Staff and students in the Take a Hike program are pumped to have a new van to take them on adventure-based learning challenges.

Community rallies for alternative learning program

Community partnerships came together with the Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation to purchase a dedicated van for West Kootenay students.

Joining hands in support of youth at-risk is proving to be a win-win for all.

Students in the Take a Hike (TAH) program have a new vehicle for travel to adventure-based learning challenges and the Trail area has a team of young adults ready to help with community-wide projects.

A new van was unveiled Monday morning at the Kootenay Columbia Learning Centre (KCLC), much to the delight of 16 students currently enrolled in the program as well as staff and local businesses that donated to the cause.

The 15-passenger capacity allows the class to travel and encounter new challenges as a cohesive unit, outside the doors of the school.

“Before, students had to rotate going on out-trips or volunteer days because there was not enough room in the van we currently use,” KCLC Principal Nathan Robinson explained. “This means they can all go on an out-trip at the same time.”

Robinson was awed by the community banding together and raising money in support of at-risk youth.

“It means so much to them to feel valued by the community,” he emphasized. “And we are so grateful for the ongoing community support that ensures the sustainability of our program.”

Three-years of fuel and the vehicle’s wrapping (signage) were also donated for the dedicated TAH bus.

“The value of this particular donation is over $15,000,” says Gordon Matchett, TAH foundation’s chief executive officer, noting the organization raises over $100,000 each year to support the program.

Students share their gratitude for community support by writing thank-you letters, sharing their stories and volunteering time with many service groups and businesses.

“As an example, last week our students reciprocated the community’s generosity by painting the interior of a community member’s house,” Matchett shared. “The students are truly engaged in the cycle of generosity here in the Kootenays.”

The program has been based in KCLC for three years, though students from the entire West Kootenay region are eligible to enroll. In that time, 40 students have successfully graduated.

Leadership skills and healthy coping mechanisms are introduced through outdoor adventures such as hiking, biking and canoeing. The program also provides one-on-one support with clinical therapists who accompany students on out-trips as well as individualized academic instruction.

Take a Hike students are brave enough to face obstacles to learning that often include substance use, mental health challenges and past trauma, says Matchett.

“One of the keys to success of the Take a Hike program is the support of the community,” he told the Trail Times. “Community members volunteer their time, provide opportunities for the students to volunteer, and provide the financial resources the program needs, ” Matchett said.

“The program brings together community members to make sure no student is left behind.”

After quietly volunteering at KCLC for a number of years, Trail Coun. Eleanor Gattafoni Robinson has witnessed students overcome incredible odds on their journey to graduation.

It’s that inspiring growth and drive that has Gattafoni Robinson checking back into school each fall.

“I can say it is truly a privilege and humbling to be involved with the Take a Hike Youth at Risk Foundation, and in particular the West Kootenay program” says the longtime city councillor who donates her personal time to the program. “I have been very involved with the students and staff since the beginning and when one sees the development of these students and what the future hold for them, it is truly remarkable,” she explained, mentioning TAH students often progress from truancy to near perfect attendance.

“That speaks volumes for the program and staff.”

Community partners stepping forward is not new for the region, Gattafoni Robinson maintains.

“But it is rewarding for the students, the program and their future and appreciated more than words can say,” she added. “The contribution of this van speaks volumes of what can happen when positive individuals come together for a cause and make a dream become a reality.”

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