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Outdoor Learning and Wrap-around Supports Help Youth Face Challenges

An organization that works with youth suffering social, family, and educational challenges is continuing to expand its services on Vancouver Island.

The Take a Hike Foundation was launched in Vancouver more than two decades ago.

It began working in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district in 2019, expanded to the Cowichan Valley School District in 2020, and is starting a pilot program in Saanich.

The foundation recently received a grant of $5000 from Mid Island Co-op.

Charlene Smith, the Director of Philanthropy on Vancouver Island for Take a Hike Foundation, says an education system designed for the majority sometimes leaves the vulnerable behind.

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She says they work in partnership with school districts to offer alternative approaches where needed.

Smith says through a well-rounded alternative to mainstream education, they help these youth find their way by immersing them in the classroom of the natural world and integrating clinical therapy supports to assist students’ mental health and well-being.

She says they use a four-pillar approach that connects youth with a mental health specialist, a teacher, a youth and family worker, and an adventure-based specialist.

It involves outdoor adventure-based learning and therapy activities, individualized learning plans, and community involvement and engagement.

Smith says the program operates five days a week, just like a normal classroom, and students “spend substantial shared time together.”

The Take a Hike Foundation says 70 per cent of the youth in the programs report improvements in their mental health and well-being despite the ongoing pandemic, and 81 per cent report an increase in resilience and personal competence, particularly self-management, relationship skills, and understanding their emotions.

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The program has a 93 per cent graduation rate.

Doreen Gatt, a member of the Mid Island Co-op Board, says they are excited to “support the great work the Take a Hike Foundation is doing with local youth in our community” and they’re proud to help Take A Hike to continue its programs.

  • Take a Hike started in Vancouver in 2000 and grew to 2 more programs in Delta and Burnaby serving youth in grades 10-12
  • In 2019, expanded onto Vancouver Island with a program in Nanaimo that quickly expanded to serve youth in grades 8-12 who live in the Nanaimo and Ladysmith communities. It now serves up to 30 youth.
  • In 2020, Take a Hike expanded into Cowichan Valley and Duncan, serving up to 20 youth in grades 10-12.
  • Starting in 2021, it opened a pilot program in Saanich that will be ready to enroll students next year.
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