COVID-19 has certainly been challenging for Berry Street’s Wilderness Program in Gippsland. As a Bush Adventure Therapy program for young people – primarily those in out-of-home care – it normally involves day activities for individuals and extended group journeys into nature led by staff. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the team have needed to respond creatively to tailor the program to the current circumstances.
Our Wilderness Program workers, Doug Moczynski and Nathan “Furph” Furphy, knew that connecting with young people was going to be vital during this time: maintaining social connections and support networks, even through a screen, would help combat feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Here are five ways the Wilderness Program has adapted during this challenging time.
1) Virtual nature walks
Virtual nature walks have generated the most interest and engagement among children and young people. These involve program staff hiking outdoors while using Zoom to connect with young people in out-of-home care. Young people can simply watch or actively participate by giving directions to the staff member (which usually ends up with Doug wading through a creek or in the mud!).
One group of three siblings has participated in multiple online walks with their foster carers, and have more scheduled in the future. The carers as well as the children said they’ve been an easy, enjoyable way to feel connected with the outdoors and can’t wait for their next walk!
2) Virtual wildlife spotting walks
In the evenings, Wilderness Program staff have also been running wildlife spotting walks. One young person in residential care enjoyed the daytime walk so much that he joined in again that same night to spot possums.
These activities run smoothly within residential care due to the existing technology and staff support available: residential care workers play a critical role in helping the young people to co-regulate and encouraging them to participate.
3) Geo-caching courses
Another activity being trialled is geo-caching courses, where young people follow a course in their local area and try to find hidden markers. These markers are set up in advance by staff. This encourages young people to get outside with their carers and exercise with a clear purpose, while maintaining social distancing requirements.
There are two courses set up: one in Morwell and another in Traralgon.
4) Drumming sessions
This activity is designed to foster creativity and engage young people with an interest in music. To tap into existing resources, the team borrowed drums from the Berry Street School in Morwell and delivered them to each of our residential care units.
The sessions are run live with residential care workers and residents. A pre-recorded lesson is also available for young people to watch at a time that suits them.
5) Building veggie patches
Wilderness Program staff have also been supporting residential care workers and kinship carers to set up veggie patches in their yards. This helps children and young people in their care keep occupied and stay connected with nature.
With donations of the materials from the local Bunnings Warehouse and soil from the Shire Council, these veggie patches will be growing fresh herbs and produce in no time!
Outlook for the Wilderness Program
The team are gradually forming new connections and seeing more young people participating in these activities.
Going forward, program staff want to maintain the new connections built with young people over this period. The success of the virtual nature walks, particularly within residential care, has inspired the team to continue offering them as an initial engagement activity.
“Some young people may not be ready to explore the outdoors with us, but are comfortable participating virtually. This is why we’ll continue offering nature walks over Zoom as an engagement tool. Hopefully this will encourage young people to join us on a journey in the physical world one day,” explains Doug Moczynski, Senior Coordinator of the Wilderness Program.
The team in Gippsland are currently working on a plan to return to face-to-face delivery safely and sustainably, once restrictions ease.