Thanks to Wednesday Journal for publishing the story of Shana Wills and her organization, Refugee Education and Adventure Challenge (REACH), and to Amanda Tugade for telling it so well [Using the great outdoors to connect refugee teens, News, Nov. 3]. The article captures the spirit of REACH as it is expressed in the words of a mother and several of the refugee teens who are part of the REACH community. The sense of community that is built as the groups explore a wide range of natural environments and acquire important new English, service learning, and outdoor technical skills, all while having fun, is the essence of this organization. In the process, Shana is recognizing and encouraging the leadership qualities that emerge as young people form bonds and develop confidence.
I have found the work that Shana Wills is doing with newcomer families exceptionally creative and inspiring. I have been struck by the originality of her thought in conceiving, founding, and running REACH. With this organization, she brings together all that she has learned in a long career in refugee relief and advocacy with her love of nature and the outdoors. With a small budget, strong partnerships, and a lot of volunteer assistance, she takes groups of teenagers on wilderness education excursions, like camping, hiking, kayaking, and climbing, and helps foster deeper connection with others and with nature.
How Shana has been able to adapt to the pandemic conditions and sustain this mission is something of a mystery to me. But she has done so, and as a supportive bystander, I find her example to be a reason for hope for the future. Reading the news each day, I find myself anxious about the multiple crises we face in this age of climate change and its many consequences. But I know from history that there have always been people who see avenues for positive change. Living in Oak Park for 50 years, I have seen many examples of leaders who organize movements to solve problems and enrich the community. I count Shana as one of those leaders and encourage my neighbors to check out her website and learn more about REACH (https://www.reachinchicago.org).
Stephanie Ferrera, Oak Park