Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

Program builds connections, understanding

by A.J. Hakim Staff Writer

December 13, 2012

We’re not alone. We all seek to feel accepted, oftentimes striving to great lengths to create an entirely new persona to achieve that desire; in the process, building self-inflicted emotional wounds, barriers that prevent the true self from ever surfacing. Possibly out of fear of rejection, not realizing that beneath those barriers reveals schools of people connected in their pains, their fears, their pressures, their struggles.

“If we can break down our walls and get to know each other and understand each other, that maybe we can stop hurting each other,” said Lisa Steiner, coordinator of Grosse Pointe North High School’s Challenge Day, a national program in its sixth year at North. “When they cross the line — they do this very, incredible, deep activity where you cross the line and you cross the line for all these different things that are in your life. They learn and they look around, and what I’m hoping is that they start to smile at each other in the hallway, that they take the ear buds off and they communicate. That they break down their walls.”

For two days, Challenge Day facilitators Jon Gordon and Flo Luebke engaged 100 students and a handful of leaders and adults in experiential workshops and programs designed to build connection and empathy and to empower and celebrate their true selves. Throughout, Gordon and Luebke encouraged compliments and love, open-mindedness, listening, change and dropping the waterline and “getting real.”

“We all live 10 percent above our waterline, and all that stuff we have we carry around,” Steiner said. “This is our image. And it’s teaching the children to let who you are out. Keep your image, don’t only go part of it, be 100 percent. Be your image, but be yourself.”

It’s an emotionally taxing two days of personal and group reflection, connection and understanding, during which facilitators address issues like violence, teasing, social oppression, racism, harassment, peer pressure and substance abuse, as well as acceptance, love and change.

“This is a special place, really special place,” Gordon said. “The team leaders are really dedicated, the adults are really dedicated, the students are courageous. And they know how to have fun, which is important.

“There’s a lot of attention paid to the emotion, and by emotion, people mean crying. The day is such a wide range of emotions plural. The majority of the day is some hilarious stuff. The students here today were awesome. The experience here has been phenomenal.”

Founded in 1987 by Yvonne and Rich Dutra St. John, Challenge Day inspires middle to high school-aged students nationwide to “be the change they wish to see in the world” and to notice, choose and act.

“I think it’s a tremendous awareness for kids,” said Tom Tobe, North’s interim principal. “It gives them an opportunity some times to open up and I cannot see how this would not carry over into school and be a very, very positive impact. Every one of them had an opportunity to see they’re not alone.”

See page 3A II for more on Challenge Day.