LEAD Retreat: Hope Academy 8th Grade


“In spite of so much hardship in their worlds they exceeded the expectations we set for them and showed an incredible willingness to serve, love, and become leaders to those around them.”

-Teresa, retreat staff

“Anything is possible if you try.-Hope Academy Student

We are very grateful to have had the 8th grade class from Hope Academy with us September 15-16 for a fantastic LEAD retreat! From games like Pull-up and Scoop-a-Noodle to depthful talks and discussions, to healing prayer time and overcoming team building challenges, our amazement with these young leaders increased with every moment. “How so?” you may ask. Well it was much more than the enthusiasm they generated (though they had plenty of it). It was the growth we witnessed in them after only two days!

As a retreat staff, we agree that our most fulfilling privilege is to witness the inspiring growth of character and confidence in the youth. Dunrovin’s LEAD retreats involve more than teambuilding activities and games and prayer; They are about the transformation of mind and heart that occurs in the midst of these structural activities. We have found that even though God’s love is not bound to the activities we do on a LEAD retreat, He always shows up anyway! The Lord’s presence was certainly among us for this retreat.

When Hope Academy’s 8th grade class first arrived, we immediately welcomed them with games and activities, in hopes of breaking down any uncertainties they may have brought along. Our personal favorite is a game called “Pull Up;” a battle of the genders (accompanied by AWESOME music). Many of the youth agree that coming together for these games is what sparked their desire to invest in the more challenging aspects of the retreat. And our retreat staff doesn’t just facilitate these activities and games – we invest in them with our full participation. These retreats are not a job for the staff, but a means to share what has been given to us: trust, encouragement, and belief.

If the many years of working with Dunrovin has taught Retreat Leader Teresa Kostohris anything, it’s that “…the key to success in the life of a young person is to believe in them.” First coming to Dunrovin as a 9th grader, Teresa was deeply touched by the trust, encouragement, and belief that she received from the staff, and now, 7 years later, continues to believe in the youth she works with.

This same belief is what’s so necessary for the Hope Academy class to succeed here. LEAD retreats always have an element of difficulty and struggle. Towards the end of day one, the class was given a team building challenge. They were tasked with accomplishing, what seemed to be, an insurmountable effort called “the Tarp Flip.” The challenge of this task is what would unite them as a class, and for several individuals, break down personal insecurity and fear.

Retreat Highlight – The Tarp Flip

“On the afternoon that the young people arrived, we gave them a task of flipping a large tarp. The catch – all thirty of them had to stand on it, and they couldn’t use their hands. For perhaps the first hour, they struggled with every possible aspect of the task. They shouted at each other, wouldn’t listen to anyone, and several of the kids shut down completely, not willing to undergo the emotional duress of the activity. No progress was being made, and any hope for a growth in communication and teamwork seemed lost. Then, all of a sudden, everything started working together. One of the young woman, who certainly did not take up any sort of leadership roles, began calling the shots. The best part – everyone listened. They all rallied together and pushed through this task, which moments before, was seemingly impossible. This group of 8th graders, as far as they were concerned, had conquered the world.” -Zach Richards

While watching the class struggle for the first hour with failed attempt after failed attempt, we couldn’t help but notice the yelling and frustration that bounced back and forth between classmates. The group that, several hours before, was laughing and playing pull up together, were now tired, sweaty, wet from being rained on, angry, frustrated, and altogether ready to quit.

However, something amazing happened. In the midst of the chaos and shouting, one encouraging voice continued to shout: “We can do this! Please, listen to my idea!” One student had developed a strategy to help her class succeed, and fought against the negativity to unite her class. At first, she was nervous to share her idea. But she received encouragement from several of her classmates and the counselors. Teresa, also known as “Miss Tess,” repeatedly encouraged her, saying: “That is a really good idea! You have to fight to make them listen!” Through her perseverance and that of supportive peers, the class united, and after two attempts, succeeded!

When we sat down to discuss the activity afterwards, her peers had amazing things to say about her. One of the students, who had always been among the class’s natural leaders, immediately affirmed his fellow classmate’s courage, saying to her: “We couldn’t have done this if you hadn’t been encouraging us that we could the whole time. When I gave up, you pressed on. I just want to say thank you and good job.” The whole class applauded her. As the discussion continued, more classmates affirmed and encouraged her. It was beautiful to watch them build her up – and to see her confidence grow. When asked about her experience, she encouraged her class saying: “I learned that we can be a team and that we are strong.” Then each member of the group shared what they had learned from the activity. Many talked about similar struggles and lessons, including: “I learned to persevere, to always have patience and to communicate.”  

Perseverance, kindness, patience, teamwork, communication, encouraging one another, and not giving up are just some of the students’ highlights from this LEAD retreat. For many of them, they needed someone to believe in them, and to push them past their comfort zone. Grace Kraker, retreat staff, commented about this saying: “Once someone believed they could make a difference in this world they shined and became leaders.”


Play Hard, Stay Focused, Trust, Have Fun,

Katie Kostohris

Dunrovin Retreat Team