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'Project Sunset' builds skills through canoeing

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Close to 20 participants of the OPP led youth engagement program, “Project Sunset,” at Crossroads School ventured out to Labelle's Birch Point in Naicatchewenin last Thursday for week two of a five week, summer-long canoeing program.

“The reason we wanted to focus on canoeing is we live in canoe country,” enthused Project Sunset senior youth engagement coordinator, Lincoln Dunn.

“We live in the most beautiful canoeing area in Canada at least, and probably close to the world.”

“You can't find anything better then Quetico Provincial Park or even out around here by Northwest Bay," he added. "These are gorgeous places and we have a large depth of skill as well in our community, so we can pull in community partners who can help us teach those skills to the kids.”

Canoe instructor James Woods of 7 Fires Outdoors has been working with “Project Sunset” youth to build canoeing skills and get them their level one ORCKA certification so they can go on a culminating canoe trip in mid August.

The program is all about healthy risk taking and canoeing is a perfect opportunity for youth to take some healthy risks, explained Dunn.

Ontario Physical Education Safety Guidelines (OPHEA) consider canoeing to be a high risk activity but those risk are mitigated as much as possible through the program's water safety, education, and skill building.

Children who take part in the canoeing aspect of the program have received 8-12 weeks of swimming lessons as well as passed the “Swim to Survive Program.”

“Everything we do in '[Project] Sunset' is laddering to build skills, so we challenge them a little bit, then a little bit more, and a little bit more,” Dunn explained.

“So a logical culminating activity for us was to build canoeing skills all through the summer and then to do a canoe trip at the end of it,” he added.

In addition to canoeing skills, children are also taught practical outdoors and camping skills after each canoeing lesson.

During the group's recent visit to Labelle's Birch Point, “Project Sunset” participants practiced fire starting and next week they will practice tent and tarp setup.

Building skills and learning the basics of how to survive in the outdoors can be very beneficial to children living in rural areas who spend a lot of time out in the woods, noted Dunn.

“It's not hard to get lost when you live in a rural community and are spending a lot of time outdoors,” he explained.

“So what we want to do is equip them with skills so if they do get into that situation they'll know what to do.”

Dunn also wants the kids to learn new things that allow them to have fun outdoors.

“Kids have so much screen time in their worlds these days, so it's really important for us to find ways to get them intentionally away from the screens,” he said.

“Not that screens are all bad but it's moderating the amount of time they're spending on screens and getting them outside more.”

Dunn noted that the program is very outcome-focused, and one of the primary outcomes is developing healthy relationships between the youth and trusted adults.

Through these relationships skill sets are transferred and youth realize there is a supportive “safety net” surrounding them in their community that they are often times unaware of, he added.

“We always hear, don't talk to strangers, only talk to people you know well we're trying to increase the base of people they know so if they get into a situation of crisis they can call on us,” Dunn added.

Moving forward program participants will have three more days of canoe lessons at Labelle's Birch Point before Dunn and the “Project Sunset” team identify a small handful of children from the program to become mentors for next years programming.

These students will be selected for a culminating trip to Quetico on Aug. 21-24, where they and 20 others from the four areas where “Project Sunset” is offered, will learn a variety of leadership and outdoor based skills.

Dunn looks forward to continuing to facilitate “Project Sunset” programming and building positive relationships between the youth and their community.

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