Every once in a while, I happen upon a place that stops me in my tracks and makes me pause, and want to write and share about the experience. This week, I happened upon such a place. I visited the SOAR campus in western North Carolina for the first time. SOAR is a high-adventure summer camp, boarding school, and GAP year program for young people living with ADHD, ADD and learning challenges. I was there to meet with the executive team, but my take-away was very personal and inspirational and had little to do with the content of the discussion in our meeting.
I was reminded of something every important… that sometimes when we least expect it, when we’re feeling perhaps at the “end of the road” (quite literally in the case of SOAR, by the way which sits at the end of a road named “Soar Road!” – ha!) not expecting to find something life-changing – THAT’S often where we find new direction and inspiration. Sometimes the “end of the road” is actually where you find your new beginning. Haven’t we all turned a corner, happened upon something unexpectedly and suddenly thought, “wow, this is incredible!” Well, I discovered a wonderful place at this camp and academy called SOAR.
All around me were signs of things I didn’t expect to find, things that clearly show folks here embrace the same principles I believe in. Like this: Challenge yourself. Do something every day that stretches you, scares you even!
(I smiled when I got a tour and was shown this high ropes course below. Just last week I added “Complete a high ropes course” to my bucket list. My fear of heights has kept me from ever doing one before. There’s also one other high-challenge item on my bucket list that faces my fears head on – I’ll get it done. I will!)
This is a place where everyone is encouraged to thrive and be uniquely who they are. Where young people can all be uniquely who they are. And there’s such freedom in that, hence the eagle and the name, SOAR… a place where you can spread your wings and where you aren’t “labeled.”
I hate labels.
I remember a friend who used to obsess about birds. I would see a beautiful bird, colorful and stunning and he would go to great lengths to share with me the scientific genus and species name of the animal: “That’s a Dryocopus pileatus”… “This is a Cyanocitta cristata.”
“Who cares what you call it?,” I would wonder to myself. Just look how beautiful that creature is. You’re missing how special and unique it is. The name or label has nothing to do with what makes it special. Don’t categorize anything, everything doesn’t need to be put in a box.
I guess I also don’t like boxes – ha! I don’t want to be told the answers to questions I didn’t ask. I’m seeing today that SOAR is place where you’re free to ask questions yourself. It’s a place that makes you want to stick around, a place where you belong. Where kids are safe to be themselves… a place where you aren’t told you’re a round peg but you must fit in a square hole. This is a place where our roundness is celebrated. :-)
Another principle I firmly believe in (if you know me, you know this is true): Express yourself creatively every day. I found joyful paintings and all kinds of artwork by the kids. They are encouraged to express and create.
I sense they believe in balance here. Everywhere I turn there is evidence of places and spaces where the mind, body, and spirit are fed….nourishing, resting, and challenging all three. It’s not a linear easy path, I’m sure…it’s certainly not for me. But it comes with habit and practice.
All in all, maybe that sputtering light at the end of the tunnel near the “end of this road” called Soar is the start of a beauty journey of getting to where we all want to be. We can all learn from what goes on here. “When I came to SOAR, I didn’t think I could. But, I found I could,” says a young girl/camper on a company video. I love places and people who build others up. Something tells me SOAR is a place where young people find “you can” and a whole lot more. Welcome to this beautiful place called SOAR.