Youth learn team-building skills as River Runners returns

Matt Gardner
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The River Runners youth camping expedition has returned after a two-year hiatus.

Participants in this year’s River Runners camping expedition take part in a team-building exercise at Kinsmen Park on Friday afternoon, in which a person wearing a blindfold communicates with a partner to move around. Marlissa Gobeil is standing at the far right.

Established in 2006 through a partnership between city police and Prince Albert Parkland Health Region, the annual program offers area youth between the ages of 13 and 18 the chance to take part in a three-day canoeing trip down the North Saskatchewan River.

“We took two years off because the water level was too high to do the trip,” facilitator Dwayne Cameron said.

On Friday afternoon, Cameron – who also serves as director of support programs at the Co-operative Health Centre -- and Staff Sgt. Dave Schluff of the Prince Albert Police Service led more than a dozen young participants in a series of team-building exercises at Kinsmen Park.

Aside from serving as an icebreaker and helping the youth get to know each other, the exercises offered a chance for adult facilitators to get to know the group they would be working with.

“I’m deliberately throwing them into some problem-solving,” Cameron said. “I’m watching who are the leaders, how do they get to know each other … how do they react when I throw them all together in a tight-knit situation, so that I’ve got a sense of the group before we end up on the river and working that out with them.”

Among the activities the youth took part in on Friday were a group juggling activity, a communication game in which one partner was blindfolded while a partner helped direct them, and keeping a volleyball up in the air.

Throughout the activities, Cameron observed the youth to assess each student’s strengths and weaknesses, leadership qualities and the dynamics of the group itself.

Spending an entire day focused on teamwork underscored its importance to the trip.

“It’s a key part,” Cameron said. “When you have fourteen (participants) and you’re going down the river, you've got to work together and use everybody’s strengths to make sure … everybody’s safe, having fun and then figuring out whatever Mother Nature throws at you on the river.

“So you’ve definitely got to work together as a team to figure that stuff out.”

Youth who take part in River Runners are drawn from a pool of applicants who have demonstrated leadership skills in the community -- skills that the camping trip aims to help them further develop while providing a chance to experience the outdoors for those who may not have the opportunity to do so.

We took two years off because the water level was too high to do the trip. Dwayne Cameron

“It may be they’re a single family or maybe their parents just aren’t really into the outdoors and the young person is … It’s youth that show some leadership and really need a summer experience (to) develop some leadership skills and have that opportunity to do that in a River Runners adventure,” Cameron said.

Many of this year’s participants first heard about the River Runners program from others.

“I got told from my teacher, because I lost a member in my family and I thought maybe this would be good to meet some new people and teamwork and earn trust with others,” said Marlissa Gobeil, 12.

Rivier Academy student Jamen Willis, 13, heard about River Runners from her grandmother.

“I came with my cousin to learn some new experiences and meet new people,” she said.

Willis expressed enthusiasm about the chance to live out in the wilderness for a few days and learn new skills such as how to improve her canoeing.

“I’ve only been canoeing once … so it’ll be fun,” she said.

Following Friday’s icebreaker and team-based activities, the students will experience two days of first aid and CPR training courtesy of St. John Ambulance on Monday and Tuesday.

Early Thursday morning, they will meet up at the city police station before being bused out to Fort Carlton with their gear and canoes, after which they will begin the three-day process of returning home to Prince Albert along the North Saskatchewan River.

Cameron noted that the ever-changing nature of the river meant that the students will determine where they will stay overnight only once they embark on the trip.

“That’s part of the adventure.”

Organizations: Prince Albert, Rivier Academy

Geographic location: North Saskatchewan River, Kinsmen Park, Fort Carlton

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