We’re just back from our third annual YEP! Spring Break retreat. The Youth Engagement Project – or YEP! to us – provides social/emotional, academic and financial support to seriously at-risk students in the inner-city. Often these students have had precarious relationships with schools and schooling, having fallen through the many cracks in the current education system, and they have struggled to find a way back in.
What we offer is support in finding their way back in, and more importantly, in staying in. We create strong, healthy relationships with the students and their families, and work to develop a culture of achievement in the face of obstacles. Students commit to attending all of their classes, as well as Homework Club in the afternoons, and we commit to support their success by providing tutors for their academic needs, youth workers who understand their problems, opportunities to mentor and be mentored, and of course, our annual YEP! camp during Spring Break.
This is our third year at it, and the results are dramatic. The first year, students were reluctant to attend. Many had never been out of the inner-city, and were fearful of what the experience might be. The week after our first trip, they were already asking if we would go again next year. This year, in September, the “old-timers” were filling the heads of the “newbies” with stories from camp, and the anticipation was high. We had nearly 100% attendance.
Students spent three days hiking, fishing, hot-tubbing, geocaching and hanging out with friends on the banks of the beautiful Chilliwack River. It is a chance to recharge after two terms of school, and to make plans for how to conquer the third. It is a chance to learn chess for the first time, or finally figure out latitude and longitude, to eat healthy meals, to unplug from technology, to build their first campfire. To be kids on a sunny day in the woods
For us the experience is moving every time. We see the students soften and relax as they make meals together, sharing themselves along with their favourite dishes. We see them collaborate on chores, or in games, and learn more and more of their histories, their lives, and their strengths. They are resilient group and we are always in awe.