Inspired by Our Diversity

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Challenge Day Creates a New Way to Face Adversity

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Who among us has not been teased for the way we look, walk or speak? Who hasn’t felt uncomfortable in among a certain group of people because we didn’t fit in and felt unwelcome? Who hasn’t judged someone for their size, hair, clothes, finances or where they live? Who has a need to heal past hurts, make amends or find common ground with people who differ from us?
Separation, isolation and loneliness are the root cause of a wide range of teen issues (as well as for adults) from teasing, bullying, stereotyping, racism, violence and suicide.

I just spent the day at Summit High School at Challenge Day, a special one-day workshop where youth, teachers, parents and community members come together to find ways to reduce the teasing and bullying, increase students’ self-esteem and build empathy and compassion for others.

I was motivated to participate in this eye opening event by Ryan Kelly, a senior at Mt. View High School, who spoke about his learning abilities and participation in Challenge Day at a recent Rotary Club meeting. I was overwhelmingly impressed by Ryan’s articulate and inspiring message and what a life changing event Challenge Day had been for him.

Ryan explained that he first attended a workshop at Mt. View last year where he came to realize that everyone, not just himself, faces some kind of adversity. “We shared very personal fears, heard stories that were deep and moving, inspiring us to open up about our own anxieties,” he said. “We became instantly supportive of one another. You see these kids every day, but you don’t realize that they’re facing adversity and problems and that they’re being teased by other students for just being different.

“I learned that it’s almost like giving the benefit of the doubt, every single person can feel judged, you don’t just visually profile someone, you must see past their skin color. And it’s not just for kids but the parents and community members get just as much out of this as we do.”

Ryan has some learning abilities that he has had to overcome. His parents got him into alternative learning programs and he missed a huge part of school, which is why he felt kids didn’t accept him. But today he’s Mt. View’s student body president and after attending Challenge Day he said, “I knew I had to get this program back at our school. I knew that whatever it took we all need this.”

Teenagers (and adults) are faced with a myriad of life challenges and opportunities. My experience is that Challenge Day, an emotional experience for everyone, helps us better appreciate our peers’ similarities and differences.

The workshops have gained momentum across the country as an effective interactive, personal growth and anti-bullying/teasing program and have been featured on Oprah and MTV’s If You Really Knew Me series.

The program is run by highly-trained, exceptionally motivating leaders with their own moving personal stories and relies on assistance from volunteers and staff.  It is delivered by a nonprofit organization that started in 1987 and has served more than 1 million youth.  It is funded locally by Serendipity West Foundation, which has directly impacted more than 1,400 teens and 500 adult volunteers at 15 Challenge Days in seven middle and high schools in Central Oregon.

“In surveys conducted after Challenge Days, students report that 82.1 percent of the students surveyed were more aware of the ethics of teasing and the effects of bullying,” said Carol Oxenrider, founder and CEO of Serendipity West Foundation. Serendipity West Foundation that provides grants and funding for the local Challenge Day events.

La Pine, Mountain View and Summit Challenge Days are scheduled through March 2.

 
I encourage you to volunteer: www.challengeday.org and www.SerendipityWest.org.  541-382-1093.

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