At BCM, some of us like to keep count of “program days,” “improvement in developmental assets,” and other measurable things. I like stories. Like this one, from Bernie, our Chicago Regional Program Manager. Here’s what he experienced on one of his trips in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area this summer:
Youth Outreach Services is a new partner this year. I had the pleasure of getting to know five boys from the agency. Four of them are struggling with substance abuse issues. None had been camping or experienced anything like the BCM program. Two of the older ones really took to the experience. It triggered some deep thinking about their lives. Getting away from the city life, the noises, the friends, cell phone, iPod, showers, beds and so much more combined with exposure to some of the most pristine wilderness this country has to offer has a way of hitting the pause key. At first, the guys were tentative and admitted they didn’t know if they could be successful on the expedition. They are not used to being successful. We had identified John (name changed) as a potential leader. He saw himself as a failure – we saw him as someone who could lead the other teens to success.
John and Dequan (both friends) had to quit smoking on the expedition. Already good friends, they would ask for some time together so they could talk about what they were experiencing, share struggles and support each other. By day 5, our journey was progressing well. The guys were learning a lot and had many accomplishments under their belts. After we had dinner and the storms had cleared through, they once again asked for some time together to talk. When they came back, they asked to talk to me privately. They seemed really serious and I was wondering if they were going to raise a concern or complain about something. John took the lead and said that they originally thought I was being tough on them to give them a hard time. During their discussion today, they decided that I was expecting a lot from them because I cared for them and wanted them to do well. Tears were in their eyes at this point and they each asked for a hug. John said he had never had anyone treat him that way before. Home was all about being berated and torn down. He felt rejected and neglected by everyone. We didn’t do that. We praised his successes and gently encouraged him when he fell short. We believed in him. They went on to recount what they referred to as four wasted years of drug use. More tears flowed as John told me today was his Dad’s birthday. His dad isn’t in his life, but he thinks about him often. Especially on his birthday. Today was a tough day for John. As the tears continued, there was another hug. John didn’t want to let go.
BCM is about connecting. Connections happen in all different ways. Just being quiet while paddling together can be a moment of connection. Sometimes the connection is more dramatic like the one I had with John. Even if there weren’t any other successes, the few moments with John and Dequan makes everything worthwhile.
John went on to rise to the bar we set for him. He won the Leadership award for the expedition and tied a youth record for longest canoe portage. Not bad for a failure.