11 NOVEMBER 2003


Eight teenaged boys recently survived 20 days of mosquitoes, sand flies, lightning and a blistering Everglades sun without the luxury of showers or even ice.

Adventure-based program helps youth learn life skills

Was it an episode of the “Survivor” television show?

Hardly. It's a not-for-profit program for troubled youth run by the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, the quiet, little 62-year-old national program with an outpost tucked away in the woods at Mile Marker 100.6. An average of 10 youngsters gather every month to begin a program for those who have demonstrated by word and action that they are at risk.

The state refers children to the Outward Bound program through CINS/FINS, acronyms for Children In Need of Services/Families In Need of Services. There is no cost to families. However, Outward Bound, like the PACE Center For Girls and the Florida Keys Children's Shelter, came close the losing the bulk of its funding during the Florida Legislature's budget battles last spring.

But, at least for another year, 132 kids who have become ungovernable at home can still turn to the tried and tested methods of Outward Bound. The Outward Bound program is founded on two propositions: learning and growth occur as a result of the interaction of each individual with their environment and other people; and such learning is transferable to other situations.

German educator Kurt Hahn started Outward Bound in 1941. In 1933 Hahn, who was Jewish, publicly spoke out against Hitler, was imprisoned and later exiled from Germany. While in Great Britain, he developed his concept of adventure-based education, while helping the owner of an English shipping line better train young sailors to survive the hazards of the North Atlantic during World War II. Eventually his program was named Outward Bound, a nautical term that refers to the moment a ship leaves port for the open sea.

Today, there are 44 Outward Bound schools worldwide, including five schools and two centers in the United States. Most now focus on helping troubled youth.

The Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, founded in 1964, is the largest in the U.S., employing 800 people each year. It has bases in Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida.

The local program, run by director Paul Wieland with the help of a dedicated young staff, works with teens to help them build confidence, living skills and self-respect.

The results speak for themselves.

Willy, a New York City teen who now lives in Miami, said the 20-day experience changed him. Combining the rigors of primitive camping, travel and living, the local Outward Bound program forces the teenagers to work together to survive the harsh Everglades wilderness.

Participants usually return with a better appreciation for what life has to offer them.

“I used to yell and fight with my family and friends. I've done some stupid things,” Willy said between bites of hot pork, beans and rice and a salad under a pavilion at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, where the eight teens and their families gathered with Outward Bound staff after the most recent excursion. “I have changed,” he said. “I have become a better person. I'll have an easier time with my family now.”

Parents, siblings and friends had gathered to support the teens as they shared their first hot meal in 20 days.

Carlos, another Miami teen, said he learned to depend on himself during the 20-day excursion.

Another, Dexter, said he learned how to control his temper. A boy named Kenny said he learned to appreciate what he has, rather than feel bad about what he lacks.

Counselor Zach Faux, 28, who was in the wilderness with the teens, said one particular day was pivotal and caused a change of attitude in several of the boys. “We were paddling through thick hydrilla one day on the Ocklawaha River, and the tension was high,” he said. “It should have been a one-hour trek, but it took two-and-a-half to three hours. It was a stressful paddle. When we arrived at camp we called a circle up [a ‘powwow’ where kids and counselor gather to work out problems], and three or four kids had to separate from the group.”

“A half-hour later they returned and reintroduced themselves back into the group. To me, it was a turning point,” he said. “They had dealt with their issues and had learned how to resolve the problems.”

A father of one of the eight teens summed up the feelings of the rest of the parents during the gathering at Pennekamp park. “You care about these young people's lives and hearts,” he said to the Outward Bound staff. “The highest honor is to serve and to care for another person. Thank you.”

By Steve Gibbs


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