated grant through the Mt. Airy COVID-19 relief fund administered through Mt. Airy CDC. So I’m confident that with some creative fundraising in the fall and continued community support, MALT will persevere!”
But as serious as is the MALT financial dilemma that Stephanie has been dealing with, she had a much more critical Sisyphean hill to climb. Her husband, Emile, 47, a highly respected peace activist, was diagnosed with brain cancer (grade 4 glioblastoma) in December of 2019. “But he hasn’t stopped working yet!” said Stephanie proudly last week. “He is still the head of the Peace and Conflict Neuroscience Lab at Penn (pcnl.asc.upenn.edu).”
Prior to his formal training in neuroscience, Emile worked, traveled and lived in a number of the world’s most dangerous conflict regions: South Africa during the transition from apartheid to democracy, Sri Lanka during one of the largest Tamil Tiger strikes in that nation’s history, Northern Ireland during “The Troubles” and Israel/Palestine around the Second Intifada. Emile has tried to bring empathy, rationality and reconciliation to those embroiled in these seemingly intractable conflicts.
Last year Emile and his work were featured by the Discovery Channel in a series called “Why We Hate.” He was a scientific advisor for the whole series, which was produced by Stephen Spielberg, and he was the focus of the final episode in the series (episode 6) entitled “Why We Hate: Hope.”
“The interviews with Emile were filmed in our home in East Mt. Airy,” said Stephanie. “If you watch the episode, you can see that Emile is drinking out of a Benevolent Bee mug, and behind him in the interviews is the beehive that’s mounted on the wall of our dining room.” (Stephanie is the author of “The Benevolent Bee: Capture the Bounty of the Hive through Science, History, Home Remedies and Craft!” which was published in 2017.)
Stephanie went to Miquon School as a child, which inspired in her a true love of nature. She went to Friends Select High School and Wesleyan University (2000) before going to Brown University, where she earned a master’s degree in sustainable community planning. She has also been a programs coordinator for Weavers Way Co-op. She and Emile moved back to Mt. Airy to raise their family — daughter Clara, 8, and son Atticus, 6, who is named for Atticus Finch, the courageous lawyer in Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
“We started our family in Boston,” said Stephanie, “and moved down here with our bees and kids in the spring of 2015 so we could raise our children in this diverse, progressive community and so the kids could grow up playing in the Wissahickon, attending Miquon School and having a strong relationship with my parents, who still live in Mt. Airy…
“The pandemic has been a challenge for our family only because of Emile’s cancer. Our weekly hospital visits for Emile are made more difficult because of the crisis. A clinical trial we would love to be a part of is currently closed because all of the hospital’s resources are focus on Covid-19. The health effects of coronavirus are not limited to people who contract the virus. Many patients with ongoing medical issues have more complicated care and fewer options at the moment.
“But most of the time instead of feeling challenged, we feel incredibly fortunate. Unlike many, we’ve kept our jobs, we have a home to shelter in, enough food to eat, boundless wonder for the natural beauty of the Wissahickon and great medical care. We are all in our favorite place, our home, with our favorite people, each other. Cancer isn’t optimal, but we are well aware of our relative privilege, and we feel quite grateful for all we have.”
For more information: call 215-843-6333 or mtairylearningtree.org Len Lear can be reached at email@example.com
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