Mission Thrive Summer Gears Up for Third Year

young people examine plants in a grow tunnel

by Tavon Johnson

This is the first post in a series about Mission Thrive Summer.

The Institute for Integrative Health in partnership with Civic Works’ Real Food Farm, is just a week away from launching the third year of our youth summer program, Mission Thrive Summer. Held at the farm’s site in Northeast Baltimore’s Clifton Park, the program gives Baltimore City high school students a chance to garner the tools necessary for a holistically healthy lifestyle.

Mission Thrive Summer has twice as many participants as it did when it began in 2013. This year, 30 students will spend five weeks participating in activities centered on nutrition, fitness, farm-based learning, and mindfulness—the intentional act of seeking inner awareness of one’s emotions, thoughts, and perceptions. Through the program’s partnership with Baltimore City’s YouthWorks initiative, students will earn wages by completing farming projects.

Crew leader training begins

Mentors, called crew leaders, will work alongside the youth, leading, teaching, and guiding their respective student crews. Four crew leaders, Lydia, Morgan, Jeremy, and Kyle, began a hands-on training last week, allowing them to experience many of the same activities in which they’ll mentor the students.

The two-week training includes daily time in the kitchen, where crew leaders are deepening their knowledge of nutrition, meal planning, and cooking. Just as they will when the program begins, these sessions culminate in the preparation of lunch, sometimes incorporating food grown on the farm.

In fitness training sessions, crew leaders are learning about the benefits of different types of exercise, including yoga. Once Mission Thrive Summer gets underway, participants will stretch, pose, and twist their way to lifelong healthy habits with which they can empower their own communities.

Crew leaders are also practicing mindfulness and stress management, another component of the program. A training session in meditation (one of the tools of mindfulness) saw crew leaders “finding their peaceful place” as they practiced calming their minds to de-stress and mentally unwind.

Crew leader Jeremy expressed how beneficial this was: “Doing the meditation training is good because you don’t normally get to focus on not being so worried about everything all at one time.”

Throughout the training, crew leaders are getting acquainted with the inner-workings of an urban farm by identifying farm tools and their functions, harvesting green beans and summer squash, as well as sifting compost piles.

Mission Thrive Summer includes activities to build students’ leadership skills. As an introduction to this, crew leaders participated in a community building exercise: They worked in pairs to create the community of their hearts’ desire within the framework of a quasi-legal system. Other program staff played the roles of sheriff, bankers, and officials.

Ecstatic after learning their loan application had been approved, crew leaders Morgan and Kyle saw how building strong, sustainable communities takes a lot of work from a lot of different people.

“It showed that in leadership, there has to be roles for each person involved in the project,” said Morgan.

Coupled with leadership, Mission Thrive Summer emphasizes teamwork. As mentors, role models, and teachers, crew leaders must be able facilitate collaboration among participants. A workshop on conflict resolution concluded the first week of training, giving crew leaders indispensable tools for success this summer.

Healing is facilitated through safety, persistence, and trust.

  • Persistence: “People did not simply progress through this sequence and experience healing. The healing journey was a recursive, back and forth process. They found helpers, used the skills/resources that those helpers provided, found other helpers that provided more resources and used those skills and resources. As this process continued, people experienced a gradual amelioration of their suffering. Although many despaired at times, all demonstrated the quality of persistence—they refused to give up.”
  • Safety & Trust: “To connect to helpers, it was essential for people to feel safe in those relationships and able to trust that the person would be a helper and not a barrier to healing. Persons whose wounds included a violation of trust were especially careful about testing the safety of new relationships.”

Resources support us as we heal. They include reframing, responsibility, and positivity. “Making connections enabled participants to acquire and refine resources and skills that were essential in their healing journey. People also brought their own personal strengths to the journey.”

  • Reframing: “A particularly important skill was the ability to reframe—that is to look at suffering through a different lens.” This does NOT mean minimizing trauma or pain, but rather it often means the opposite: understanding what happened was wrong, unfair, or uncontrollable and that we are not to blame for it.
  • Responsibility: While we don’t have control over what happened to us, we are the only ones who can help ourselves heal. “A third essential resource that people acquired or refined was the ability to take an appropriate amount of responsibility for their healing journeys. They participated actively in the process of healing. Once again, some participants already had developed this skill, and some acquired or refined it from their helpers.”
  • Positivity: “Another resource that people acquired or refined during their healing journey was choose to be positive—that is to have some optimism about their situation.” People have varying predispositions to positivity. In the study, positivity was important in helping people heal. This doesn’t mean a toxic positivity, but rather simply finding some good in life and feeling hopeful about our situations.

“Connection to others was an essential part of all the healing journeys.” Humans are social creatures, and even the most introverted of us need close relationships. Friends and family add meaning and value to life and help support us, in good times and bad. 

When we experience relational trauma, relationships can feel scary, but reestablishing safety and trust in relationships is where the healing happens. (To be clear, we do not mean reestablishing safety and trust with abusers, but rather finding other healing relationships.) 

“When safety and trust had been established, people were able to connect with helpers. The nature of the behaviours of helpers that fostered healing ranged from small acts of kindness to unconditional love.”

  • “Moving from being wounded, through suffering to healing, is possible. It is facilitated by developing safe, trusting relationships and by positive reframing that moves through the weight of responsibility to the ability to respond.”
  • “Relationships with health professionals were among these but were not necessarily any more important to the healing journey than other kinds of helpers, which included family members, friends, spirituality and their God, pets, support groups, administrators, case workers and supervisors.”

Healing probably means different things to different people, but one definition that emerged from the study is: “The re-establishment of a sense of integrity and wholeness.” 

Healing was an emergent property that resulted from each individuals’ complex healing journey, a result of bridged connections between resources and relationships. “…they gradually found relief from suffering and began to exhibit emergent characteristics: a sense of hope, self-acceptance, and a desire to help others—the immediate precursors to healing.”

 In varying degrees, “they were able to transcend their suffering and in some sense to flourish.” 

  • Helping Others: We find meaning in helping others. “Understanding that suffering gives the strength and experience to help others in similar situations.”
  • Hope: We begin to have hope that we will not always feel this bad. A Crohn’s patient said, “I think gradually I realized that I was going to feel better. I did have days when I actually didn’t vomit, when I did feel better. And I think gradually I came to believe that maybe I could have a normal life again.”
  • Self-Acceptance: We see our inherent value and understand that we are not to blame for our suffering. A participant living with HIV said, “I’m really proud of myself. I think that now I still want to live. I don’t want to die, and I really love myself a lot. I have a lot of comfort in myself.”

Suffering is the ongoing pain from wounding. 

There is debate about whether or not one actually needs to experience suffering on the path to healing.

Wounding happens when we experience physical or emotional harm. It can stem from chronic illness or by physical or psychological trauma for which we do not have the tools to cope, or a combination of those factors. 

“The degree and quality of suffering experienced by each individual is framed by contextual factors that include personal characteristics, timing of their initial or ongoing wounding in the developmental life cycle and prior and current relationships.”

Characteristics: How predisposed someone may be to wounding/how many tools and resources someone may have to deal with trauma/illness.

Lifestages: Developmental timing plays an important role in the impact of trauma — young children often do not have the same resources as older adults.

Relationships: Relationships can provide solace and support for those suffering, while lack of healthy relationships can prolong suffering.