Summerland Secondary School students refer to it simply as “The Retreat.” It was first called the Unity Retreat and now is called the Youth Wellness Retreat. It was started 12 years ago in partnership with the Summerland Rotary Club.
“We wanted to provide an opportunity for young people in our school to bond so they could make stronger connections with each other and learn skills that would be valuable for them as individuals and thus strengthen our school and community by bringing those skills back,” explained school councillor Kim Wise.
“Over the years we’ve focused on personal strengths as well as team work and leadership, but the last two years we’ve focused more specifically on wellness, because the students had asked for that.”
The two day retreat is held at the Green Bay Bible Camp in West Kelowna.
“Our activities have no religious affiliation, but it is a fantastic site for us. We’ve been there four years now and the kids love it,” said Wise.
Forty Grade 9 and 10 students attend the retreat as participants. A dozen Grade 11 and 12 students go along as leaders.
A community agreement is drawn up by the students themselves in regards to attitudes and behaviours they want to see during the two days.
Acceptance, appreciation, common-sense, compassion, equality, encouragement, empathy, friendship, kindness and respect were some of those listed.
Things that were not allowed at the retreat were alcohol, drugs, disrespect, judging, negativity, put downs and violence.
“They stuck to it very well,” Wise said.
As well as discussing physical and mental wellness, the participants took part in workshops on communication, team-building and positive affirmations to name just a few, that were facilitated by the older students.
“That’s a real key component for them because they seem to respect being able to learn from each other,” said Wise. “For the younger students it breaks down the barriers between them and older students. It increases connections in the school when we come back and gives us a real community feel while we are there.”
Wise also explained that many of the students leading the workshops had never seen themselves in a leadership role before. She tries to create these opportunities for a cross section of the student population, including students from the Alternate School. The experience gives them the confidence and realization that they can be leaders.
Another key aspect of the Retreat is to not only gain as individuals, but to also look at ways in which to maintain the values they learn and to find practical ways of bringing that caring, supportive environment back to the school and to the larger community.
The students also had time for fun and games, dancing and sitting on the dock or around the campfire during the overnight stay. The benefits of being in nature were also explored.
The closing activity at the Retreat was the making of Compassion Flags, a small piece of fabric, decorated with meaningful messages. The students made them as an intention of kindness towards themselves and as an acknowledgement of kindness to others. They learned that compassion is not just a feeling but an action…empathy with action. The flags now hang in the school for all to see.
The focus of the Rotary Club in Summerland is often directed towards the Youth.
“We realize that young people are probably the most precious thing that we have in our town and they are obviously going to look after us down the road also, so it is a wise investment,” said club president Roch Fortin. “Summerland is a small world and I think if we can prepare our youth for when they leave Summerland and go to university and face the world, it’s a bonus because they are given a better chance to succeed and survive. All the tools and programs they have been given they can use and this we see as an advantage.”
Wise appreciates Rotary’s involvement from the very beginning and sees it as “very much a team effort.” She also sees the Retreat as very beneficial, not just for the students but for the community as well.
“We knew the ripple effect would be big,” she said.