Last weekend was a special one for a small but bold group from Living Well. Three cars packed up and went on an adventure north to Grand Marias, then up the Gunflint Trail, and across a frozen lake to YMCA Camp Menogyn. This was the 17th year Living Well partnered with Wilderness Inquiry and the YMCA to make an epic winter adventure inclusive and accessible to the people we support.

Over the years 223 Living Well staff and people supported have attended the winter adventure camp. Some years we even did two trips. Because of the successful collaboration, individuals with all types of mobility have attended these trips and spent hours with staff out in the fresh air along with friends and staff. Because of the greater needs of a group like ours, it takes three partners to make each trip a success. Without the high level of commitment from staff from all three organizations trips like this would be a dream, not a reality.

Over the course of three nights and four days, Angie and Kelsey from Paul’s Place, Mike, Nate, Daniel and James from France, and Caroline and Tiffany from Lyndale, with help from Heather at Northland and volunteer, James, were able to experience a customized winter adventure.

Day one was a road trip with stops at Dairy Queen and Judys Café, then a caravan on the Gunflint Trail to camp. Once at the parking lot all baggage was loaded onto sleds to cross the lake on a 20-minute walk over the ice to the campground. Polk sleds were used to transport people who need additional support or cannot walk. It was a full team effort and everyone else pulled mini sleds with bags behind them.

The group settled in, picked rooms, and got ready for dinner in the lodge. Over the course of the trip homemade meals were enjoyed and to the delight of people with special diets gluten-free and vegetarian meals were provided. After breakfast, lunch, and dinner there were camps songs, sharing circles and conversations meant to connect the group and help people get to know each other better.

Day two started with an exploratory hike on the lake visiting small islands for one group. And a hike to Daniels Bluff for the other group. While there one person received a notification on his phone welcoming him to Canada. Yep, we were that close to the border. And while on the bluff we could see the start of the Boundary Waters, the gem of protected land and waters that are the pride and joy of Minnesota.

Later that afternoon the group was invited to participate in a polar plunge. James from France made it to the rim and dipped a toe in and splashed his face, Tiffany did the same, Heather got all the way in but was out almost immediately, and volunteer James stayed in a whopping minute. It was decided that next year Angie wants to try to dip a foot and Kelsey is taking it into consideration. Later that night was bracelet making, the start of a Monopoly battle, puzzling, and Tiffany spent some time sleeping under the winter sky.

Day three offered a relaxing morning with time in the snow and a walk on the ice, and an afternoon spent on a hike then making smores up a hill with the entire crew. Because of the polk sleds all were able to enjoy a great view with friends, and a fire to set the camping mood. Saturday night was also BEST talent show in the history of talent shows. Angie tap danced. Caroline and Tiffany sang their hearts out. And James played Beat It on the guitar with Jen from Wilderness Inquiry and danced to Thriller. Staff also gave it a go—Mike sang an incredible version of My Way, and Daniel and Heather shared their newly found telepathic powers. Be careful, they now read minds.

On Sunday we packed up and said goodbye, but also offered up a huge surprise. By magic, or perhaps some help from Camp Menogyn (thank you, Sarah), we were invited to drive 15 minutes north of Grand Marais on the way home to see the dogs at the kennel. It was by far the highlight of the trip for many. James talked to the dogs, Daniel was smitten with a few, Caroline and Tiffany were beaming, and Angie was able to meet a furry new friend, too.

Everyone had a blast. When asked if he would come back Mike at France said, “I loved it! Counting the days until next year! Hopefully a bigger crowd.” Daniel said, “The trip is so great and seeing people come up and experience it is fantastic. From the people we support, like Nate, coming for the first time and going from being apprehensive to participating, having fun, and wanting to go back. To staff coming for the first time and having the opportunity to see the people we support outside their everyday environments and seeing what is possible with a dedicated team of people there to support them.”

Kelsey told Heather she felt refreshed and energized about work, like she had a vacation, too. James, the volunteer who pushed, pulled, and lifted his way through the weekend is excited to come back. And Heather is looking forward to working with Daniel on ways to get more people up there. He has done it for years and looks forward to a full capacity trip. It takes a bit to get people out of their comfort zones and willing to try something so out of their routine. But once anyone experiences a trip like this—they will be hooked. Heather says, “It really is a magical place. Watching the people from Living Well get to do so many incredible things as a team, supported by caring people who are there because they want to get to know them, felt like the Living Well mission personified. Everyone there is now a friend for life.”

This incredible trip is free for people served and is funded directly from fundraising. If you donated to Living Well, your donation brings joy to many. Caroline and Tiffany call it the highlight of their year, so to say donations have an impact on the lives of the people we support might just be an understatement.

Thanks to all who made this possible. The staff at Camp Menogyn, Wilderness Inquiry and Living Well, are incredible. As are the donors, advocates and volunteers who all go the extra mile. Or in this case over 300 miles one way, to make magic happen.



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