On Februaryretreat 1 17th, 17 youth organizers, 2 junior facilitators and 5 staff members from YO S.O.S. traveled to Princeton-Blairstown Center in New Jersey for an overnight retreat that was jam-packed with leadership and team building challenges, a workshop on the importance of self care, and many memorable bonding experience filled with joyful laughter and cheers of encouragement. Oh, and one can not forget the campfire with s’mores!

The group gathered on Wednesday morning at the YO S.O.S office, where they set intentions for the trip before heading off to the wilderness of Princeton, New Jersey. Many of the Youth Organizers set intentions around building deeper connections and trust between one another, others were eager to leave the city for a quieter environment, some were excited to partake in new experiences and challenges, while others wanted to have a dance-off and hear the scariest ghost stories possible around the evening campfire.

Wednesday’s programming included a series of team challenges led by Princeton-Blairstown staff in the surrounding woods. Some of the challenges were puzzlers that required clever thinking and strong communication to accomplish successfully. Others  were more physical and required all Youth Organizers to work together and support one another to complete the mission. After a hearty dinner, YO S.O.S took part in a workshop on self-care and stress management. Youth Organizers practiced deep breathing techniques and discussed the the pressures they face in their lives. The importance of creating a self-care plan and partaking in stress relieving activities were highlighted. The workshop concluded with a captivating guided visualization to the beach to practice self calming techniques.

During free time the youth showed off their basketball skills despite the frigid weather. They also bonded over hot chocolate and board games such as UNO, Jenga, Dominos and Twister, just to name a few. One of the highlights of the day was a spirited dance party in which youth and staff alike showed off their moves.

In the evening, the group gathered around a campfire in which everyone shared what they were grateful for by tossing in additional wood to keep the fire roaring. It was a beautiful expression of the youth’s appreciations and their understanding that any fire can easily go out without the help of others in their lives. Responses included appreciations for the new friendships they have created with other youth organizers in YO S.O.S., acknowledgement of supportive friends, and recognition of family members both alive and deceased. The campfire was followed by the making of delicious s’mores and an evening of scary storytelling. At the end of the night, youth organizers retreated to quaint log cabins where they fell asleep by the warmth of wood fired stoves.

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On Friday morning, the group arose early for breakfast followed by an invigorating activity led by Princeton-Blairstown staff. Each youth were equipped with helmets and harnesses and assisted in climbing an extremely tall rock wall. It was a challenging activity in which all youth were able to overcome their fears and assist each other in climbing as high up as possible!

The retreat concluded with an activity in which everyone was seated in a circle and passed around a roll of thread that they wrapped around their wrists. As the thread was passed from person to person each participant shared one thing they were taking away from this experience and one compliment to the person sitting to their right. One response to what they were taking away from this experience was, “It’s not important to be the center of the show but to help in getting the job done efficiently. I learned to listen and control my attitude.” One Youth Organizer stated that they had learned the value of, “Being open minded and speaking up when I have something to say.” Another Youth Organizer reflected, “My favorite parts were coming out to the wilderness and getting closer to everyone.” Summing it up, one Youth Organizer cleverly commented, “Teamwork makes the dream work!” By the end of this activity each person was communally attached to each other. Many youth left with their portion of the thread still wrapped around their wrists as a memory of the time they spent together. As always, this period of reflection was closed with the YO S.O.S Hug It Out activity in which everyone wraps their arms around the next to make one large circle to acknowledge their collective power and purpose by chanting the chosen words for the group that day. The youth choose to chant “Powerful teamwork!”  

The group returned to Crown Heights on Thursday afternoon invigorated by the experience they all shared. Conversations about raising money to repeat the trip in the summer displayed not only their enthusiasm but also how energized and inspired they are to continue building powerful youth movements and working towards social change.

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