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Building Healthy Relationships, Both with Nature and Each Other

Recently, Jason Gutu, Outdoor Education Coordinator at COMPASS, was joined by two other staff and three kids involved with the Comprehensive Stabilization and Support (CSS) program for a four-day camping trip in Alexandria, NH. Here is his account of this wonderful experience for COMPASS staff, and especially the kids that participated:

“Part of the trip was to teach some outdoor skills and open up possibilities to make the natural world more accessible for our clients, for whom many find natural spaces (i.e. reservations and conservations) largely inaccessible for cultural and socio-economical reasons. The other part of the trip was to support our youth in the moments of self-discovery that nature facilitates — these moments can make a person feel vulnerable, and building resilient relationships in a small group over the course of a short but intense, shared experience can be both an empowering and healing thing.

“We went to AMC’s Cardigan Lodge at Mt. Cardigan in Alexandria, NH. We visited a waterfall, hiked part of Mt. Cardigan, caught frogs in a pond, told stories in the dark during a rainstorm, and went canoeing at Newfound Lake (which is huge, 7 miles long). We stayed in the lodge our first night and camped the other two. It poured rain the last evening, all night and all through our last day – soaking everything and everyone right through.

“My takeaway was not to underestimate the power of little things. The tadpoles were more important than the mountain and I couldn’t have planned for that. One participant got to swim for the first time, and so we threw all of my canoe plans, lessons and games out the window. Getting ice cream instead of returning to camp, it turned out, was received as an act of caring attention to how the youth were feeling — run down.

“Going to the forest for some of our participants is like going to Mars, and part of the trip was the experience of discovering a new world. Trauma traps us in small worlds where we relive the same stories over and over again. In short, I suppose, the purpose was to broaden these kids’ world and help them build healthy relationships, both with nature and each other.”


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