Why fun matters at Shelterwood

Part of our approach to transformation at Shelterwood is giving our students new experiences and opportunities to step outside their comfort zone. Students learn to try new things, practicing recreation in ways that are healthy and constructive. This past summer at Shelterwood, students had several opportunities for special trips and off-campus activities.

“Our students live in a very structured environment at Shelterwood, and we have created that environment on purpose,” says Daniel Schlenker, Shelterwood Academy Activities Coordinator. “Trips offer students a bit more freedom, still with plenty of structure but in a new context and with new surroundings. Students are able to experience challenges and different opportunities than those they face on the Shelterwood campus, and put what they’re learning in therapy into practice.”

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Young adult mentors also travel with the students, and these trips provide time and space for essential conversations. Students process what they have been learning in therapy and by living at Shelterwood. “We really give the students time for meaningful, intentional conversations with their mentors,” Daniel explains.

Our students had a variety of trip opportunities this past summer. A highlight of the summer for many students was the Shelterwood mission trip to Haiti. Changing students’ environments provides opportunities for their hearts to be impacted with positive experiences and encouragement from the Shelterwood staff.

Students also had the opportunity to spend several days at Camp Barnabas, near Missouri’s beautiful Table Rock Lake. This uniquely-designed Christian summer camp typically serves students with disabilities, and hosts Shelterwood students during off-weeks in the summer season. “Their staff is sensitive to the unique needs of our students, and so it’s a good camp for us to visit,” Daniel says.

The camp experience includes team building exercises, organized sports and a daily spiritual component, plus an evening speaker. “Students were able to participate in high ropes courses, swimming, basketball, tubing and other outdoor activities,” Daniel explains.

“Camp Barnabas is a chance for our students to experience rest and recreation in a healthy way.” Students learn to spend their free time in ways that are constructive, breaking the habit of running to isolation activities like video games, social media and television.

Evenings at Camp Barnabas are spent listening to dynamic faith-based speakers. For example, during the boys’ week at camp, they heard from a speaker, who went through the Biblical story of Jacob. “Every evening focused on how Jacob was wrestling with God and finding his identity,” Daniel added. “Many Shelterwood students wrestle with the idea of having a relationship with God, and who they are and these evenings caused students to think through what this relationship looks like in a consistent way.” The boys continued to discuss this topic long after they returned to Shelterwood.

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While the boys were at Camp Barnabas, the girls back on campus enjoyed a “staycation” week. During the “staycation,” students and mentors enjoy fun and constructive activities around Shelterwood and the Kansas City area.  They enjoyed bowling, rock climbing gym, miniature golf, sporting events and other special activities around the area. When the girls headed to Camp Barnabas, the boys enjoyed their own “staycation.”

Also part of summer at Shelterwood was the canoe trip. Students traveled to the Ozarks of Missouri, and spent time canoeing, hiking, preparing meals and spending time together as a group. “Canoeing is actually a great opportunity for conflict resolution,” Daniel says. This experience in teamwork allowed students to practice healthy problem solving in a hands-on way.

Daniel recalls a moment from the girls trip when the river narrowed and increased in intensity — and one canoe capsized! “It was a rough start, but the girls got to practice dealing with a difficulty and making the best out of a tough situation. The challenges could have been handled negatively, but so many positives came out of the trip.”

Summer activities add balance to teens’ healing journeys, which is an important step towards en route to a promising future. “As students try new things on these summer trips, they learn the joy of accepting challenges and the rewards of trying new things,” Daniel says. “They practice spending their free time in ways that are both fun and healthy, so they’re equipped for life after Shelterwood.”