connection Tag

A Life-Changing Moment for a Student

At Youth Frontiers, it’s our mission to positively impact school communities through our retreats. One wonderful part of our job is that the same students we reach often impact us in turn. For our staff, these students and their stories are unforgettable. In this series, we remember them.

This is a story of a student and his life-changing moment.

I remember Abdul.

It was one of my first speaking experiences at Youth Frontiers in around 2002. And, I remember being in Evergreen Elementary in the gymnasium, staring at the clock on the wall, watching the second-hand slowly make its way around. 

Tick-tick-tick.

For me, this was going to be one of my first talks that I was going to give in front of a live audience and I was nervous.

I instantly knew when it came time to give my talk that I was in way over my head.

I started talking but they could tell that I was struggling, which meant that they couldn’t stop wiggling. And the teachers are no doubt judging. And my face is intensely sweating when…

I looked up. 

And when I did, I made eye contact with a young student who’s nametag I read said, Abdul.

I don’t know, it was like one of those things where there was this voice in my soul that said…

“Joe. Connect.”

And so I did the only thing I could do in that moment. I held his eyes a little bit longer than normal. I gave him a small little smile. One that said, 

“I see you, brother”.

Afterwards, I was connecting with Adbul’s teachers. They told me that it had been a very difficult year for him. It had been a struggle even to get a smile on his face somedays.

I remember as we were walking out of the gymnasium, I made eye contact with him one more time.

Walking over to him, I got down on a knee. I placed a hand on his shoulder. Beaming smile on his face and a beaming smile on my face. And he just says,

“Mr. Joe, you make my heart so happy”.

Now, nearly fifteen years later, I haven’t seen Adbul since that time.

Yet, I reached out to him on Facebook because I had never forgotten about him. And I said,

“Hey dude, I don’t know if you remember me but around fifteen years ago I led a retreat at your school for a company called, Youth Frontiers. You made a huge impact on me and I’ve never forgotten about it. Would you be willing to meet me for coffee?”

And he said, “Yes”.

Abdul’s now 24 years old and I said, “What are you up to?” He said,

“I’m working for this organization called, Youth Frontiers”

I said, “No way! That’s the company I was working for when I led that retreat so many years ago”.

He’s doing the same work. Inspiring the same kind of kids. 

I knew that this one moment of connection with this student was life-changing.


This year, on The Character Movement, we are trying something new. We’ll be delving into one of our retreat values each month, examining it on our blog and in our Character Challenges. This month’s theme is mind.

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Educators building relational trust on an Honor Retreat

Community starts with building relational trust

Building community is one of the top three reasons why educators bring Youth Frontiers in to work with their students. In fact, 83 percent of educators reported that is why they partner with us.

Is it surprising in today’s divided world that educators need support in building respectful, civil communities? And not only do they need support in building community among their students, but more and more superintendents and district leaders need support in fostering trusting communities for their staffs.READ MORE

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small group leader leads discussion on a Kindness Retreat

Small-group leader best practice: connect first

By Sarah Gavigan, Youth Frontiers Communication Specialist

The first thing Shyla* noticed as she walked into the Kindness Retreat® was the noise of the room. It was a Tuesday and the day had just begun for Deephaven Elementary, but the fifth-graders were chatting like they had a week’s worth of life to discuss. Though their volume was great, their stature seemed quite small to Shyla. This was not what she had expected.READ MORE

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YFLC Group of students laughing together in front of a youth frontiers banner

I will lead.

“I am a leader.” On paper, it’s a simple phrase. Spoken aloud by hundreds of 11th-grade students from schools across an entire community, it’s deeply moving.

At any Youth Frontiers Leadership Conference (YFLC), the air reverberates with these declarations of character. All students in attendance are there because an educator saw leadership qualities within them. But they are also there for greater reasons: to connect with students they may otherwise only encounter through competition, to build positive relationships, and to develop strategies for improving their schools at this key time in their high school careers.READ MORE

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Upcoming summer road trip? Follow these tips!

As the school year comes to a close and you start planning weekend trips or family vacations, we wanted to share a few fun tips from our travel experts – or at the very least, our Retreat Staff who spend close to half the retreat season on the road! While few people love sitting in a van for six hours to drive to locations like Madison and Omaha, our Retreat Staff have mastered the art of successful road trips. We interviewed our staff to get some professional insights and the following are just a few suggestions before you pack up the car and go this summer:READ MORE

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Connection unleashes learning

Connection unleashes learning – this was the main message of our Pilot Mind Conference on May 4, 2017.

That Thursday evening, we gathered with educators from districts across the Twin Cities to talk teaching strategies informed by experience and by the latest brain research. Erin Walsh of Mind Positive Parenting and Youth Frontiers facilitated the experience. Erin shared with us her vision for the conference and her impression of its pilot.READ MORE

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The Intersection

By Todd Hansen, Director of Programs and Experiences

Dear Reader,

Our school retreats are the heart of what we do at Youth Frontiers (YF), but for those who haven’t experienced one, they can be challenging to conceptualize. Individuals new to YF often draw from what they know: “So, it’s like a school assembly?” “A lecture?” “A concert?” “Camp?” While our retreats contain some similar elements, identifying an experience that closely depicts what we do – other than “a retreat” – has been tricky. Recently, I rediscovered one of my writings, and I realized that a fitting parallel to our retreats is, of all things, an intersection:
READ MORE

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Doing Good Together

Doing Good Together: 50 Family Acts of Kindness

By Sarah Aadland, Doing Good Together

If you’re awake and near a screen, it’s likely you’re feeling a sense of urgency. The endless connectivity of our devices can’t help but give us an endless feeling of lagging behind. Whether your anxiety is generated by an overflowing workload, bulging schedule or the ongoing parade of alarming headlines, now is a great time to take a breath. Find your inner quiet, and focus on family acts of compassion right in your own community.READ MORE

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The Unexpected Light

By Erica Cantoni, Manager of Corporate and Major Gift Engagement

On a recent sunny Sunday, I followed my 16-month-old daughter, Junie, as she slowly but rather fearlessly climbed up dozens of wooden steps and platforms to the top of our local playground. As she stood contemplating the view and her next move, an older boy scrambled up, looked her over and declared, “This is only for big kids.” Restraining the roar of my inner Mama Bear, I responded, “Well, that’s not true, actually. She’s strong and brave and she belongs up here too.”READ MORE

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