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The Turning of a Leaf: Summer 2022 Recap

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

I expected to start this REACH blog update with a quote by Henry David Thoreau: We had gone to bed in summer, and we awoke in autumn; for summer passes into autumn in some unimaginable point of time, like the turning of a leaf.” Just yesterday, the weather, though crisp, was sunny and inviting with golden and copper leaves carpeting the trails. My window view today is of snowcapped rooftops, tree branches, and leaf piles. The first snow.

REACH Weekend Adventure Camp 2022: Tree-identification and river investigations, November 2022.

Yet I think this is an ideal time to reflect on this panorama with knowledge of the big and small changes that have transpired since spring. So, I invite you to travel with me a few months back in time while I recap the momentous learning adventures that occurred after the acorns were planted, and prior to the oak leaves shifting colors.


Summer is a period of transformation, sometimes quiet and subtle, other times bold and blatant. For our Peer Mentors, the changes taking place were on par with the latter.

Peer Mentor Leadership Corps 2022 (PMLC22)

Wilderness Learning Adventures & More

In May, June, and July 2022, seven REACH youth leaders followed through on three trips for which they had spent months diligently planning and preparing. Each young person finished these trips with a sense of accomplishment and self-knowledge. As Peer Mentor Masooma, age 16, explains, each trip “naturally enforces [sic] you to work together and put emotion and yourself aside. It has made me more aware, appreciate people, be less picky, and has made me have a bit more faith in humanity.”

The Peer Mentors started the season with a 3-day bike camping trip on the Elroy-Sparta Trail in the Driftless Region of northwest Wisconsin. The 32.5-mile one-way route travels through five small towns, prairies, wetlands, farmland, and unglaciated areas. The former railroad line has steady climbs and descents between its three long rock tunnels. The youth leaders carried their gear on their backs through rainstorms and strong wind, before setting up camp at the end of the trail in Elroy. Though exhausted both physically and mentally, they then trekked back the next morning!

REACH PMLC 2022: Wilderness Bike Camping Adventure on the Elroy-Sparta Trail in Wisconsin. May 2022

In June, the Peer Mentors ventured out on a 10-day road trip through six states, three National Parks, and several State Parks and National Forests. During this learning adventure, they camped, hiked, paddled, boated, and explored. They cooked breakfasts and dinners over campfires and ate lunches near waterfalls, rivers, and scenic vistas; observed wild bison, elk, foxes, and eagles; and became experts at setting up camp in various conditions. From vast prairies, grand rivers, and rugged geological formations to steep mountain trails, pristine natural lakes, geysers, mudpots, and fumaroles, they soaked it all in with genuine wonder and gratitude.

REACH PMLC 2022: Wilderness National Park Camping Adventure (IL, WI, MN, SD, WY, NB) in June 2022


"Wherever you look there is a cluster of trees and beautifully shaped rocks. It’s so vast and open, it felt as if the environment was pulling you towards it. It felt as if it was home, a place I belong yet wasn’t a place I was familiar with." - Peer Mentor Muntadher, age 17


As if that wasn’t enough to cap a brilliant summer, the Peer Mentors headed out one more time in July for an 18-mile paddling camping trip on the Wisconsin River. The youth leaders learned how to pack kayaks and canoes for overnight journeys, engaged in some longer-distance paddling skills building, enjoyed the sense of adventure that comes with setting up camp on a perfect sandbar, and both star-gazed and storm-watched on their little oasis in the river. Thanks to Granite Gear and Sawyer Products for the backpacks, drybags, water filters, sunscreen, and bug repellent, which made this trip, and the other two, seem easy.

