‘I really believe in these kids’
“These kids get the skills their parents and grandparents used, and contribute local foods and berries to the community freezer for use by elders and others in the community.
“The results have been incredible, with an improvement (in behaviour) of almost 100 per cent,” she marvelled.
“You could see they were so stoked to be there (at the Torngat National Park), where we had an overnight trip.”
Hughes said the youth who graduate from the program will go on to be junior leaders to other at-risk youth. She believes so strongly in the program, she even made a personal donation of $10,000.
“I am leaving here so inspired,” she said. “I really believe in these kids...their capacity and resiliance. I honestly see myself in them.”
Hughes explained she used to be an 'at-risk' youth herself, while growing up in Winnipeg, and shared many of the same struggles as the kids in Nain.
“I brought my Olympic medals to Nain and people must look at them and think, 'I must have it easy,'” she said.
“But I shared my experiences and struggles growing up, my mental health issues with depression. And I talked about how in 1988 after watching the (Seoul) Olympics, I found sport...and it got me out of the drugs and alcohol and smoking, and I went back to school. Whether it's sports, music, culture — we all need something to give us purpose and pride, confidence. The youth need to open their hearts and minds to what's around them.”
Hughes said a lot of the youth shared their personal stories with her about their own struggles.
“I felt honoured they felt comfortable enough to talk with me,” she said. “It made me feel good and made them see I am really human. I may have had much success, but I also had my struggles, just like them, and I felt really connected and it meant so much.”
Hughes said Labrador had been on her ‘todo’ list for years, and she is grateful she had the chance to finally make it here.
“Labrador is an incredible place,” she said. “It’s adventurous, raw, rugged, with natural beauty and animals...I am already planning how to get back here for another trip!”