While most students were using the last week of summer to hang out with friends and sleep, Best Buddies members were camping and canoeing on Wisconsin’s Namakagon River to prepare for their 2016 spring break trip to the Florida Everglades.
“Hopefully this will get them more excited for Florida,” said Christina Gagne, special education teacher and Best Buddies advisor. “And hopefully they will be more prepared … and take the challenges from this trip and apply them to Florida.”
Best Buddies is a student-run friendship club, which creates buddy pairs between students with and without disabilities. Club members raised $30,000 to travel to Hawaii in the spring of 2014.
Noah Wolfe, junior and Best Buddies chapter president, said the Namakagon River trip would be a good chance to build teamwork.
“I’m looking forward to bonding with everyone,” Wolfe said. “We will all have to work together to canoe, put up tents and make dinner.”
“We are trying something new: camping away from home … it will be a really interesting experience and it will be really fun,” said Kathryn Mauer, senior.
According to Gagne, students also practiced their canoeing on a day trip on the Milwaukee River last spring and on the club’s annual trip to Lion’s Camp in northern Wisconsin in May.
“We have a lot of students who will go on the Florida trip and it’s important that they are all ready. It’s also fun to spend time outside with everyone,” she said.
Gagne said the Everglades trip will be about a week long, and the majority of the trip will be spent canoeing. However, the students will also hike, explore and swim. It is being sponsored by Wilderness Inquiry, an international organization that, according to its website, connects “people from all walks of life to the naHAtural world through shared outdoor adventures.”
Like they did before the Hawaii trip, students will spend a few weeks learning about their destination.
“We will learn about the ecosystem there and the animals and the barrier islands. We will do a whole study on that so they are ready,” Gagne said.
Gagne described the Everglades trip as “more physically and more emotionally challenging,” than the Hawaii trip.
“Hawaii was like, hike and explore. We stayed in hotels, a house, and a little cabin. This is [going to be] tents, going to bathroom outside and just roughing it,” Gagne said.
Although the Florida trip will not be as expensive as the trip to Hawaii, the club will still have to do a lot of fundraising.
According to Gagne, although there is still a lot of preparation to do, it will pay off in the long run.
“It’s worth it. When you’re there to see the students learn a new skill, especially when they can become independent, it’s really awesome,” Gagne said.
by Katie Eder