From volunteer to practicum student and staff member, Gaby Emmett reflects on her time with Power To Be

“You can look at the academic side of (adventure therapy) and there is research on what it means, but there is also what it means for people,” she says. “A big piece of it is providing an opportunity for challenge. With challenge can come a lot of growth in people and also a sense of empowerment.”

A staff member with the Adaptive Recreation team in Victoria, Gaby has a unique perspective on Power To Be’s impact. It comes from her time with the organization as a volunteer in high school, a practicum student while completing her BA in child and youth care and now a staff member. That collective experience has given her insight into every program area, says Carinna Kenigsberg, program manager.

“She is very much a fluid leader. When she is in a group dynamic she brings perspective of pause and reflection, and she speaks to what she notices,” Carinna says. “In the field, you see a different kind of leader come out. She is very confident and ability focused. She brings those two things together to really set our participants up for success.”

Over her six years with the organization, Gaby has seen Power To Be grow in terms of participants and programs, but one thing remains consistent across Adaptive Recreation and Wilderness School.

“Empowering people to challenge themselves is a huge piece of it,” she says. “And providing a space for everyone to experience something and to feel included in the community.”

In order to challenge yourself in nature, you have to feel safe in that environment, she says. That comes from the careful planning by staff to create the experiences and resulting sense of connection and belonging to the group undertaking the activity.

Those shared experiences also create opportunity for people to connect over other aspects of life, such as positive accomplishments or stresses from school or family. Being outdoors provides the space for conversations to develop naturally, allowing the participants to talk through things in a less structured way, Gaby says. The results of those interactions are strong friendships and opportunities for peer mentorship in addition to the support from the staff. It often means that people come back, program after program, as much for the activity as they do for the company.

“They have built these really awesome friendships,” she says. “There is a lot of encouragement between participants to help each other.”

A moment in nature is not without hard work for the team behind Power To Be’s programs. Every day is different as staff members adapt programs to meet individual needs – which can mean finding ways to create lateral support in a canoe or adapting a climbing harness so someone who uses a wheelchair can tackle the indoor wall at Boulders Climbing Gym.

“We have all of these tools either through partnerships or through people who have developed equipment that we can use – for example our one arm kayak paddling device,” she says. “We have these amazing tools that aren’t necessarily available to a lot of people.”

One memorable Adaptive Recreation program on the beach in Tofino helped father-daughter pairs take to the surf with the support of Pacific Surf School. It was a powerful sight to see the wheelchairs left behind on the beach, Gaby says.

20141009-AR Surf program 3

Being able to facilitate those experiences for others is a dream realized for her. Once the logistics are settled and the plan is in place, it’s the simple moments that reinforce the value of the experience.

“One day, we were in a greenhouse and everyone got to plant their own plants. It was great to see people building a connection with nature and growing through that,” she recalls. “No one was talking about what the barriers were. It was just kids and dirt.”

– Story shared by Gaby Emmet,