For three months, the Great Waters Challenge (GWC) Youth Advisory Board (YAB) members – 16 folks living across Canada – worked together only online, via webinars, email exchanges and social media to promote the GWC, to seek partners and sponsors, and to sign-up youth teams by contacting teachers, schools and eco clubs in our local areas. We organized a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to bring  the Youth Advisors (YABers) together for a leadership and workshop facilitation retreat. Due to the generosity of Waterlution,our funders, our partners (particularly Durham College for the Youth Take Charge financial sponsorship), and supporters of the crowdfunding campaign, we could take this team from online (URL) to in real life (IRL).


Our first YAB Webinar for GWC 2017-18 (Photographer: Olivia Allen)



The YAB retreat was held just north of Bolton, Ontario, October 13th-15th, the weekend before the GWC sign-up deadline. Avery, a youth advisor from Nelson BC, came to Toronto early; I took her on a bike tour through the University of Toronto campus. It was wonderful to connect with one another before going on the retreat. We headed to the airport and met some of the other YABers, Olivia (GWC 2017-18 Coordinator), Dona (GWC 2016-18 Coordinator), and Karen (Waterlution Founder). We piled into a few cars and drove to the Nirvana Retreat Centre. After we arrived, we met the rest of the YABers (minus Catherine, Jill and Julie who unfortunately could not attend).


It was incredible to see the faces that I had been interacting with online and to get to know tidbits of new information, that I could not learn from social media or YAB video meetings. It was especially rewarding for me to meet my fellow volunteers, as I had been co-writing a children’s book Canada’s Great Water Adventurewith Ellen, Dorothy and Jill (though Jill could not make it). Since the YAB team was assembled in August, we had weekly phone meetings and constant group messaging… it was like the three of us had already met!


The Nirvana Retreat Centre was beautiful – a house, barn, and two cabins overseeing an artesian pond lined with clay that reflected a blue-green colour. The folks of the retreat centre were so kind – always lending a hand (or a toothbrush) when you needed one. The barn had a huge kitchen that always smelled of delicious vegetarian meals made by Lush Earth Inc. – holistic food catering company – who put so much love into every meal, snack and treat (as a vegetarian, I was very grateful)! The upstairs of the barn was a big open yoga studio overlooking the pond. Our rooms were in the house or cabin, which had three to four single beds and were organized by geographical area (East/Central/West) so we could get to know our neighbouring youth advisors.


RETREAT CENTRE (Photographer: Stephanie Woodworth)


The first night we had a campfire where Karen told the story of Waterlution – she shared her experiences of how Waterlution and the Great Waters Challenge came to be. It was so cool to have this insight from the founder of Waterlution. I felt very inspired after the story, and for the first time considered starting a NGO in the future.


“Water is life – it is the lifeblood of our bodies and of Mother Earth – and when we connect with water, we connect with each other.”


Understanding Our Leadership Style


The next day we received our FourSight® Thinking Profile Evaluations, to understand how our natural tendencies and preferences affect our decision-making, perceptions, stress levels and interactions with others. It was amazing to see these evaluations because we could understand our own and each other’s preferences. We took advantage of the FourSight® in the various activities – World Café, Circle Practice, script-writing, film-making, workshop training and design, facilitation training, water experiments, year planning, and networking. We fed off one another’s diverse knowledges, backgrounds, histories, experiences and stories. As this was the only opportunity for all of us to be together, we took advantage of the time we had before we were back scattered across the country again.


FILMMAKING (Photographer: Stephanie Woodworth)


Tearful Goodbyes and Team Energy Highs


At the end of the retreat, there were a lot of tight hugs and tearful goodbyes – that powerful water being released – with an overwhelming sense of connection and inspiration. We created a huge bundle of energy that each of us cherish and carry forward. As YABers for GWC, we are doing as much as we can to inspire youth to discover amazing water stories and celebrate water in their communities. A few of us will see each other again in the new year to co-host workshops in our regions! We will keep sharing our knowledges and gifts by connecting and inspiring one another through, and with, water.


Overall, the retreat was a space for us YABers to meet in person and collectively make decisions that impact the GWC this year and in the future. It deepened our facilitation skills by providing tools to support us in hosting workshops and water conversations for both the GWC and our own lives. We left the experience with a commitment to ourselves and to this team to engage and inspire youth to be the future water leaders of Canada. Throughout the weekend, we had a jar of water as the centerpiece of our circle , which grounded us and our purposes, goals and dreams for the future. Water is life – it is the lifeblood of our bodies and of Mother Earth – and when we connect with water, we connect with each other.  


SWIMMING IN OCTOBER (Photographer: Olivia Allen


Written by Stephanie Woodworth – Great Waters Challenge 2017-2018 Youth Advisory Board Member

Stephanie Woodworth, MSc Candidate (U of T)

Want to support the Great Waters Challenge and it Youth Advisors to bring more water workshops to classrooms across Canada? Purchase your copy of Canada’s Great Water Adventure. Written for youth by youth, this storybook will take readers on an adventure across Canada exploring waterways through a fictional story featuring real Canadian waterways and facts. Click here to visit our YAB’s crowdfunding page