Young Adult Cancer Nonprofit TRUE NORTH TREKS to Open Nature-Based Wellness Facility in Michigan's Upper Peninsula
EVANSTON, IL - 2018. The young adult cancer support nonprofit organization True North Treks will soon expand its operations to the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan. Their mission and vision has inspired the philanthropic backing of the Foglia Family Foundation of Barrington, IL, whose support has made possible the acquisition of a spacious, 4-story retreat-style home nestled into the cliffs of Lake Superior's rugged shoreline on a 123 acres of pristine Northern hardwoods. It was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright’s last apprentice, Herbert Fritz Jr., and embodies Wright's organic architectural style with extensive use of stone, glass and wrap-around decks to connect guests to panoramic views of the pounding surf, surrounding forest, and magnificent sunsets.
Founded in 2009, the mission of True North Treks is to empower young adults with cancer (between the ages of 18-39) and their caregivers to reclaim the world and future that cancer took from them. They take groups on free backpacking and canoeing treks in beautiful backcountry wilderness destinations where they have the opportunity to "find direction through connection" after the very disconnecting experience of cancer at this age.
Their programming is based on growing scientific evidence that connecting with nature, connecting with others who have gone through something similar, and connecting with oneself through mindfulness meditation and yoga, can have profound positive effects on a person’s health, wellbeing, and new path forward as a young adult survivor.
Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death for young adults between the ages of 15-39, and compared with younger and older adults with cancer, there haven’t been any improvements in survival rates for this age group since 1975. Young adults with cancer are twice as likely to have a delayed diagnosis, be misdiagnosed, and have a more advanced form of cancer at diagnosis. Because of treatment and related side effects, many are forced to delay or drop out of school or work pursuits and miss out on making important friendships and dating. Infertility has been a major problem for young adults with cancer, and many experience chronic fatigue and pain for years after their treatment has finished. Most days are met with a constant fear that their cancer will come back. As a result, many young adults with cancer can feel invisible, derailed and disconnected from the life they once knew.
True North Treks has served as an important support for many young adults with cancer and their caregivers. The following participant testimonial embodies the sentiment of many who go on a trek: "This experience was, without exaggeration, absolutely life changing. I hiked into the woods of Montana feeling ravaged by the physical and emotional toll of cancer, and left feeling renewed, strong, brave, proud, and at peace." While treks are free, participants make a pledge to "pay it forward" to a future participant by engaging in peer-to-peer grassroots fundraising before and after their trek. The Pay-It-Forward Pledge has become a significant source of sustainability support.
Until recently, their treks have only been offered for a week in the backcountry wilderness of Montana, Wyoming, Oregon, Utah, Idaho, and Minnesota. Realizing that not everyone can afford to be away for a whole week, or want to rough-it in this way, they began offering long-weekend “mini-treks” in Michigan's UP, where participants stay at a beautiful lake house and go on daytime excursions into surrounding nature, such as the Pictured Rocks National Lake shore or Hiawatha National Forest. After piloting this shorter, retreat-style program for the past two seasons and seeing its advantages, they had a big idea: to establish their very own beautiful, retreat-style facility in nature where young adults and their caregivers could go to find community, restoration, wellbeing, and healing.
Their search criteria was based on available beautiful wilderness locations in the US, in a region not saturated with other retreat centers, cost of land, cost of living, and proximity to major US cities with hospitals and cancer treatment centers. Their results kept pointing them northward towards the UP. Roughly 85% of the UP is forestland with over 1700 miles of shoreline from three Great Lakes. It has some 4300 inland lakes, 12,000 miles of rivers and streams, 300 waterfalls, all within a geographical area slightly larger than the state of Maryland. The Lonely Plant’s Best in Travel 2017 listed the UP as one of the world’s top 10 best value destinations, and the only one nominated from the US.
After visiting numerous properties across the UP, they finally found what they were looking for in Au Train, MI, which is located roughly 30-40 minutes east of Marquette, MI and Sawyer International Airport, with daily flights from Detroit and Chicago.
Opening its doors sometime in 2019, this new space and place will be called The True North Treks Foglia Foundation WALDEN Institute, or The WALDEN Institute for short. Walden is the name of the classic novel by American writer Henry David Thoreau, which accounts his transformative experiences living in the woods for two years, two months, and two days where he reflected on nature, society, and his place in the world. It also stands for Wakeful Awareness in Life, Discovery and Encounters in Nature, which is at the heart of True North Treks.
While True North Treks will continue offering backcountry excursions out West, The WALDEN Institute will serve as a new home base and launching pad for backcountry treks into the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Porcupine Mountains, Sylvania Wilderness Area, Isle Royale National Park, the Apostle Islands, and the Boundary Waters, to name a few. Onsite amenities will include hiking and cross-country skiing trails, a small organic agricultural farm and fruit orchard to teach “food as medicine” practices, a freestanding yoga and meditation studio, and multiple sleeping options throughout the property.
While they now have a beautiful new space and place, there are several needed renovations, enhancements, and startup activities that need to happen before the doors can open so anyone interested in supporting this initiative through naming opportunities on the property, helping to furnish it through an online house warming gift registry, or contributing to programming through donations of money, gear and equipment, credit card or airline points, or for their Young Adult Cancer Survivorship Endowment fund, please click on the respective links, visit their website, and/or contact Founder and Executive Director, David Victorson (firstname.lastname@example.org). Any level of support makes a big difference as it will be essentially doubled through the pay-it-forward pledge.
In addition to serving young adults with cancer, The WALDEN Institute will also offer select, fee-based programs to non-cancer survivor groups to support their nonprofit activities. This will include mindful leadership workshops and retreats for business and medical professionals, as well as yoga and meditation training retreats for teachers and students from across the country. They hope to create meaningful partnerships with the surrounding community, including local businesses, farmer's markets, schools, universities, and healthcare organizations. For more information and updates on this new institute and its offerings, as well as volunteer opportunities, please visit: http://www.tntwaldeninstitute.org.