Building Leadership in the Wild

Updated: Feb 24

Muntadher has fond memories of playing soccer, climbing trees, and racing his bike with his friends as a child growing up in Iraq. Despite the war and several devastating losses, his mom did her best to keep life as normal as possible for her two young children. In 2008, she appealed for refugee status while sharing space at her parents’ home. Seven years later, Muntadher, his mom, and his little sister arrived in Chicago. Muntadher brought with him some clothes and his teddy bear. He was just ten years old, spoke no English, and his greatest wish was to ride his bike like the other American kids on his block.

Muntadher joined REACH in the summer of 2017. And thanks to donors like you, he began to develop new memories of playing soccer, climbing trees (and walls), and racing his kayak with his friends here in Chicago. His athleticism and eagerness to rise to new challenges made Muntadher a natural leader, so he was invited to train on weekends during the school year with REACH’s youth leadership corps, becoming a Peer Mentor by summer 2018.

For the past three years, REACH has been developing a peer leadership model that focuses on youth-initiated mentoring and service learning. Over time, our donors have supported the leadership growth of more than ten refugee youth, encouraging competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring through a series of experiential learning activities and skills trainings. REACH Peer Mentors work closely with newer or younger youth participants, helping them to learn new skills, ease their social transition, and have fun. Similarly, Peer Mentors build their own skills through a network of engaged adult volunteers and partners. Today, Muntadher has big dreams that are shared by his peers at REACH. He wants to get into a good high school, go to college, and study to become an engineer. He also wants to excel at REACH outdoor activities and share his experiences with others. “I want to improve my leadership skills by going out into the wild,” he explains.

Your support will help REACH make the dreams of Muntadher and his peers a reality. Our cohort of Peer Mentors meets every month to discuss leadership, skills building, and outdoor adventure opportunities, and has selected several service-learning projects for the year ahead. Peer Mentors requested more intensive overnight adventure trips in 2019, and they identified ways to embed community service into these outdoor learning activities.

The trips:

  • a 3-day kayak camping trip on the Mississippi River;

  • a 4-day intensive paddling training with national experts in Michigan; and

  • a 6-day backcountry hiking trip in Colorado

Peer Mentors are required to propose how they will apply their new learning, and of course, our Peer Mentors have exceptional plans for these trips. Muntadher admits: “I want to make a documentary about our Mississippi River trip in order to share my experiences and inspire my friends to do what I do and more.” The proposed projects:

  • documentation of each trip, including a focus on the Upper basin’s ecosystem and diverse habitats, snapshots of the outdoor experts they meet and their favorite paddling adventures, or a review of the physical and mental challenges associated with the new learning they acquire;

  • participation in at least two local river clean-up / water quality monitoring and/or forest restoration activities before or after the trips; and

  • delivery of a presentation at future symposiums and conferences that documents the trip(s) and service-learning activities, and compares at least two ecosystems to those in their native countries.

Our ambitious $5,000 goal will fund three intensive adventure trips, monthly leadership meetings, quarterly stewardship activities, and final project presentations for up to 10 Peer Mentors in 2019. Your generous donation will make the dreams of Muntadher and his peer cohort a reality and give them an experience of a lifetime. Donation details are here.

If you want to see your dollars in action, check out our blog and follow their journeys. Follow our blog, Facebook page, or Instagram account. You can also volunteer with the youth at one of our stewardship activities. Get Involved here. And we certainly hope you can come out to witness our Peer Mentors’ service-learning presentations at the end of the year. Thank you for your support of REACH!

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