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Students challenged to accept others

Challenge Day workshop

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - Students and adult volunteers dance back-to-back during a Challenge Day ice-breaking activity.


   Have you ever been hurt, judged or stereotyped? Would you talk about it in public?
   Over 300 Madras High School students and 85 adult volunteers did just that during "Challenge Day" workshops held three days last week at the fairgrounds.
   Founded in 1987 by Rich and Yvonne Dutra-St. John, the nonprofit Challenge Day organization emphasizes that separation, isolation and loneliness are the root cause of many teen issues.
   "In all the years that we've been doing this, we've never seen a bad kid. What kids are doing is just a way to ask for help," said Rich Dutra-St. John, who led the Madras workshop with co-leader Malvika Matharoo.
   In just the three hours a reporter visited the all-day workshop, a transformation in student attitudes was noticeable.
   The day started off with series of comical ice-breaker games. Students were instructed to lock arms and dance back-to-back with a partner to loud, raucous music.
   When the music stopped, partners were told to tell each other about any time they had been hurt, judged or teased -- then find a new partner.
   The game continued with the topics: most embarrassing moment, relationships with family members, and shouting out things they were grateful for.
   Teens shouted they were grateful for health, pets, clothes, and "that we can still metabolize oxygen," amid clapping from the crowd.
   Forming a huge circle, they were given a demonstration on different ways to hug, as Matharoo told them, "Twelve hugs a day is the magic number to develop better emotionally.
   In a Guitar Hero game, all the students and adults played their best air guitar, during which, several who had hung back before joined the group.
   Next, they were asked to imagine their dreams in life were already true, then state them into a microphone. "I work for a marine science center," one said. "I've lived all over the world and have solved the oil problems," said another.
   Breaking up into small "family" groups, each with an adult, the students heard Matharoo talk about the importance of being yourself and acknowledging and dealing with feelings.
   Using an iceberg as an example, Matharoo said, "We see only 10 percent of people -- their image. Ninety percent of ourself is hidden from others. Why?"
   "Because people are afraid of being judged," "made fun of," "being hurt," teens answered.
   Benefits of having the courage to be yourself included earning respect, and helping others going through the same thing.
   She and Dutra-St. John then each shared their personal stories with the whole group.
   Back in the small groups, each member was given two minutes to talk, starting with the sentence "If you really knew me ..." as the others just listened. People opened up, many listeners were teary-eyed, and the speaker got hugs for sharing.
   At the end of that segment, everyone reassembled in the big group to walk around giving out hugs to friends and others.
   "Look at people as you walk around. Those are the same people you pass in the hall every day," Dutra-St. John said.
   In the end, football players were hugging kids they'd never spoken to; shy, awkward teens were pulled into the group with hugs, guys hugged guys as well as girls, teens hugged adults -- and that was just the first half of the Challenge Day.
   For more information on the Challenge Day program, visit www.challengeday.org.