As you might know, it’s not easy getting a teenager out of bed before say 11 AM. It can be done, but young people simply aren’t wired to greet the sunrise.
Last week was an exception, when a group of courageous and determined youth not only got out of bed early, but they convened at 6 AM then took part in what many people would consider an unnerving proposition.
On Thursday and Friday, 30 client youth from every BAYC program (Bay Area Youth Centers, a division of Sunny Hills Services) participated in a day-long rafting trip on the South Fork of the American River, with the help of BAYC staffers and a team from Project Great Outdoors, an organization that exists to guide young people towards broader perspectives and self-discovery through outdoor adventures.
All BAYC youth face extraordinary challenges. Many suffer from debilitating emotional, developmental, education and mental health issues. BAYC programs are designed to support them through successful transitions to adulthood by helping them identify and develop skills that will enable them to grow into effective citizens equipped to make meaningful contributions to the world. The opportunities for growth at BAYC extend beyond four walls, as the rafting trip demonstrated.
According to Josh Leonard, Sunny Hills’ Chief Program Officer, and a staff member on each of the previous BAYC rafting trips, a day in nature can bring up a lot of issues in BAYC’s clients. “Some of the youth we serve don’t know how to swim, many have never attempted anything like rafting. They live in urban areas, so they haven’t experienced the beauty and mystery of nature. They’re immensely brave because they agree to spend the day with other young people and adults they don’t know well in an environment completely unfamiliar to them. Because of their personal histories, most of them have understandable trust-issues which make putting their personal safety in the hands of others a display of monumental courage.”
Before setting off on the river, everyone participates in games designed to create bonds and trust. Rafters spend the next 7 hours on the water, where howls of laughter are followed by shrieks of fear and excitement! At river’s end the rafts are pulled from the water and while everyone is tired, they participate in a closing circle, where it becomes obvious that this was more than just a field trip for many.
The youth describe immense pride at confronting a seemingly insurmountable fear. They talk of the river’s beauty, and revel in friendships sprung from necessity – support each other or you all might land in the river! Some of the young people express, through words and smiles, a newfound confidence at having again beaten the odds – navigating rough waters to another strong finish!