Peer Helper Group retreat builds student-to-student companionship


Photo submitted by Will Corbett

The Peer Helpers gather at Camp Icaghowan on Lake Hiawatha, where the retreat was held during the weekend of Nov. 2. They participated in team building activities and learned tools to be effective in their new roles.

AJ Gunderson, Podcast Reporter

With the recent creation of the Peer Helper Group, a program designed to prepare a group of students to effectively help their peers, the program advisors decided to organize a retreat. This retreat was held at Camp Icaghowan on an island in Amery, Wis., over the weekend of Nov. 2, where the group participated in a number of team building activities, with the intent of building trust among the group.

Health and wellness organizations throughout the community, including Family Means and Youth Service Bureau, came forward with recommendations to improve students social and emotional well being, which sparked the idea for the program. Part of creating a program like this is to offer a retreat that gets the Peer Helpers out of the school environment and focuses on team building and skills training, while also developing infrastructure for the program.

“No, it’s not an eight to five kind of thing, we do activities into the evening. We do team building outside, we do initiatives out in the woods, all different kinds of team building games outside that you can’t do in the classroom. Putting students into nature to get to know each other has a really unique way of bonding people,” Peer Helper Advisor Mike Kaul said.

The Peer Helper group consists of students ranging from grades nine to twelve, so it was a diverse age group going into this experience. Many Peer Helpers did not know each other prior to the weekend, which challenged them to grow as a group as the days went on. The team building experiences in nature helped develop a close bond between the Peer Helpers that could not have been achieved in any other environment.

“We got up there and no one knew each other at all. We are all in different friend groups, which I kind of see as the most important part because we cover the whole school with just this group of 25 kids,” senior Will Corbett said.

I learned that helping people isn’t giving them advice, it’s just listening to them and making sure that they feel okay with who they are as a person and what they’re doing.”

— Sam Schraurt

The people who made this program and retreat possible include Peer Helper Advisors Chelsea Dodds and Brandon Maxwell, as well as program leader and trainer Mike Kaul. These advisors are commited to guiding and supporting this group of students as they develop thier natural gifts of helping others.

“I set up the agenda and parameters for camp so that students could get on the bus and go there for three days and have an awesome time,” Kaul added.

Specific skills that the Peer Helpers learned throughout the weekend were self care, listening and being supportive. The team building activities helped build trust within the group so that they can support one another going forward in their new roles as Peer Helpers.

“I learned that helping people isn’t giving them advice, it’s just listening to them and making sure that they feel okay with who they are as a person and what they’re doing,” junior Sam Schraut said.

“I know the retreat is effective because I see the students who went on the retreat walking around the school; I see them hug each other; I see them talk to each other; I see them interact in a way that they never interacted two weeks ago. Something in their relationships have changed. And so, there is a connection there and a trust and a bond that wasn’t there before and that tells me that the things that we did made a difference,” Kaul added.