Although Peter Prediger (’00, ‘04) loved studying psychology and sociology, he never saw himself working with youth. In fact, it was the furthest thing from his interest. But after graduating with his Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy, working with youth has been his sole focus, due to the challenge of one counsellor.
While doing an internship at a private practice, his supervisor said she wanted him to try working with a nine-year-old boy.
“I told her I didn’t want to, that it wasn’t an interest of mine,” says Prediger. “She then basically told me if I wasn’t willing, I better find a different internship.”
This was not the reaction Prediger expected. He was shocked by her insistence. Would she really let him go over this?
Not wanting to risk his internship, Prediger relented. The experience proved to be transformational.
Learning to Be Okay with Play
A few days later, a nine-year-old boy came into the office with his mom. The boy sat on one corner of the couch with his knees up. His mom let Prediger know everything they struggled with, then left so he could get to work.
“To be honest, I had no idea what to do,” says Prediger. “When she finished, the only thing in my mind was, “Do you like Lego?’”
Prediger sat with the boy and played with Lego for the entire hour. They didn’t talk much about anything substantial, but they made a connection. At the end, when Prediger’s supervisor came in to ask how it went, he broke down crying.
“It was amazing,” says Prediger. “I love adventure sports, like whitewater kayaking. There’s a certain feeling I get with that stuff. Meeting with this kid gave me the same feeling!”
Prediger says he was resistant to working with kids in the past because someone he respected had told him that he was irresponsible and that play was a bad thing. When he told his supervisor this, she shook her head and told him emphatically, “You were meant to play. You were meant to use that to touch people’s lives and engage with them. If you’re not doing that, what’s the point?”
“That opened up so many doors for me,” says Prediger. “That was a huge turning point in my life.” After that experience, he worked mostly with young boys, playing mini hockey together and talking during breaks. He was in his element and found he could connect with kids in incredible ways through the act of play.
Take a Hike Foundation
After graduating, Prediger went on to work for Take a Hike Foundation, a full-time alternate high-school program that works exclusively with helping transform the lives of at-risk youth through community engagement and outdoor adventure-based activities. He’s been with the company ever since and is now Director of Operations.
Some of the kids Prediger and his team work with haven’t been involved in traditional high-school for over a year, and have developed a distrust of adults and programs meant to help them.
“They’re very defensive,” says Prediger. “A lot of them spent their full teenage years avoiding and resisting adults. But I know that any who come into our programs have met their match.”
Through engaging in adventure-based learning activities like backpacking trips, kayaking, and snowshoeing—as well as having access to full-time clinical counsellors in each classroom—these youth are able to connect classroom learning to real-world experiences and overcome obstacles in their life.
Caring like Christ
Although it is not a Christian organization, Prediger says his staff take a very Christ-like approach.
“Our staff are incredible in how they pursue the students,” says Prediger. “We have quite high expectations. We want to see our students succeed and overcome some of the barriers that get in their way.”
Prediger believes this is the way Jesus lived, and he’s used this model in his approach to working with youth. “Yeah, I’m going to challenge people and push them, but I’m also going to be so irresistible that they can’t help but listen to me and approach me, then experience healing,” says Prediger. “That’s the heart of the gospels!”
Through the efforts of Prediger and the Take a Hike staff, students of the program been able to engage and grow in tremendous ways since the program was founded in 2000.
But when looking back, Prediger says he wouldn’t be where he is today if not for his supervisor—the one who taught him it was okay to play and called this out in him when he was just an intern.
“It was that balance of really challenging me and pushing me, but doing it in a loving way,” says Prediger. “She wasn’t going to let me off the hook with what she believed she saw in me. And I believe that’s true mentorship. I still knew she was with me, even though she was willing to let me go.”
In the same way, Prediger hopes to challenge his staff and students to be the best versions of themselves, all through the beautiful act of playing together.