Check out one of our Summer Wilderness Canoe Trip Leaders in The Toronto Star!
It takes about six hours to get there by yellow school bus, but Lina Jouis doesn’t mind one bit. Each minute and kilometre brings her closer to the unspoiled old growth forests of Temagami, fragrant with the heavy scent of pine and the crystal clear waters of paradise. And with every turn of the wheels, Jouis is aware that the new kids on the bus are heading toward something life changing. They don’t know it, but they will be different after roughing it in the wilderness with Project CANOE (Creative and Natural Outdoor Experience).
It is one of more than 100 camps supported with donations to the Toronto Star Fresh Air Fund.
Jouis has seen how the Temagami adventures change attitudes and transform lives for city kids 13 to 18.
Some are there to build leadership skills in the outdoors and then pass them on to others in the community. Then there are those who need to get away from the poverty, violence and crime that so often surrounds them along with the labels — at-risk, troubled, or lost causes. Some are kids who have given up on themselves. But not Jouis and her colleagues at CANOE, where kids can be themselves without fear of being judged. Everyone is the same.
Subsidies from the Fresh air Fund help ensure no one is turned away for financial reasons.“We celebrate the uniqueness of each individual,” said Jouis before embarking on her second summer as a trip leader with the camp in northeastern Ontario. She calls the experience “adventure therapy” — summer wilderness camps for urban kids who escape to the pristine environs of the north to learn about their surroundings, survival skills and themselves.
Jouis and other CANOE leaders have had extensive training working with young people who have emotional, social and behaviour issues. For her, the greatest reward is watching the kids turn around negative attitudes through positive reinforcement, understanding, attention and care. Campers’ smiles and hugs say it all, she said. That’s why it’s important they have a good time while learning how to paddle a canoe, pitch a tent, build a camp fire and protect their grub from bears. “Camp is very important because it gives them a sense of community and working together, sharing and helping each other,” said Jouis. “And the kids learn quickly that if they decide they don’t want to paddle, they can’t move.”
After each canoe trip, Jouis knows that the skills learned in Temagami go home with each camper.
She also learns as much from the kids as they do from her. “Project CANOE is a loving, safe place,” she added. “It makes me feel good to be part of it.”