Looking for an Adventure

Heidi Wicks
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Taking on life, one portage at a time

Hormones and emotions rage like white-water rapids in teenagers of all social backgrounds. Experts will tell you it's important to offer activities and programs that engage them - and distract them from activities that are their parents' worst fears.

That's especially true for teens deemed at risk.

Community Youth Network (CYN) is a provincial initiative that works with at-risk youth ages 12-18. There are networks all over the island, and two in St. John's - on Carter's Hill Place and Goodridge Street.

Hormones and emotions rage like white-water rapids in teenagers of all social backgrounds. Experts will tell you it's important to offer activities and programs that engage them - and distract them from activities that are their parents' worst fears.

That's especially true for teens deemed at risk.

Community Youth Network (CYN) is a provincial initiative that works with at-risk youth ages 12-18. There are networks all over the island, and two in St. John's - on Carter's Hill Place and Goodridge Street.

"We've been in operation for eight years and we do programs and services such as Youth at Promise (a basic literacy program for youth), youth employment and (general equivalency diploma) programs, Street Reach, CASEY (Coalition Against the Sexual Exploitation for Youth), and CEO (Coalition for Educational Opportunities)," explains Angela Crockwell, the Community Youth Network's executive director.

"The youth who come to us are recommended by agencies around the city, from schools, parents, agencies and through self-referral. We get a lot of word-of-mouth recommendations as well."

The CYN has many hopes and dreams, including the realization of an alternative school. But Crockwell explains that one of their biggest priorities is the Velocity Adventure Program, run by Simone Guigne and Lindsay Collingwood.

Enter, adventure

"All youth, at some point, look for an adventure," says Guigne, "and if we don't provide that adventure they're going to find their own, and sometimes their own is positive, but sometimes it's very negative. It's our job to find the ones who could potentially take negative adventures and turn them into positive ones."

The program sees three groups of 10 same-gender kids through a year-long program, where they start off with a single activity like kayaking or outdoor rock climbing. Using outdoor adventure as a metaphor for dealing with other life obstacles, there are three phases to Velocity Adventure. The first is group discussion outlining what their interests are, and pinpointing what they'll be doing for the rest of the year.

"The first part is more team-building, whereas the second part involves these teams working together in the week-long camping trip," says Collingwood. "So it's kind of like, 'This is who you'll be spending this cool week with,' and revving them up for a great week."

Phase 2 is the one-week wilderness camping trip, and Phase 3 is individual followup, which occurs from September through April.

The only program of its kind in the province, the youth participants get to do everything from an overnight canoe trip to trapeze jumping. The camping trip encourages and forces the participants to band together to problem-solve - a lesson that bleeds into all aspects of life.

Wilderness wins

"The whole point of the wilderness is that when you're there for a week, they're completely out of their comfort zone, and it's a whole new challenge every day because things pop up all the time that you don't expect. You can go out there with a lesson plan and decide to play a game that brings up something on, say, addiction, but any issue can come up," Collingwood explains.

"Portaging in a canoe, for example, you know you have to get to the end," adds Guigne, "so stopping halfway through is not an option. So then, after an experience like that, they can then say, 'Hey, that's like math, I just have to learn to do it.'"

She says the lessons are so much more powerful when participants identify the metaphor themselves. Not surprisingly, teens don't like to be told what to do or think.

"It's also a big trust piece, because they kind of rely on Lindsay and I, who have those wilderness skills, they quickly learn to trust us," says Guigne.

"It would normally take six to eight months to establish that kind of relationship in an office/counselling-type setting. It's a totally different and more real way for young people to relate to others. Plus we're kind of young, so they feel more comfortable opening up to us in this setting than some of their teachers, maybe."

Guigne agrees that the distraction of camping allows participants to open up to their leaders more easily, whereas sitting in an office can mean too much pressure to talk.

"It's also a huge self-esteem boost, because they never thought they (could) fend for themselves in the wilderness," she says.

"The cool thing about the wilderness is that it doesn't matter what your background is, you are who you are," Collingwood adds.

"And they get to learn skills they never thought they could do, plus they start to really notice things they take for granted at home, like a shower."

There are big plans for the Velocity Adventure program, including the possibility of creating a documentary film version of the program, perhaps for submission in the Banff Mountain Film Festival.

Adventure Alliance

Guigne and Collingwood have also been in discussion with local businesses involved in adventure to form a community alliance, which is one of the partnerships Velocity strives for.

"We've met with rock-climbing providers, kayaking, trapezing, scuba diving, snowshoeing, paint balling, Aikido - the idea is that once a month they try out something totally insane that they never thought they'd do, and what comes from that piece is that, No. 1, they get to do something new, but they also see that they're helping youth," Guigne says, adding that on the other hand, youth get to see that business leaders are trying these things out for their own purpose.

Every activity the youth become involved in is also a potential future job opportunity, she added.

If you or your business are interested in becoming involved in funding for Velocity Adventure, contact Simone Guigne at sguigne@cyn-stjohns.nf.ca or Lindsay Collingwood at lcollingwood@cyn-stjohns.nf.ca.

Organizations: Community Youth Network, Educational Opportunities

Geographic location: St. John's, Hill Place, Goodridge Street Banff Mountain

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  • jackie
    July 02, 2010 - 13:09

    The Velocity Adventure Program is a great program for troubled teens and the 2 young ladies that run this program are the best. Keep up the extraordinary work and thank you.

  • jackie
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    The Velocity Adventure Program is a great program for troubled teens and the 2 young ladies that run this program are the best. Keep up the extraordinary work and thank you.