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Student stories

Recreation and health education student helps youth connect with nature

Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education

Heidi Hopkins

Power to Be Adventure Therapy

Power To Be Adventure Therapy may only be 12 years old, but the not-for-profit organization has already accomplished a ton. As a provider of outdoor education programs youth facing significant life challenges, Power to Be has made a real difference in the lives of hundreds of local families. It's also made an impact on recreation and health education student Heidi Hopkins (pictured second from left, with Brett Tennant on far left, Janine Theobald second from right, and Jennifer Garret on far right), who recently spent a work term with the organization.

Read the rest of this experience

“We provide two main programs,” says Jennifer Garret, Power To Be’s director of operations (pictured on right). “Our adaptive recreation programming creates outdoor recreation opportunities for those who face barriers such as a disability or illness that make spending time in nature challenging. Our wilderness school is a 5-year nature-based program that provides outdoor leadership and activity opportunities for youth who are at risk for falling through the cracks.”

The organization has also provided opportunities for students like UVic co-op student Heidi Hopkins to take part behind-the-scenes—Hopkins recently spent a co-op work term with Power to Be and made a real impact on her employers.

“Heidi has been a great fit with our team and has been working on a manual that compiles information about organizations, services, programs and contacts," says Garret. “She’s also been helping with intake for our wilderness school program. She’s been a great fit with our team.”

As a recreation and health education student, Hopkins has brought her knowledge of nutrition and recreation into the workplace, and recently helped plan the meals for a 3-day kayak and camping trip as part of the wilderness school.

“These trips help the youth get back to basics, learn about nature and feel a balance that is difficult to find in the city,” says Hopkins. “During our outdoor experiences we strive to provide the youth with the tools needed to develop as leaders. It’s been inspiring to work on this type of project with staff who are dedicated to making long-term differences in the lives of these youth.”

Garrett is equally impressed by Heidi, and co-op students in general. “Hiring students helps us maximize our donations and extend our resources, but it also gives staff an opportunity to mentor—it’s refreshing to welcome new people and new ideas.”

Question and answer period with Heidi Hopkins:

1) How did you choose recreation and health education?

I grew up in Rossland, BC so I’ve always been very active and spent a lot of time outdoors. I played field hockey, basketball, soccer and more growing up and was on the provincial field hockey team for three years. I read my first nutritional textbook in grade 7 and since that time became fascinated by health, specifically nutrition, anatomy and physiology.

I dabbled a bit in my first year and then my aunt sent me a link to the recreation and health program and it seemed like the ideal program for me.

1) Why did you decide to take part in co-op?

I believe that hands-on implementation is key. I try to select my co-op jobs carefully so that they provide me with experience that will help me reach my career goal. I want to learn skills that will lead me to a fulfilling career.

3) Describe your first work term

My first work term was quite unique—I worked as a nanny for a family as they travelled around Switzerland, France and Italy. The parents were very health conscious and loved to cook, and they also had a love for fitness, so I was able to incorporate some nutritional planning and fitness programming into the family’s daily life. I also learned the importance of interpersonal communication to maintain a respectful and professional relationships while working closely with an employer.

4) Describe your second work term

My second work term was as a firefighter for the Ministry of Forests and Range. I wrote a proposal to explain how this experience met the co-op work term requirements and was successful. This was a very challenging work term where I learned people skills, safety requirements and how to push myself beyond my usual limits.

There’s a 3-month application process to become a firefighter. About 1,500 people apply and then 500 are interviewed, and then 160 are invited to a 8-day boot camp in Merritt. When you arrive, you are asked to do a fitness test that you must pass to continue the following days. If you make it through the first test, then you continue with boot camp, which involves an hour and a half of fitness testing in the mornings, followed by 12 hours in the classroom each day. I made it through the application and training process and was assigned to an initial attack crew (a three person crew).  Initial attack fire fighters are mainly transported by helicopter to fires and generally the first on the scene of a fire.  The year I was hired there were around 15-20 females hired in the province.

5) Describe your third work term

At Power to Be Adventure Therapy, we run a wilderness school for youth who have been red flagged by counsellors as potentially high risk.

I’ve been responsible for helping with the intake process. It’s a 5-year program and we only take 10 youth at the first-year level each year. I visited schools to help with presentations about the program and then was involved in the interview process as we got to know these youth and tried to find youth who would work well together.

I’ve also been facilitating some of the fieldwork. We recently went on a 3-day kayak and camping trip to the Cowichan Valley, and another leadership weekend to Saltspring. I planned the food and help organize these trips.

We have a big 5-day trip planned that will bring together youth from all five years of the program and am co-planning this trip.

Another big project has been the resource manual that lists organizations, services, programs and contacts that we can direct people to when we can’t help them one-on-one. It’s been eye-opening to see the range of services that are out there and really useful for our staff to have this type of resource at our fingertips. It means that we can give people a real line into what to do next.

6) How have your work terms contributed to your career goals?

At some point in my career I would like to work with youth and make a long-term impact in their lives regarding health and wellbeing. I found out about Power to Be from a friend in Vancouver who is the director of “The Yes” (another youth camp) and realized that Power to Be is the organization that I’ve always wanted to work for. My dream is to open a similar camp where youth can get back to basics, learn about nutrition and become comfortable in nature. Many kids simply don’t have the resources or knowledge to gain this type of outdoor experience so it’s essential to provide accessible services.

7) What are your plans for the future?

I love working here—it’s so inspiring. The staff go above and beyond with each youth and their hard work is represented through the positive lifestyle changes the youth have made since entering the Wilderness School.

I would love to continue working here in some capacity and then opening a wellness centre that provides visitors with interpersonal communication tools, opportunities to partake in yoga meditation, cooking classes etc; the chance to attend a retreat in nature that promotes health and balance.

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