Journey – Front Row Seat to Grit and Creativity

Journey Program Manager Dakin Hewlett (right) tends a campfire and shares stories with a Journey student.

By Dakin Hewlett, Journey Program Manager

Reflecting on the past three months I’ve shared with students in the Journey program I found myself rooted. Rooted to what, I’m not exactly sure. You most likely don’t know my name. We probably haven’t met since my arrival in Maine from Pennsylvania to step into the role of Journey Program Manager in late May.

I didn’t know what to expect from this dense landscape I was moving to, or how I would engage as an individual from away with the community. My story isn’t new. People often move to different places and must learn to navigate the “first time” feeling. An activity as simple as ordering a drink at the local coffee shop turns disorienting while figuring out where to stand in line.  

Learning about a community and your place in it takes time. I wondered how I would connect with Downeast students, how to begin building relationships, and how to lead programming that would resonate with their life experiences.

In June, 7th grade students arrived at the Mission’s Downeast Campus in Cherryfield for our session together. It felt like the first day of school. My voice wavered at times. The group was quiet when I, a stranger, asked them to share a little bit about themselves.

The Journey program is a diverse group of students tethered by shared values. Each cohort identifies group norms that will help guide us through our years together, such as:

  • be kind
  • try new things
  • communicate
  • listen to others, and
  • be supportive

It can be difficult to share your own story. But over the next few months, I was humbled to hear many stories told by our forty-plus students. Stories told during hikes, campfires, swimming, car rides, community service, fishing, cooking and in other situations. Students shared their experiences, passions, hopes, dreams, fears, and worries.
With each story I felt more connected to place. They shared their deep roots with Downeast, which allowed me to begin establishing my Maine roots.

Working with Journey students gives me a front row seat to community building, resiliency, hard work, grit, and creativity. The students are connectors, seed sowers, believers, dreamers, and innovators. 

As summer ends and another school year approaches, I know each student will step into that feeling of “first day,” and meet it – just as all the Journey students did when asked to challenge themselves to discover something new. Whether it was saying yes to a ropes course, pushing to reach the top of Tunk Mountain, sharing their perspective with peers, or stepping forward to lead an activity, each student pushed further outside their comfort zone.

Experiencing those moments with them is a wonderful reminder for me to embrace this new challenge, and to not be afraid to adapt along the way.  

Learn more about Journey.

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