Kindness Retreat 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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Students and staff building community on a kindness retreat

Big School, Small-Town Community

Haley Elementary is a big school. Serving more than 1,000 kids, it boasts one of the largest student bodies in the Chandler Unified School District. Though it’s grown greatly throughout its eleven years, the school prides itself on maintaining the culture of connectedness it pursued in its humble beginnings.

“Many of us teachers have kids or grandkids here. It’s just like a big family,” said Randi Bell, a fourth-grade teacher and grandmother of a fourth grader at Haley. “It’s really important to us to be mindful of each other — no matter how big our school gets, to keep that small-town feel.”READ MORE

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Students talking in a small group on a Kindness Retreat

How the Kindness Retreat Changed My Son’s Life at School

Youth Frontiers recently partnered with Haley Elementary School in Arizona to facilitate a Kindness Retreat. One parent who volunteered as a small-group leader had this to say about her experience:

I went into the retreat thinking of all the things for work that I could be doing while instead I was volunteering at this event. But now I am so happy that I went.

As a parent, I naturally watched my own child at first, but soon I began to watch other kids too. One little boy in particular caught my eye. He was uninterested in the retreat, not smiling, not participating and definitely opposed to participating. As the day unfolded, I continued to watch him and how he transformed. It was almost like a burden had been lifted from him. He started smiling and participating. He even shared at the end of the day during the reflection time. I do not remember what he shared, but I remember the look on his face. It showed that he felt like he was a part of his class. It was so touching to see.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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It Takes a Village

At Youth Frontiers, we recognize that at the root of our success is partnership. Without the support and commitment of donors, educators, parents and students our goal to build community and inspire character would not be possible. Youth Frontiers’ partnership with Douglas County (DC) West Middle School, in Omaha, Neb., exemplifies the difference that can be made when we are united to change the way kids treat each other in every hallway, lunch line and classroom of every school in America.READ MORE

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