Strengthening youth through the challenges of nature
The Wilderness Challenge Program is an annual, week-long therapeutic canoeing and camping experience for teens who could benefit from a strong character-building experience that will aid in their transition to high school and young-adult life. Follow-up events strengthen lessons that are learned on the trail and further develop leadership potential.
The Wilderness Challenge Program takes place over eight days in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area of Northern Minnesota and Canada. With the guidance of trained staff, and through a multitude of natural challenges, the trip enables teens to develop peer relationships, team-building experience, and problem-solving skills.
No prior camping or wilderness experience is required. Program initiatives are designed to match each teen’s physical and emotional readiness. The experience is designed, first and foremost, for teens who feel ready to challenge themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually via the challenges of nature. The program has proven effective for teens who have struggled in some fashion, either academically, socially, or behaviorally, or who have been through a family crisis such as divorce or loss.
Requirements for participation:
- Must be a graduating 8th, 9th, or 10th grader
- Must live within the non-profit service area of the agency (Geneva, Batavia, St. Charles, Campton Township, Virgil Township, Blackberry Township, Kaneville Township)
- Must be able to swim or keep afloat in water
- Must be willing to engage in team-building and group interaction
- Must attend the Group Interview and Group Team Screening (see dates below)
In the early years of its existence, TCFS’s work with groups of youth was a cornerstone of the agency’s service profile. One of the most successful group approaches then used was a wilderness camping and canoe trip. Popularized during the past decade by Outward Bound, Inc., wilderness challenge programs have proven to be a highly effective mechanism for helping youth develop the ego strengths and social skills they need to successfully confront the challenges they face in their day-to-day lives.
Over the years a number of factors, including a broadening of the agency’s treatment philosophy and an increased demand for adult services, have resulted in a shift away from group-oriented youth services. Most of our work with pre-teens and teens now occurs within the context of our work with their families. However, the traditional modalities of individual and family counseling cannot replace peer-group work as a means of reaching troubled youth and impacting their development.
During the summer of 1990, TCFS had the opportunity to conduct a pilot wilderness experience, which was funded by the St. Charles 708 Community Health Board. The model developed for that proved quite successful in terms of identifying and impacting at-risk teens we have targeted for the program. In response to the demand from school social-service personnel in the Geneva and Batavia school districts, the program was opened to students from those communities beginning in 1991.
With financial support from Batavia, Geneva, and St. Charles, the Wilderness Challenge Program (WCP) is made available, on a full or partial scholarship basis, to up to 30 graduating eighth or ninth graders from the middle schools within those communities. Both males and females are invited to apply.
Modeled after the Outward Bound Program, the Wilderness Challenge Program is designed to build participants’ character, self-confidence, self-awareness, and personal fulfillment through the physical, mental, and emotional challenges of a remote wilderness experience.
Wilderness Challenge Program participants will become more equipped to face the complex challenges of everyday life by:
- developing problem-solving and decision-making skills
- developing team-building and social relationship-building skills
- developing new leadership skills
- learning the value of contributing to a group
- learning what it means to accept and receive help from others
- discovering their own inner strength
Candidates are referred prior to the end of the school year and invited to participate in a screening interview conducted by program staff. Once selected, participants would begin the team-building process through involvement in planning, orientation, and training sessions prior to the trip.
Our agency staff and dedicated volunteers who have extensive experience in planning and guiding trips of this nature lead this eight-day wilderness experience, which usually occurs in mid-June.
All aspects of this trip, from the planning to the canoeing, portaging, and orienteering will be designed to develop what Robert Godfrey of Outward Bound, Inc., has referred to as a high degree of “intimacy and unavoidable interdependency,” a unique social context within which these young people will have the opportunity to develop self-confidence and the skills necessary to manage the all-important balance between meeting their own needs and those of their peer groups.
By the time participants and their family members meet with staff for a post-trip evaluation session, they will have spent a minimum of 175 hours together in planning, preparing, and successfully meeting the challenges of the trip.
The Wilderness Challenge Program is free to attend, but a $75 refundable deposit is required after acceptance into the program.
Greg Watson presents the TCFS Wilderness Challenge Program
(Click here to view the video on the TCFS YouTube Channel)