The Power of Patience: Building Community in Youth Leadership Adventures

A guest post by Youth Leadership Adventures instructor Kaylin Lilly

I had one huge question: is this what they actually need? Is this experience something that will be helpful for these students? Is this 9-day canoe experience pulling these students from more pressing issues in their life? I’m asking these questions because many of these students already understand the barriers they face, and have had to face them in much more confronting ways than I ever have.

It is a strange feeling to want everyone to experience the privilege of a long canoe journey, while also holding a feeling of uncertainty.

Are we doing these trips solely to create a perception of diversity in the outdoors, or to actually break barriers for those who are denied access to the backcountry? I want to be doing these trips for students as individuals; I want to see them beyond those identities. I see them as people that are searching for meaning and connection in their own lives, in the same way that I am. While I hold all of that to be true, I also know that these identities are important to acknowledge because the construction of these differences in our culture has created extreme disparities.

There were so many thoughts spinning in my head and—by the end—there was a vast change in myself. I went from a rushing mind to an acceptance of being. Ultimately, these students taught me how to harness and hold patience.

On this trip there were students that spoke many different languages. Both Talia and I were eager to practice our broken Spanish. We started the trip by guiding the students first in English and then in our Spanish. We were lucky enough to have Teresa, a student mentor, who took on the role of translating when there was a lot of information to pass on.

On our second day we plopped the students into the canoes with the anticipatory joy to watch them grow from beginner bumper boat paddlers to experienced canoers. We pushed Ross Lake all the way to our next camp, with many snack breaks and awkward Spanglish conservations. Our first Summit arrived, which is our daily evening meeting where we come together, tell stories, and share vulnerable dedications and gratitudes of our day. That was when I got a peek into how special this trip was about to be.

Summit was already full of vulnerabilities in both English and Spanish, but students waited patiently until everyone understood in their own language what vulnerability was just shared. Peace of mind fell on Talia and I by the end of the day. We shared a proud glance, knowing we had truly begun the journey.

As the trip went on, we purposely placed students together that had bilingual ability with students that spoke Spanish. While this felt like the obvious helpful route for making students feel comfortable, something new began to emerge. Everyday there was a deep effort to connect. Even if there weren’t words shared, the students wanted to be in the presence of each other and understand each other. They held space for each other so patiently, making sure everyone digested what was said.

They would communicate with each other in simple sentences and teach each other words, but the best was the visual and body language everyone shared. Big grins, big hugs, and patience in the uncomfortable space of not knowing how to talk to one another. It created this deep understanding of one other. An understanding of how everyone operates in that uncomfortable vulnerable space of not knowing.

The silence that was shared was so much more powerful than the words themselves. The patience to allow everyone to understand turned this experience into something much greater than simply an adventurous canoeing trip. It began to meld the students into one family that had many different experiences and hardships.

I was floored by the power of patience. How simple it was, and how missing it is in our everyday lives. We rush to understand, we rush into doing, we rush every process. We struggle so much with allowing things to be uncomfortable. These students really showed how powerful patience is for understanding one another. These students showed me how it is possible to connect with people different from me as long as I allow patience.

The final night Talia and I had our routine check in on the grated dock. We sat in awe of our trip and sat there patiently, without many words. The bright stars faded as the full moon rolled over the mountains and filled the dark sky with a blinding light. We reflected on going back to reality, and what our lives felt like before we left. We both shared the feeling of letting things be, and not forcing anything.

It wasn’t until after the trip that I understood that it was the learning I had gained from the trip that was slowly resonating into my mind and body. It was this deep desire to embody patience in my life in the way I had watched these students do.

Together, we created this deeply meaningful and powerful place for community where all could be authentic, expressive, and connected—all without the use of words.


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