Feature Story                                                                                           Thursday, January 3, 2012


The Thrill of the Chill

BC Teen Challenge brrrings in the New Year with annual Polar Bear swim

Staff/Voice photos


First swimmers take the plunge into Cultus Lake with wild abandonment on Tuesday. Below, Blaine McDonald BC Teen Challenge Executive Director.


s if it was a snapshot from a Farley Mowat book, wooden docks reaching out into the lake are painted in a thick ivory frost. Mist trailing up from the water vanishes as it touches the sunlight. Towering green sentinels hang upon a chorus of gulls, their cries morph into the sounds of laughter on the shore.


This is New Year’s morning at Cultus Lake.


Polar Bear swimmers throw themselves into gelid water on New Year’s Day for a variety of reasons. Some do it to cure a hangover, but not the young men from the BC Teen Challenge in Yarrow. They take the plunge off the deep end of the dock into Cultus Lake for an entirely different reason — it represents a new beginning.


Once on the dock, the fearless few huddled together, studying the lake and sizing up their destiny. 


These guys didn’t wade into the water as with most tame Polar Bear Swims – they leapt in with wild abandonment.


Blaine McDonald is the Executive Director of the BC Teen Challenge Centre in Yarrow, and the swimmers are his charges.


Last June, he moved with his wife and two children to the hamlet located a few miles from Chilliwack.


BC Teen Challenge is a year-long Christian discipleship program that works with students to help them gain a new perspective of looking at their lives and the world around them.


“For a lot of our guys that come, the challenge of course, is a complete abstinent life,” said McDonald.


“The total capacity of the Yarrow centre is just about 20, although we're very, very full at 20, we usually have between about 16 and 18 residents.”


The program has three pillars; academic, vocational and spiritual. After successfully completing the program, students graduate in a cap and gown ceremony, and some are offered the opportunity to give back to the organization in the form of internships or as mentors. Some return as alumni for special events such as the swim.


The Yarrow Centre for men is one of four across the province, including the interior and Vancouver Island, with a total of 70 beds offered through a referral process. BC Teen Challenge also has a Women’s Centre in Abbotsford that began in 2003, a first for Canada.  


The Centres don’t get government funding. Each person pays a $1000 intake fee, and the rest of the tab is picked up by local people and the faith community.


“Many churches, individuals and businesses support Teen Challenge, which in turn allows us to be able to support the students without charging a huge amount of tuition for the students,” said McDonald.


Currently the Centre is looking at a model the BC government has come up with, which may provide money through a housing fund strategy


While in the program, students are expected to rely on each other for day-to-day living in a community atmosphere.


They look after their own chores and laundry. Selected pairings do month-long cooking and cleaning stints. It all works like a well-oiled frying pan.




“The food generally gets better and better as every month goes by and they learn what they're doing,” he said laughing.


“The whole idea is; if you don't clean the shower then they shower in a dirty shower. But if I don't cook you lunch, then you're not eating lunch today,” McDonald said.


According to McDonald, some of the men came from the street and have never experienced the kind of genial community the Centre provides. Any selfish or self-centered tendencies picked up on the street are dropped once they started living together in a shared arrangement.


“It’s a very different concept and focus when community is relying on community,” he explained. “So as you work and you learn a new way, you view the world in a different way and you're giving back rather than just paying your bills and waiting for somebody else to take care of you,” he said.


One element of the program involves work parties where students put in 15-21 hours a week providing community services like odd jobs for churches, gardening, vehicle pick-ups or cleaning projects.


Additionally, local business owners make a cash donation for help with things like construction, renovation and demolition and McDonald says it’s a big help when the guys have a trade or are skilled in some way.


“Sometimes people come into the program with an expertise. So they'll do plumbing, or they'll do electrical work.”


The Centre also has a year-round firewood program with donated wood that students round and split and sell by the cord.


“You can call any Teen Challenge Centre and we'll even deliver some wood to warm your house.”


As for polar bears and cold water, a fundraiser to dip for dollars in 2014 may be in the offing. Stay tuned and keep your swim trunks handy.


For more information, visit www.bcteenchallenge.com


See more photos below.





© Copyright (c) 2012 The Valley Voice



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