LHS Challenge Day event leaves lasting impact

Written by By Rebecca Schoenfelder For The Observer October 23, 2013 12:38 pm

Imagine a place where 132 people simultaneously tore down their walls and became vulnerable to one another without fear or shame. A day where, for once, there were no such things as cliques, jocks, geeks, skaters or preps, but, instead, a group of individuals who were respected by their peers and in return practiced unconditional love and tolerance for every single participant in the room. 

This is what Challenge Day was for those who attended Sept. 30 at La Grande High School.

Program founders Rich and Yvonne St. John Dutra began the Challenge Day Program in 1987. The vision and mission of the nationwide Challenge Day Program is a simple one — that every child lives in a world where they feel safe, loved and celebrated, and to provide youth and their communities with experiential programs that demonstrate the possibility of love and connection through the celebration of diversity, truth and full expression.

More than 100 students from LHS and 30 adult volunteers arrived at the La Grande Armory for Challenge Day not quite sure what to expect. Some perhaps anticipated it to be a ridiculous day where the participants would play pointless games, listen to “inspirational” speakers, after which they would go home feeling as if they had wasted a day. Instead, most received a life-changing experience.

From the first moment participants stepped into the room, they could feel the energy pulsating. The music was blaring, everyone was high-fiving one another and a few kids were even dancing. Introductions were then made, along with a few games to loosen things up. Then, after about an hour, participants were split up into groups of five; these were referred to as the small family group. This group was made up of one person and four strangers. There were no friends, family members or even teammates allowed to be in the same group. The purpose of this was to simply open one’s self up to someone who does not know you and listen to a stranger’s problems in return. In this exercise, the members were completely honest and open with one another, without fear of judgment, mockery or, for that matter, interruption. Every person was given two minutes to talk and would begin the two minutes with the phrase, “If you really knew me, you would know … ” then filled in the blanks with whatever was appropriate for each person. Some talked of a painful divorce, the loss of a loved one or perhaps just a traumatic occurrence in their past. The other members were instructed to simply listen, to offer up a hand or hug when needed and provide support for their small family members.

After everyone had started to become vulnerable, the Challenge Day coordinators took turns and opened up to the group. Their two stories were meant to have two very important morals. The first was to simply be real. This basically meant that the “image,” what one projects to others and the world, is merely 90 percent of who one is as a person. If one is being artificial to make friends or fit in, then those so-called friends are not letting one be his true self, and therefore are not real friends.

The last section of the day was reserved for apologies, goals and thank yous. Students were able to take the microphone and stand to publicly apologize to someone they had wronged, or say thank you to someone who has always been there for them. Big burly men who have never shown much emotion before stood up and expressed themselves and their gratitude for their friends.

This last activity also allowed students to tell the room what their personal challenge was and dare the rest of the room to rise to the test as well. One student challenged everyone to follow their bliss by doing whatever it was that made them excited or happy, despite the fact that it may not always be considered “cool.”