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Nature camp gives Fort St. John youth freedom to be themselves

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – If you’ve taken a stroll through the Fish Creek community forest recently, it’s hard to …

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – If you’ve taken a stroll through the Fish Creek community forest recently, it’s hard to miss the many stick forts amidst the fall foliage. They are the handiwork of kids involved with Camp Wildlings, which celebrated its fourth year this summer.

Susan McGarvey, education co-ordinator for the Northern Environmental Action Team, oversees the program and says it’s been a great opportunity for youth to become grounded in nature and giving them a space where they can be themselves.

“I will tell you that this forest heals people. We see kids come out who are a handful and by the end of the week they’re not,” said McGarvey. “This forest is a place to come out and really connect. And nature grounds you in all of those things, it is 100 per cent true.”

The kids came up with the idea on their own and are given free rein to develop activities. McGarvey says the program has seen great outcomes for children exhibiting problem behaviours in school and those on the autism spectrum.

The number one rule is to be kind to one another, and safety is close behind, says McGarvey. She added newer generations are more likely to be closely monitored by their parents, a stark contrast to the latchkey kids of generations past.

“We live in a bubble wrapped world right now, so the concept of letting kids do whatever they want is strange for some people. We let them climb trees and build forts, and play with saws and hatchets in a safe environment,” said McGarvey.

The program originated as part of NEAT’s food security initiatives, which saw youngsters out in nature to begin with. Fall camps are set to continue into November, and open to youth from Kindergarten to Grade 6 on Pro-D days.

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