Jennifer is a two-time Outward Bound graduate, having completed youth courses at the ages of 14 and 15. At a time when she felt alone and abandoned, her Outward Bound expedition, funded by generous donors gave her the courage and resilience to create a successful and fulfilling life as career councillor and mother. This summer she is embarking on her third Outward Bound expedition in Clayoquot Sound to celebrate her 40th birthday. Read her story of how Outward Bound changed her life, below.
"Outward Bound not only changed my life; it saved my life. Before Outward Bound, I was broken. I'd been abandoned by my family at the age of 12. Due to my age and behavioural issues, no foster family wanted me. I ended up in a group home because there was nowhere else for me to go. Fortunately, my Children's Aid Case Worker was supportive and encouraging. I had the opportunity to go to Outward Bound, generously funded by the Royal Bank of Canada. I completed a Youth Challenge near Thunder Bay in 1994 when I was 14, and a Leadership Challenge near Burk's Falls the following year.
Whenever I doubt myself, I remember the long, humid, black fly-infested canoe portage experience I had during one of my Outward Bound expeditions. With a heavy pack on my back and a stern-heavy canoe on my shoulders in dense forest with black flies attacking my exposed skin, I carried on. When my portaging partner couldn't take over for me, I carried on. When I thought I might collapse from exhaustion and frustration, I carried on. When two-thirds into the portage, I collapsed from exhaustion and frustration, letting the canoe drop from my shoulders against a tree before hitting the ground with a loud thump, shrugging my heavy pack from my aching shoulders and crying out in frustration, I suited back up, and I carried on. And when the forest cleared and my destination finally came into view, I unclenched my jaw and smiled my greatest smile. I'd done it! The victory was that much more glorious because it hadn't been easy.
The remembering of this experience served me well in 2002. After having dropped out of college in 2001, my confidence was at an all-time low. At the same time, I felt frustrated in my dead-end job and wanted more for myself. So, once again, I suited back up and I carried on. And when the forest cleared, I was a two-time college graduate at the top of my class, with a bright future as a career counselling professional.
My three-day Outward Bound solo experiences also had a profound impact on me. It had rained the whole time, leaving everything on my private little island soaked. I could've been miserable, unable to light a fire, a meagre supply of food I couldn't cook, and a makeshift tent made of a sheet of plastic draped over a line of string.
I could've been scared with the rumbling thunder and piercing cracks of lightning. I could've been bored with nothing more to do than think, journal, or explore. However, I wasn't miserable or scared or bored; I chose to be grateful, as had been exemplified by Outward Bound. Grateful for the opportunity to be there; grateful for my new friends and teachers; grateful for the wondrous adventure; and grateful for the chance to reflect.
Remembering this solo experience served me well in 2010 when I was laid-off after five years of dedicated service due to government-funding cutbacks in employment services. I was devastated. It took nearly a year and a half to secure new employment due to the labour market situation. In that time, my greatest solace was gratitude. Gratitude for what I did have. Gratitude for what I believed would come my way again. Just as on my private little island at Outward Bound, the storm eventually passed, the clouds dissipated, and the sun shone once more. Gratitude had seen me through.
More recently, beginning in 2013, the impact of my Outward Bound experiences have helped me persevere through the many ups and downs of being a single working mother. I've often thought to myself, 'I made it through that portage, and I'll make it through this, too.' In 2017, my son was diagnosed with autism. Since then, I've been his fiercest advocate, digging deep as I did during my Outward Bound expeditions to make sure he gets the support he needs to realize his potential. My awareness of my strength, which allows me to do this originates from my Outward Bound experiences.
Before Outward Bound, I was broken. During Outward Bound, I was empowered. After Outward Bound, I was powerful. Outward Bound not only changed my life; it saved my life. My Outward Bound instructors wrote this about me following my Youth Challenge: "Jenn is a lioness who knows her beauty, her strength, and compassion for others. She glides through the jungle, watching and learning, accepting each new challenge with a positive spirit."
I donate to Outward Bound because Outward Bound expeditions build resilience. As a career councillor, I can tell you that the number one thing people need to be successful in their career and life is resilience. This is why everyone should support them in the incredible work that they do."