No matter how high the peak, how craggy the slope, or how narrow the path, trails don’t judge. A trail will never ask you, “What took you so long?” or “Why did you take the left instead of the right?” or “Why the heck did you turn around?” A trail lets you judge yourself, and motivates you to keep pushing forward – it’s through this that TWP students find a new sense of confidence and a renewed drive to succeed against all odds. Now the trails may be free of judgment, but they’re not free of challenge. Trails are the avenues on which TWP students discover the leader within.
But trails like those of Yosemite, Olympic, Donner Pass and Glacier do not avail themselves with ease. Especially to our students who grow and change in remarkable ways from the moment they arrive at the airport for their summer trips. First time flying? First time traveling outside of Houston? First time away from their parents? First time to play with snow? First time to run through a forest, scale a peak, swim in a river fed by snow melt, first time to make and eat a s’more, to meditate in the wilderness? First time to lead? Yes. For so many of our students, yes. And this, their equalized playing field, is where they get to laugh and cry, sing and stay silent, find themselves at home with new friends and feel the pangs of homesickness, all with the knowledge that these trails are truly just the beginning.
The Woods Project changes lives in a thousand different ways! Kihana, now a senior at Chinquapin Prep, recalls:
TWP was my introduction to outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, and camping, which have since become passionate hobbies of mine – hobbies I likely would have never discovered if not for TWP.
As someone with clinical anxiety, the opportunity to go on these weekend getaways out in nature is profoundly healing and invigorating for me. I’ve always loved nature, but being totally engulfed in it and isolated from the on-goings of civilization and the everyday grind is something which I’ve adopted as a coping mechanism. In other words, The Woods Project is literally healing for me.
Being surrounded by mountains in Glacier National Park far away from home was life changing! It was so refreshing for me; it is beyond words. Spending two weeks of summer in Montana, with The Woods Project, truly increased my confidence both socially and as a leader. I learned that my opinions matter, and my effort has actual weight in situations requiring teamwork.
I went into this trip primarily focused on developing my physical and mental endurance. I told myself that I would keep my head down, push through the physical activity and work on disciplining myself mentally and not worry or concern myself with anyone else. I realized, however –not even when we arrived to the base campsite– but before we even left the for the first flight, how very foolish that plan was. You see, throughout almost my entire life, I have struggled with social intelligence. I’ve never truly bonded with anyone my age. Gradually, over the years, as I became aware of this struggle of mine and taught myself to shut myself off from people so that I wouldn’t be disappointed when I didn’t connect with my peers as I imagined.
When I arrived at the camp in Montana, however, I quickly realized that isolating myself was highly impractical. A central tenet of The Woods Project was to encourage social interaction and develop team-building skills. I would say the major turning point that significantly affected my confidence with socializing was half-way into the five-day backpacking trip in the backcountry. My group was struggling with bonding together, so at campfire at night, we had a really open, honest discussion. As everyone shared their most intimate and painful experiences, I somehow found the courage to speak of my own. The sympathy and reaction we all received from each other after that night had a drastic effect on our group. For me in particular, I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted, and I found the confidence in myself that I could actually connect with my peers.
That summer in Montana has stayed with me. I can say with full confidence that I have never been more happy, social, and confident as a student, in myself and my abilities, and my worth as a person.