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A Leadership Program That Changed My Life

Over the 2019 summer, I had the privilege to attend the Pathfinder Leadership Program at Camp Kandalore under a full scholarship, and I didn’t realize how much of an impact it would have on my life afterwards. This journey first started when I saw an ad for the scholarship applications on Instagram. From reading the website, the program seemed highly intriguing; participants would get to go on a whitewater canoe trip, earn their ORCKA Level 3 (whatever that​ was), earn volunteer hours and a high school credit, and more. Additionally, I had never attended a summer camp before, so this would be a new experience to try. After I submitted my application, I had an interview, and a week later, I received an email about the leadership program; I had received a full scholarship and was the only one to that summer! I was ecstatic​, and I had so many questions to ask. However, leading up to the summer, since I was accepted months before then, the issue of transportation arose which was a potential barrier between me and camp. At that point, I started to lose interest in the program as I considered the length of it; it was a month-long, and I had never been away from home for such a period of time. Fortunately, my friends and family encouraged me to go, and I am grateful for it; the camp experience and environment were ​incredible​.

Life At Camp I recall first getting off the bus at the camp, knowing no one and feeling super nervous. The Pathfinders had all gathered in one area of the parking lot as we were going to be taken to our cabins, and in that group, I decided to strike up a conversation with one of the girls who was also alone, and little did I know that we would become best friends soon after. The program and camp took some time to get used to; camps obviously have traditions and games that they follow which can be very strange and odd. For example, at every meal, we had to wait for the camp director to ring a bell, we would all stand, sing a short camp song (typically related to eating), and then play a game to determine who the hopper would be who essentially would get the food from the kitchen for the table and clean up afterwards. I grew to love the traditions and silly games shortly after, but there was also another challenge I faced that I find worth noting. I had difficulty being comfortable around the other Pathfinders; they were all very different from me in personality. However, as the month progressed, naturally, we all got closer together, especially after the whitewater canoe trip we took about halfway through the program (which I’ll get to later). The staff were incredibly kind, supportive, and hilarious, and the kids were also fantastic and fun to work with; as part of the program, Pathfinders would be placed in cabins with younger children and help them through their bedtime routine, hang out with them during their free time, participate in games and activities with them, and sit with them during meals. We worked with two of the three age categories, and I absolutely enjoyed the experience! The youngest kids were lots of fun; they were hilarious and chaotic and though they often presented challenges, they were super sweet, adorable, and lovely to talk to and hang around. The older kids were just as fun as well; we were able to talk more, and I didn’t have to worry about them as much which was a nice contrast. I developed many skills from this experience; the kids tested my patience, I definitely had to take an authoritative and leadership role with them, and I better understood how to treat and behave with children so that they’re comfortable with you and enjoy your company. Along with the cabin placements, I chose activity placements as well where I learned to master activities and assist the children there. I chose kayaking, sailing, high ropes, and archery/crossbow which were really cool experiences. They were activities I had never tried before and/or ones that I would have little opportunity to do at home. While getting to try them myself, it was fun to chat with campers and counsellors at the activities as well as assist and play games with campers. However, the most memorable part of the program was the canoe trip we went on.

The Whitewater Canoe Trip At Camp Kandalore, it’s a tradition that every camper goes on a canoe trip which they simply call “trip”, and they pride themselves in “tripping”. I had never done anything like this before, and while we had taken canoe lessons every day as part of the program prior to the trip, the thought of it still made me anxious, especially since some of my new friends said they hated trip. However, I think that it’s safe to say that it was the best part of my entire summer. We went for 5 days, and riding along the rapids of the Madawaska River in a canoe with my best friend was lots of fun, and though we got stuck a few times between rocks and tipped our canoe in a rapid, these challenges were part of the adventure. It was absolutely beautiful as well; we would paddle to a new location each day down the river until we got to the end, and the environment was a sight for sore eyes. Along the river were lush, green forests, and we would camp in the woods alongside the Madawaska, too, which was breathtaking. The trip was also quite a workout; sometimes we would paddle up to 5 hours a day with few rests, but it was worthwhile. After arriving at each campsite, we would take a swim in the river, play cards with one another, and embrace our surroundings. We would also play games, and we all took turns cooking in groups each day. When we were arriving at the last campsite, we saw smoke rising from the forest. Our tripper (the person who is qualified to lead a group on a canoe trip safely) checked on it and found a stump all burnt with smoke coming out. Fires are illegal on the Madawaska, and I believe there was a fallen log right next to the stump with a burnt and smoking end as well, so we assumed that the tree was struck by lightning at some point in time. We formed a chain from the river to the tree, passing along buckets and containers of water to put out the smoke in case a fire were to spread. It was definitely a memorable and once-in-a-lifetime moment! Overall, the canoe trip was an amazing time, not only for the adventure but, because of the friendships we developed, which sounds really corny, but it’s true. At camp, we Pathfinders were always separated during our activity or cabin placements, but trip really allowed us to come together and bond which was a wonderful experience. On the last night, we did a group reflection and sat together to watch the sunset over the Madawaska River which was absolutely magical and a moment that I’ll never forget. In fact, as part of the Pathfinder legacy at the camp, each year the leaders paint a wooden foot that captures their time at Kandalore as a Pathfinder to be hung up in the dining hall, and we decided to paint that picture-perfect scene from our canoe trip.

Aftermath This camp and program changed my life, and I’m glad I took the shot and applied for the Pathfinder Scholarship. I met incredible people, made amazing memories, and left my mark at Kandalore. I got to try many new things as well, such as the canoe trip, and developed my leadership skills remarkably. I highly suggest that you check it out and apply for the Pathfinder Scholarship as well as Camp Kandalore in general! Even if you are afraid of or are anxious about camp, the canoeing aspect, or anything really, I learned when I was there that I didn’t have to be scared of anything because your peers in the program become your supports, and Camp Kandalore fosters a wonderful environment and atmosphere for learning and growth; you will come out of the program with confidence and an unforgettable experience! Check it out here: ​​. If this program doesn’t appeal to you, and it won’t for everyone, I still highly suggest finding a program that suits your passions or that you find interesting, such as the ones here on Youth of Canada’s website, and applying/attending, even if you are anxious or have doubts about it; these types of programs are supposed to push your boundaries, and you’ll be better for it! -- Written by Leanne Tran

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