The sun set over the Minnesota lake. The only sound was canoe paddles dipping into water. In this moment, Kayla Mindiola, a junior at YES Prep Fifth Ward, could forget the mosquitos, the dehydrated milk she had for breakfast, and her sore arms. She could pour water from her cup into the lake as a symbolic goodbye to her father, who she’d lost when she was seven.
Mindiola, along with five other YES Prep students, participated in the Voyageur Outward Bound program for grieving teens. Over the course of a week, the six YES Prep students canoed and portaged their way back to the base camp with the help of two guides. The teens learned valuable camping and wilderness survival skills such as how to make their water drinkable, how to cook over fire, and how to right their canoes if they overturned.
They also built relationships, bonding instantly over their shared experiences as YES Prep students who were grieving. “It was so easy to communicate with [the other YES Prep students]. We talked about the differences between our campuses, but we were all going through the same thing. We all knew what it felt like to lose someone. I felt so touched and moved by everyone’s stories,” said Cixco, a junior from YES Prep Fifth Ward, who lost his father when he was 11.
While there was plenty of time for fireside bonding, there was also time to experience nature in silence. “We’d all spread out and spent some time alone, so that we could admire the nature and reflect,” Cixco said. “There weren’t any boat motors or cell phones. It was so beautiful and serene.”
Most importantly, Outward Bound taught the students how to overcome challenges. “There were challenges, but I learned to push through. When I wanted to give up, I had my teammates with me, telling me to keep going. I was able to apply this lesson to my grief too. Everyone has hard days, but you can keep pushing through no matter what happens,” said Mindiola.
Cixco agreed: “Outward Bound taught me there was something inside myself that I didn’t know was there. I did not expect I’d be able to push past strong currents and carry the weight of my canoe and pack across land. I surprised myself with what I’m capable of.”