Peckham Youth Services launched a partnership with Michigan State University Residential College of Arts and Humanities (MSU RCAH) in the fall of 2016 to develop a travel abroad opportunity for at-risk youth. Peckham and RCAH have a long history of developing innovative projects for at-risk youth such as Project RestART (a community art project) and a moral reasoning program called The World Peace Games. When Vincent Delgado, former Assistant Dean for Civic Engagement, was promoted to become the Director of the Program on Sustainability in Costa Rica, the wheels immediately started to spin to explore the idea of sending court involved youth to Costa Rica.
With tremendous support from our local court (Ingham County 30th Judicial Court – Family Division), MSU RCAH, and Peckham, the trip started to take form. The Peckham Foundation graciously contributed $7,000 towards the trip. The remaining $13,000 was raised through fundraising and donations.
Seven students were selected out of over three-hundred Peckham youth to take part in our first ever Travel Abroad program. The seven students were selected based on their application, interview, and status at their school and with the court. Students were selected in March 2017 and participated in weekly meetings as they participated in team building, moral reasoning skill development, fundraising efforts, and studied the culture and environment of Costa Rica.
The Costa Rica trip 2017 took place August 8-16. During days 1-3 the students stayed at Centro Lingüístico Conver S.A. Here the students learned about sustainability, studied Spanish for 4-5 hours per day, and participated in team building activities. Students had the opportunity to explore the lush environment and learn about species and plants.
On day 4 the students packed up and headed to the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific Ocean. None of the students have ever seen the ocean, so this experience was magical. The students saw humpback whales, sea turtles, and when they snorkeled, they were able to see 1oo’s of different species of fish and ocean life.
Days 5-8 were spent at Life Monteverde in Puntarenas Costa Rica. Life Monteverde is an association of twelve families with a strong background in agriculture and nature conservation. The group members have various professions and skills, including forestry, environmental education, administration and finances, coffee trade, agriculture, human resources and arts. Their mission is to produce, protect, and educate, which contributes to perpetuate life on earth. Students hiked a cloud forest reserve, built relationships with locals, and lived with a Costa Rican Family. The highlight for the students was ziplining over the canopy of the rainforest. One of the ziplines measured over 425meters! It was a breath-taking experience and the students were pushed both mentally and physically to complete the tour.
Students on the trip left their mark at Monteverde. Students spent days building a meditation platform and planted many avocado tres in the rainforest to help with reforestation. On the last day the students also created wooden plaques to leave along the trail to inspire and motivate future visitors.
Taking 7 at-risk youth out of the country for a travel abroad trip has never been done before. It was a risk that Peckham, RCAH, and Ingham County Circuit Court were willing to take. Every night the students participated in journaling. One of the prompts given to the students was to write a letter to their future self and this is what one of the students had to say, “Remember you were in Costa Rica. You learned the meaning of courage, life, and sustainability, but more importantly, you found yourself. An amazing YOU! You allowed yourself to trust, love, balance, & self-worth! So please don’t lose that & if you ever feel like you are, please open this letter every time!”
Students had the opportunity to heal in Costa Rica. Herida de Vida (Wounds of Life) is a saying in Costa Rica that means when things are hurt or broken, add new life. The students added new life to inner corners of the hearts. They bonded with each other, with the staff, and with themselves. Often in the rat race of teenage life, they seldom get the chance to reflect and invest in themselves. This trip to Costa Rica not only offered the opportunity to learn about environmental sustainability, but personal life sustainability.