Katie’s Journey to Becoming a Youth Mentor

Katie, Berry Street Wilderness Program

Instability, inconsistency, constant upheavals. Imagine entering a new home every few years, with new rules and new people and not knowing how long it would last.

When Katie* was just a baby, her mother became unable to care for her and her older siblings. Katie has been in and out of foster care since then. She often struggled to settle into these new environments, and moving around regularly was disruptive to her schooling.

Soon after turning 13, Katie became involved with Berry Street and attended her first outdoor adventure program.

Wilderness Program is a therapeutic journey

The Wilderness Program is an outdoor camp that helps young people build resilience, confidence and teamwork. The program challenges young people to achieve something they never thought they could, and come out the other side stronger, more resilient, and able to see themselves change for the better. It takes them out of their comfort zone, challenging them to put one foot in front of the other.

Before Katie embarked on her first adventure 3 years ago, she had countless concerns running through her head: “What will the other kids think of me? How well will I cope with the distance of the hikes? Will I be able to cope mentally with the challenge?”

A life-changing experience

Katie pushed those worries to the back of her mind and mustered all her courage to go. Five days of hiking along the beautiful coastline of Eastern Victoria turned out to be a rewarding and healing experience. Katie and the other young people clicked right from the beginning and developed friendships along the way.

Being out in the wilderness changed her state of mind. She came to realise all the little things that are important:

“In today’s day and age, everything is so fast paced and you forget to ask people how they’re going today, you forget to look around you at the scenery and just admire everything around you. That’s what hiking did for me. It reminded me that there’s much more to focus on than negative experiences that have happened to you.”

Berry Street staff supported Katie through the most challenging moments

Apart from the constant physical challenges the young people face on the program, Katie’s toughest moments came when participants break away from the group and spend time reflecting on their own journeys.

“My mind constantly drifted back to home life and all the problems and pressures attached. I managed to get through it because the program staff were so helpful and patient. Even though they couldn’t fix your problems at home, they help you deal with them and deal with your feelings during the hike. They’re always approachable, great listeners and are willing to be a shoulder to cry on, or help you with any support you need.”

Katie, now 16 years old, advanced to youth mentor

Katie recently returned from Western Australia on her third adventure, but this time the experience was a little bit different – she attended as a youth mentor!

“I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to help the other young people. We have all had similar experiences so they could open up to me about their own pressures and their home lives, and I tried to help them through their feelings. I also had first-hand experience of the aches and pains associated with the hike!”

Katie’s Case Manager speaks of her with high regard. “She has done all of this herself. She has paved her own path through her hard work and is performing so well at school. To see her transform into a confident, proud young person… it’s amazing.”

Katie’s message to other young people?

Know that you’re not alone. Her advice is to utilise the resources available in your community if you need help or are going through tough times.

“I was lucky enough to have Berry Street and adventure therapy help me through my troubled times; I hope other young people find a hobby or creative outlet to help them through theirs.”


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*Name has been changed in the interest of privacy. The models and volunteers pictured are not connected to the case study.