A recent firefighter training session brought home the importance of life skills for a small group of young people from the Portage Keremeos addiction recovery centre.
The 20 teens, 10 girls and 10 boys, recently spent two days with the professionals from Penticton Fire Rescue as part of a career-orientation session.
But according to some of the participants, it proved to be much more than just a glimpse at post-recovery employment.
“It’s good just to get out and do sober stuff and it’s really cool to see how what we are learning here (Portage) really does relate and apply to other things that will help us later on,” said 17-year-old Emily (whose last name cannot be used for confidentiality reasons). “Usually in your addiction you’re not aware of these things. I knew they were good life skills but they were never laid out or encouraged for me to practise, so when we go out now, we can put them to use.”
Emily has been at the facility for about four months, with the average stay for most clients usually being about a half a year.
Portage Keremeos at “The Crossing” is located on 58 acres just west of the Similkameen Valley community. For the last four years it has been helping to reintegrate B.C. kids with substance-abuse problems back into mainstream society.
The non-profit organization has been doing similar work in other centres across Canada for the last 40 years.
Through time-tested methodology, Portage helps 14- to 18-year-olds develop self-esteem, confidence and the competencies they need to overcome their substance abuse issues and gain freedom from addiction.
Eighteen-year-old Connor was another Portage resident who placed a significant value on this type of extracurricular activity.
“You know what? It helps me get back in touch with real sober living, and I think every single one of us here needs that cause we were so used to being out and about and doing what we were doing during our addiction,” he said. “This is the sort of thing that grounds us.”
The young people agreed firefighting was not a job they previously considered, but after last week, felt it was something they would definitely take a look at.
“At first I was just kind of expecting it to be like when you’re a kid and you go to the fire hall and get dressed up in the firefighter’s uniform, look at the truck, spray the hose and go home, but it was much more than that,” said Connor, who has been at Portage for two months. “This was very in depth and they talked to us about what the job entails, and it really did open my eyes to what first responders really do and what to expect from daily life when you’re a firefighter.”
Steve Cleminson is the social, cultural and recreational co-ordinator for Portage who is responsible for scheduling activities like the one at the fire training centre.
He stressed his component is only a very small part of the overall program, which, in addition to the clinical support, also provides educational avenues for participants who did not complete their schooling.
For his part, Cleminson tries to organize activities which combine an element of fun with learning and even providing a service to others.
One activity he recalls vividly was where a skeptical group of young people went to help out at the Okanagan Gleaners near Oliver where volunteers process excess fruits and vegetables for shipment to hungry nations worldwide.
And while that particular choice of activity was not met with much enthusiasm initially, at the end of the day if was a different story.
“When they go and start interacting with the other people, seeing how people work together and finding out what an impact that’s having, the kids go, ‘Wow, that’s amazing. You know I actually fed some hungry children today,’” said Cleminson. “They experience what a different kind of a feeling it is to give back to the community instead of just taking. Most of these kids have never given back.”
There is also an added bonus for the clients when they have hands-on instruction like the work at the fire hall and the recent Ministry of Forests fire skills program at the centre, of being able to put those attributes on a resume.
Cleminson had high praise for the willingness and efforts of the Penticton Fire Rescue and the ministry for their contributions to the betterment of the young people.
“I just can’t say enough about what they have done for us and the real reward of knowing they may have turned a life around,” he said.