REACH PMLC 2022: Wilderness Canoe & Kayak Camping Adventure on the Wisconsin River. July 2022


"I learned that life is just like a camping trip. At the beginning, you have to set up and work hard . . . But when the morning comes, you will be grateful that you are there looking at a scenery that a lot of people are missing. I believe life can be hard, but you have to work hard to make yourself comfortable.”- Peer Mentor Payman, age 14


Our Peer Mentors were actively engaged in meaningful experiences beyond these three phenomenal trips. For example, one of our youth leaders had the honor of representing the REACH PMLC at the American Red Cross’ International Humanitarian Law Youth Action Campaign Summit in Washington, D.C. Aside from presenting a summary of REACH’s IHL-YAC at the ARC Headquarters, our youth representative visited the Pentagon and Capitol Hill. Another Peer Mentor was selected to participate in the prestigious Cubs Scholars program during which he will receive ongoing mentorship to prepare him for the transition from high school to college and a $20,000 scholarship upon his enrollment in a 4-year college. One of our younger Peer Mentors put his skills into practice at his first summer job where he taught young children how to ride bikes, led teambuilding icebreakers, and communicated achievements to their parents. All seven trained REACH youth leaders also played significant mentoring roles to the refugee youth participants enrolled in our most robust Summer Adventure Camp ever!

REACH PMLC 2022: Peer Mentor Maisam Rajaie represents his peers at the American Red Cross Youth Action Campaign Summit in Washington, D.C. July 2022


Summer Adventure Camp 2022 (SAC22)

Day Camp & Overnight Camping Adventures

I’m not kidding when I say that this was the most vigorous Summer Adventure Camp that REACH has ever coordinated. We registered more than 85 young people of whom 80, ages 6-18, were actively engaged throughout our four-weeks of day camp and four overnight camping trips. These SAC22 participants included new and old REACH youths from fifteen different countries (Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, Chechnya, the DRC, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Rwanda, Syria, and Sudan). And for the first time, REACH hired Summer Camp Counselors - a total of four staff managed our largest cohort of summer camp participants since the organization started.

Each week of day camp entailed a variety of outdoor adventure activities (i.e., archery, canoeing, climbing, fishing, fort building, hiking, kayaking) and STEAM learning activities (i.e., forest restoration, water inventories, habitat assessments, nature art). The overnight camping trips included boys-only and girls-only trips during which the youths learned how to set up tents, build campfires, cook outdoors, star gaze, and more. The co-ed trips each took place on respective farms where the kids conducted macroinvertebrate investigations, fed goats and chickens, picked fresh pears and apples from trees, and learned about sustainable living. Throughout the summer, refugee youth participants faced fears, embraced successes, and made strong friendships and connections to their new home.

REACH SAC22: Day Camps and Overnight Camps, July, August, & September 2022

This wasn't easy. The summer had some rough spots - there was a fair share of drama and adjustment among the young people (an issue I hope to address in a future article about the impact of social media, the pandemic, and vast cultural changes on our middle school and high school students). The scope of English language proficiency levels, time-in-the country, ages, ethnicities, and trauma-related experiences among the youths varied significantly this summer. These challenges - coupled with the growing national crisis among adolescents in the U.S. - fortify the need for programs like the ones at REACH. Despite the odds, we know our programs have value, and though sometimes the changes are quiet and subtle, this slight improvement sustains us.

“I am so proud of what I accomplished through REACH this summer. I thought the whole summer was amazing. I cannot wait to tell all my friends at school the things that I did and the things that I learned. I want to come to every camp and learn about everything in nature,” Mohammad, age 12, stated after receiving a REACH award for “Valuable Leadership” and a Peer-to-Peer award for “Fearlessness on Water” at our Family Picnic & Awards Ceremony in September 2022.

This slight improvement or change, this is what we sustain life for with so much effort from year to year. - Henry David Thoreau

Just as Thoreau eloquently describes the transition from summer to fall, I come to recognize the moment as a familiar occasion, able to foresee how it will look and roll. Each summer brings us fresh new faces with disparate personalities, but as autumn unfolds so, too, do the characters of our youth participants. They become bolder, kinder, and even more curious. This is what we sustain life for with so much effort from year to year. As I finish this news update, I hope that our readers will stick around to support our efforts as we prepare to launch our #GivingTuesday 2022 Campaign later this week. We’ve got a growing roster of refugee youths who are eagerly awaiting more exciting adventures and learning outside the traditional classroom, and we look forward to keeping you posted in the weeks ahead about their accomplishments and ways that you can help them achieve even more.

With gratitude,

Shana Wills

Executive Director and Founder

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