PRESS RELEASE: Celebrating Five Years

Updated: Mar 27, 2021


Ecotherapy and Outdoor Education Initiative Makes an Impact on Refugee Youth

Chicago, IL: Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge (REACH) celebrates its 5-year anniversary with a new website and impactful stories from refugee youth leaders who have grown and learned through the organization’s ecotherapy and outdoor education initiatives.

REACH addresses the ongoing gaps in the field of refugee services where agencies are underfunded, schools are under supported, and newcomer families are isolated from mainstream society. “REACH restored my faith in humanity and provided me with hope,” states Abdulhafez Al Ibrahim, a 17-year-old Syrian refugee who joined the organization in 2017, just six months after he arrived in the U.S. with his mother and two siblings.

We just produced a series of videos highlighting our Peer Mentors like Abdulhafez. They’ve got such fascinating stories about their journeys and the insights they have gained through REACH. Our Peer Mentor stories can be found at https://youtu.be/hM8IqBRc97A and www.facebook.com/reach.org. We’re also excited about the following accomplishments:

  • Since our first pilot project with ten refugee youth, REACH has engaged more than 200 refugee youth and their family members from 21 countries in STEAM education and adventure sports activities such as climbing, camping, kayaking, ice skating, river clean-ups, and forest restoration. “As a refugee, I didn’t know where to go or how to do any of these activities on the water and out in nature. REACH allowed me to go places and do things that I never would have otherwise done. It also helped me to build character,” reports 16-year-old Muntadher Al Maeeni, who is originally from Iraq.

  • Through partnerships with more than 130 institutions and volunteers, mainstream community members are also learning more about the courage and determination of these young people. REACH volunteer Jim Tibensky remarks: “While I've volunteered with many youth organizations in the past, REACH has provided me with my first contact with kids from countries other than the U.S. and Mexico. I've been impressed by their resiliency, and their cheerfulness in spite of the many hardships they've faced in their lives.”

  • Fifteen refugee youth participants developed technical and leadership skills that provide stepping stones to diverse college and career opportunities through REACH’s Peer Mentor Leadership program, and five graduates have successfully enrolled in college. Former Peer Mentor, Sajjad Raheem Lafta, age 19, joined REACH as a “troubled” student in 2016, became a youth leader a year later, received British Canoeing certification in paddling, graduated from high school at the top of his class, enrolled in nursing school, and will be joining the REACH board this spring. “I am excited about joining the board because it makes me feel like a leader of something that I can have a huge impact on,” says Sajjad.

Refugee Education & Adventure Challenge (REACH) provides refugee youth, ages 10-18, and their families with experiential learning opportunities focused on STEAM education and adventure sports. Our mission is to inspire leadership, academic success, and connections among refugee youth through active dynamic learning outside the traditional classroom. In the year ahead, REACH will continue to build upon its four core programs: Summer and Weekend Adventure Camps, Peer Mentor Leadership Training, and Family-Focused Ecotherapy.

All of our Peer Mentors, board, and staff are available to speak more about the impact of the outdoors, REACH, and community connections on the well-being of refugee newcomers in Chicago.

Contact: Shana Wills, reachinchicago@gmail.com, 773-266-0709

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