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January 7, 2014

By Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

It wasn’t two very large strangers who woke me in the middle of the night, but it was close enough.  My alarm screamed me awake at about 4 am and before long I was at the airport about to leave behind my doggie, my home, and my family.  I boarded the plane tired and very afraid.  What was happening to me!?  What had I done?!

Many hours and three flights later I landed on the strange rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The Big Island of Hawaii.  Woa, this was real.  I began the long journey down to Ka’u to my new “home” for the foreseeable future.  I was alone in a very strange place with no one I knew and nothing familiar.

I arrived an hour and a half later to my new reality.  A small cabin in the woods.   The kindest woman welcomed me there with a simple “welcome home.”  This, of course, would be my new landlady.  She showed me around my new place, taught me a few of the basics of my new life living off the grid with solar power for my electric and a huge water catchment tank for my running water.  It was simple and there wasn’t much expected of me yet.  Just like the students in our Nalu camp, I started to try to settle into the new surroundings and reflect on the experiences of my life that lead me to this place.  I had to trust so much that was strange and out of my control.  Talk about wilderness therapy!

The next day was my first official day on the job.  What would this strange new experience teach me?  Who were these strange new people that would become a part of my new life?  Would they be nice, would I figure things out… would I be OK!?!?  Luckily I was met with the warmest welcome and more kindness and support than I could ask for.

It was easiest at first to focus on the day to day tasks at work.  I started to piece together my schedule, participate in meetings, do my part to keep the office clean, and started to learn the new language of Pacific Quest.  Much like our Kuleana students, I was starting to get the hang of what would be expected of me daily, and had work tasks to fuel conversations with new people.  I began to identify my personal responsibility in this new community… this new Ohana.

Weeks turned into months and I moved on from “task talk only” and started to participate more fully in my new community.  Work relationships quickly became more personal and I began to get to know the other members of my Ohana.  Some days were stressful and exhausting and I longed for my home and my family.  Other days I learned something new or made a breakthrough on a project and felt the confidence and pride in a job well done.  My scary new surroundings started to become truly beautiful and comforting.  I started to settle in.

It has been over four months now that I’ve been in this new place and on this new journey.  I had no intention of creating an experience for myself that was quite similar to that of our students; however, as I reflect on my time here so far I realize it’s the same in so many ways and I am humbled and in awe of the awesome demonstration of resilience and trust and courage that it takes to survive (and thrive!) through an experience like this.  Pacific Quest students do this day in and day out and my greatest hope for them is that they know how amazing they are for being here, for waking up each day and making the decision to carry-on, trusting that they will be okay.  Of course, by doing that, we are able to guide them a little bit on their amazing journeys and they will grow in their own personal ways.  I hope and believe, and it’s not always easy, that the same will be true for me.