We have two versions of our story to share. One is our"short & sweet" version below, and the other is our "unabridged version" if you have a little extra time and want more of the juicy details: The Unabridged WALDEN Story.
The Short and Sweet...
TRUE NORTH TREKS (TNT) is a national nonprofit organization that helps young adults with cancer get connected again after the very disconnecting experience cancer creates at this age. One of the primary ways that we fulfill TNT's mission is by taking groups of young adults and caregivers from across the United States on free backpacking and canoeing treks in beautiful backcountry wilderness destinations where they can connect with nature (after going through something as un-natural as cancer treatment), connect with peers who have been through something very similar, and connect with themselves through training and practice in mindfulness meditation and yoga.
Over the past few years we've come to realize that we were only able to reach a small percentage of eligible participants through our week-long treks in the backcountry. Therefore, we began offering "mini-treks" over a long weekend in retreat-style facilities in nature where people could sleep in beds and use bathrooms, but still have an opportunity to engage in the surrounding wilderness, connect with peers, and practice meditation and yoga. This has worked out very well.
We knew what we had to do: find our very own beautiful wilderness retreat facility. We would call the proposed retreat facility the TRUE NORTH TREKS WALDEN Institute. As you may know, Walden is the name of the pond where in 1854 the transcendentalist American writer Henry David Thoreau built his cabin and spent two years, two months, and two days reflecting in the woods on simple living, self-discovery, self- reliance, and the relationship between civilization and nature. Beyond this metaphoric association with the importance of getting back to our roots, for TNT, WALDEN also literally stands for “Wakeful Awareness in Life through Discovery and Encounters in Nature”, which is exactly how we help the people we serve.
We conducted a market analysis based on current locations of similar retreat-style lodges and centers across the United States, including cost of land, cost of living, accessibility to major cities and airports, and proximity to university-based medical hospitals and cancer treatment centers.
One of the only untouched regions in the US without similar facilities, that has vast amounts of unfettered and affordable pristine wilderness, is the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or the UP. Over 85% of the UP is forestland, which is bordered by three Great Lakes and contains some 4,300 inland lakes, 12,000 miles of streams, 1,700 miles of shoreline, and over 300 waterfalls.
We enlisted the volunteer support of some incredibly bright, talented, and big-hearted architectural design students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Louisa and Klaire) who helped us to create, clarify, and prioritize our overarching goals, values, and functional requirements of the facility. We wanted a space and place that was quiet, remote, based in nature, peaceful, open, inspiring, restorative, eco-friendly and fellowship facilitating. It needed to have sufficient bandwidth to accommodate large groups of cancer survivors and caregivers who could stay onsite for a number of days to engage in yoga, meditation, food-as-medicine activities (e.g., farming, demonstration/teaching kitchen), and encounters in surrounding nature.
We shared our vision and plan for TNT and the WALDEN Institute with our amazing angel donors, the Foglia Family Foundation of Barrington, IL. To our incredible surprise and delight, they were on board. Suddenly we were all traveling to potential properties in the UP to look at them firsthand together as a team. After we found a very special Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired property on Lake Superior it wasn't long before the Foglia Family Foundation helped us make this dream a reality, putting us on our own path of paying forward new possibilities to everyone we serve.
John Lundeen is a Finnish-American artist who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright's last apprentice, Herbert Fritz, Jr. Together with Herb and his wife Char, with much blood, sweat, and tears, they designed and built what we are now calling the Foglia Foundation WALDEN Institute over a three-year period. As John says, "the house is what it is, because we pursued a shared dream with stubborn determination and refused to compromise design detail or construction quality. It was built without contracts and perhaps irrational confidence that it could be completed. It was meant to be."
Our story of how all of this came to pass ends and begins here. The Foglia Foundation WALDEN Institute is but a mere "gracious tenant" now to a sacred space and place once walked upon by the Chippewa. The Powers of Air, the humbling Lake Superior winds and wave-sculpted boulder formations lining the coast, will all whisper their tales in the dreams of all who visit - especially those who are open to receiving the restorative and healing gifts which the trees, rocks, soil, birds, wind, and waves freely give to all who come.
© TRUE NORTH TREKS 2018 Phone: 773-972-2367 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Address: N8803 Koski Road, Au Train, Michigan, 49806 (Latitude: 46.474267, Longitude: -86.791816)