How is it that spending time in a cold warehouse can be so warming to the heart? The answer lies in the purpose.

Kaizen Academy specializes in helping young men overcome sexual behavior problems by – in part – getting outside themselves and recognizing the thoughts, feelings, and needs of those around them. These are significant pieces to the often-challenging puzzle of empathy – an important element for not only reducing problematic behavior, but for creating a purposeful life with healthy connections.

Therapeutic adventure activities provide an experiential “classroom” for learning a lot about one’s self – our strengths, challenges, how we respond to new or difficult situations, how we offer help to others, or how we accept it when given. It’s wonderful to see movement toward reaching intra- and inter-personal goals displayed on the ski slopes, in a kayak, or on a mountain bike.

It’s even BETTER when you see it in the process of sorting canned foods, or in rebuilding a trail.

One of our favorite activities is helping to sort the donated canned goods at the community food bank. We like to go before, during, and/or right after the winter holidays, so the warehouse us usually cold. But the energy, the laughter, the productivity, and the lasting smiles create an inner warmth that makes the temperature irrelevant.

Community service can benefit teens everywhere! We’ve found the commitment to community service to be powerful these 5 ways:

Experience purposeful accomplishment. Working together for a common purpose creates some powerful energy! It’s always a unifying experience to talk about why we’re doing what we’re doing – who we’re helping, why it’s important, what the benefits to others will be, etc. Once that vision and purpose are clear, everyone is eager to start. And it’s that same vision that provides the strength to finish. And what a powerful blueprint for our own journeys!

Awareness. Engaging in community service can enhance our awareness of others’ needs. At the food bank, we can talk openly about what it must be like to go hungry, and lack basic necessities. Participating in service also provides awareness of the generosity of others. The crates and crates of food and other supplies were all donated by people who wanted to share, to make a difference. Raising awareness of the needs around us and the resources that might be available is a powerful benefit.

“Work” can be fun and fulfilling. For many teens (OK, for a lot of adults too) the term “work” has some negative connotations. Community service opportunities can provide immediate evidence that work can be fun and fulfilling. Even if it’s really difficult work (like when we rebuilt a section of the hiking/mt biking trails), we can make it fun. And much of that fun comes in the form of point #4: building relationships.

Builds relationships and healthy connection. I learned a simple strategy for building team unity from a successful businessman. He said, “as a group, make opportunities to eat together, play together, and work together. You’ll be surprised at how close you become.” I’ve found that to be true. I’ve also found that one of the keys here is to lead by example. One of the reasons community service has been such a good experience at Kaizen is that we ALL participate. When the administrative, clinical, academic, and/or residential leadership rolls up their sleeves and leads the way, our students are eager to work along side us. When the job is done, we not only completed an important task, but we got to know each other much better as well.

Develops the mindset of gratitude & giving back. It’s important to recognize that much of what we enjoy comes from the work, contributions, generosity, and foresight of others. This is especially true for adolescents, who are in the throes of a naturally egocentric developmental period. Engaging in community service can squelch the tendency to take things for granted, things like food, shelter, accessible recreation areas, etc.

As we invest in recreational, adventure, and learning activities, let’s be sure to plan opportunities for community service as well. Instilling the virtues of giving back, caring for others, and appropriately putting our own interests aside, may become an important catalyst in the overall treatment process.