"Thanks to SHLF, since we've been back in September we have taken the youth out on 4 hikes of varying intensity and then went on a 4 day camping trip to Manning Park.
The camp was excellent - all students attended accept two, which made it ideal for the students to come together and live and work collectively. For most of our youth, this is a very rare visit to the outdoors. Most of our students are very entrenched youth in the downtown eastside. Family camp trips and an active lifestyle are not the norm, so it takes a lot of work to make this alien environment feel comfortable, safe and welcoming for these kids. Most students will leave the first camp trip having accomplished a few basic things:
1) know how to light a camp fire
2) know how to build a tent correctly and how to break it down
3) understand basic tarp and rope techniques
4) start to appreciate that through hard work, comes life's greatest rewards
Our marathon training has started in earnest. We will have a large number of students heading down to Seattle in late November. A few of these kids are just starting to trust themselves (and us for that matter) so this number could either go up or down depending now how the world is in late November).
For the first time we had someone run the Victoria marathon in October. Frankie went over from Vancouver by himself, stayed with some extended family, ran the race on his own and got back all in one piece. This is an outstanding accomplishment for him to have the confidence to do it all on his own volition. This is what makes us the proudest - the kid has taken what we offered, pushed himself as far as he could and is now in complete control of his life. The streets don't dictate his life; the pressures of a sick mom don't push him to do drugs; instead he knows that running a marathon in front of his family will make his mom proud and that is more healing than she'll get in ten trips to the doctor's office.
Our boys, Kyle and Willy that I had mentioned in earlier emails are training diligently to run the full marathon in Seattle. On a recent hike back from Squamish, the bus we were in got stuck in traffic in North Van. We endured over an hour stuck in one spot with unruly kids and finally a few had enough. In their hiking boots, Willy and Kyle felt that they weren't too far from home, so they asked if they could run back to school. We thought about it and consented. This was 11 km from school!!!"
The Take a Hike programme continues in force in Fall 2010, with SHLF sponsoring a ten-day canoe expedition for the Grade 11/12 class and a 3-day introductory trip for the Grade 10 class. The trips were 'HUGE successes' including great days of sunshine and, of course, rainy days as well.
As a core component of the TAH programme, all participants must also complete 60 hours of community service every year and achieve this by volunteering every Wednesday. Students are allowed to choose their own volunteer opportunity and choices currently include working and the neighbourhood homeless shelter, cleaning up syringes at Pacific Spirit Park, removing garbage from the streets and schoolyard and taking apart and repairing old computers to donate to needy families and organizations (talk about putting your skills to use!).
Only youth that have struggled in the mainstream school system are in the Take a Hike program. They have been identified and referred by high school principals (who see them in their office far too often) or school counselors when things aren’t working out. On average, 75% of Take a Hike youth come from low-income single-family or foster homes.
"I look at myself like a majestic forest bum now! I feel better about myself than I used to. I used to feel like I was going nowhere but there's a chance now for me to be successful".
The boys have bounced their way back to school this Fall after another very successful summer programme. Twenty-four boys, identified by teachers as 'at-risk', participated in the outstanding sports and literacy programme set to prepare the kids to go back to school and achieve success. In its third year, teachers are able to report significant gains from the youth (grades 1-5) who have participated each year, noting that relationships built in the summer are maintained throughout the year.
This year's theme was 'Heroes' and included classes in graphic design with experts, reading from Montreal mentors including former CFL players and policemen and culminated in each boy creating his own comic book. Topics included Save the Dinosaurs and the FIFA World Cup Robbery, among others.
SHLF will seek to build on the successes of this year again next year and look to expand the programme to reach more kids in need.