Local mom helps youth paddle against current

Project CANOE allows at-risk kids to learn life skills in natural setting

There are two things Janine Kelly De Rosie loves most in life: community service and camping. In 1997, she was given the chance to combine her passions when asked to train staff at Project CANOE (Creative and Natural Outdoor Experiences, Inc.) — an organization that sends at-risk youth to Temagami, Ont., for a wilderness experience of a lifetime.

Raising a family in Toronto, De Rosie learned the benefits of wilderness retreats away from the city early on. “I love camping, and there was nothing I loved more than heading up to Algonquin with my family. Against the backdrop of wilderness, we could key into each other’s needs.” It was this belief in the benefits of camping that led De Rosie, a child and youth worker at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, to get involved with Project CANOE.

But De Rosie’s organization is not just another summer camp. “We’re not talking about a campground. We’re talking about going right from the buses to a canoe,” she says. Most participants have never left the city of Toronto, let alone paddled, portaged, cooked over an open fire or pitched a tent. But with a ratio of two youth to one staff member, the program ensures that all youths receive the attention they need.

“We’re not talking about a campground. We’re talking about going right from the buses to a canoe.”

The benefits of a wilderness program, however, goes far beyond gathering wood and learning the J stroke. “At Project CANOE, youth learn life skills. How do you work together as a team? How do you learn to problem solve in a group?”

De Rosie marvels at the selfesteem and confidence that Project CANOE brings out in its participants: “My favourite part of the program is listening to youths share their stories when they return and say, ‘Well I never thought I could carry a canoe, cook in the rain.’ Suddenly they feel a sense of purpose, that they can handle any challenge put before them in the future.”

After 12 years at Project CANOE, De Rosie isn’t slowing down. While she just stepped down from the board of directors, she still sits on the youth services committee and the governance committee and attends all board meetings. Just as she continues her annual family trips to Algonquin, De Rosie can’t imagine life without volunteering. “I believe fully in community service and giving back in any way you can. It’s what I do for a living, but it truly is my passion.”

The Post salutes Janine Kelly De Rosie and Project CANOE for helping at-risk youth grow and learn skills in the great outdoors.

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