An Odyssey Academy tradition for over 20 years, the recent Natural Helpers retreat trained 24 students in grades 10-12 and four staff members at Rotary Sunshine Camp in Rush.
The Natural Helpers program is based on a simple premise — within every school, an informal “helping network” exists. Students with problems naturally seek out other students, teachers and school staff members they trust. They seek them out for advice, assistance or just for a sympathetic ear. Using this existing helping network, the Natural Helpers program provides training to students and adults who are already identified as “natural helpers,” and gives them the skills they need to provide help more effectively to others.
Funded by Odyssey PTSA, the retreat was led by staff trainers Colleen Cross, Rhiannon White and Josh Austin — all Odyssey teachers. They were assisted by three student trainers: Susanth Kakarla, Hunter Taylor and Mariah Carson.
Natural Helpers are a cross section of students and school adults identified through an anonymous, schoolwide survey. After representatives of all the subgroups in the school community are selected, they are invited to participate in the Natural Helpers program.
They receive at least 30 hours of training in a retreat setting. They learn how to improve their helping skills, how to contact helping resources when problems exceed their limits and how to better care for themselves. Natural Helpers are not professionally trained therapists or counselors, but instead are better equipped to be better friends.
Natural Helpers report significant benefits from being involved in the program, whether their involvement is helping one-to-one, assisting with program coordination, volunteering for community projects or fulfilling some other role. Natural Helpers find the skills they learn and practice in working with others are beneficial with friends, teachers, family and co-workers. They make new friends in the program, and break down some of the barriers that exist in any community. Natural Helpers also experience the special feeling that comes from helping someone else and knowing that they have made a difference.