"The 16 and 17 were happy days," says Dietrich on the second and last day of the Compass High Retreat. "I wish we would stay another night," he says. "Me, too, Dietrich. Me, too," I respond.
Last Thursday and Friday were also happy days for me. Actually, they are the happiest days I have experienced as the Youth Development Intern. We had our first retreat of the year and we were privileged to work with Compass High, a comprehensive high school for students with learning differences that just opened last fall. Five of the eight students at Compass High joined us on Thursday morning, along with four staff, including administrators, so with Bill, Sid, and I, the ratio was greater than 1:1.
"Welcome, everyone! We are excited to have you here. Now before we start with introductions, who can tell me why we are here?" I ask. "Community service," says Paige quietly. I remember their names because we paid them a visit just last week. We at Youth Development strive to visit every classroom before they visit ours, which is Hidden Villa's vast land. We want to give students an opportunity to meet us and get to know us through our ice breakers and activities before we spend a whole day or more with them.
"That's a great answer, Paige. Who else has ideas of why we are here?" I ask. A few moments later, Madison says, "Connect?" "Yes!" I sigh. "We are here for connection. We want to give you opportunities to connect with one another and we want to connect with you. We want you to feel connected to this land, these trees, and these hills," I say, as I glance at the glistening green leaves around us.
Connection was a theme of the retreat while the program focused on farm and wilderness. After a few team-building activities and introducing the group to our beautiful farm animals, we set out to make apple muffins to deepen their understanding of where our food comes from. We picked apples from our apple trees, collected eggs straight from chicken's nests, made butter, and grinded wheat berries. In the end, we enjoyed apple muffins with a greater appreciation for earth because it provides so much for us.
The next morning, we connected deeper with nature. We walked alone on the trail for a few minutes while practicing to walk like a fox after expressing gratitude to people, earth, water, plants, our fellow animals, wind and weather, sun and moon, and the rest of the stars. We made nature journals and befriended trees, which we got to know after spending time with them, noticing all that they were, what they felt like, what sounds they made, and what they smelled like. As a last activity, we made pillows out of lavender, mint and other herbs, and wool we carded ourselves, wool from our very own sheep.
After a closing circle, in which we shared our beautiful perceptions of each other and hugged one another with great warmth, Bill, Sid, and I wished for more time with them. Time to connect with them deeper, for them to connect with each other more, for them to see the connections all around them, with the land, trees and hills. Josephine Duveneck once said, "Becoming aware of the relationship of all living things to other living things is the key to knowing ourselves. It is the basis for understanding the intricate web of life." With Compass High, we strived towards increasing such awareness, and as our connection with them grows, we hope this awareness will also continue to grow.
To find out more about Hidden Villa Youth Development programs check out our Youth Development Page.