Neal wasn’t really all that unusual for a 7th grader growing up in Cushing. Son of a lobster fisherman. Mother had a day job as a sales analyst. He had an older sister and twin brother that he got along with well enough. They enjoyed soccer and baseball, with dad doubling up as their coach. In those formative years, their lives revolved around the ocean as it had for generations. And so lobstering would be Neal’s destiny… not in a bad way, he just never thought to look beyond it. All things considered, life was pretty normal.
The storm clouds gathered around family life when his dad injured his back and the unrelenting pain that came with it started crowding out any semblance of normalcy. Neal’s parents divorced by the time he was a freshman. Home had long ceased being a happy place for him, and there wasn’t anything he felt he could do to get beyond it. The lack of control in his life eventually became overwhelming, and he shut down. Grades tanked as he ranked 70 out of 72 students that year. Social interactions were train wrecks. Not surprisingly, he battled long periods of depression. Self-esteem wasn’t part of his vocabulary. The trajectory was bad on all fronts.
Neal was lucky just the same. He had a safety net, although at the time he didn’t fully recognize it. He had enrolled in Trekkers, an outdoor-based, multi-year mentoring program. And key to Neal’s story, Trekkers didn’t fade away with the outgoing tide.
“The Trekkers program and staff didn’t give up on me, even though I fell short of the goals. They stayed with me through some pretty dark times.”
The underlying notion with Trekkers is that relationships… not programs… are what change lives. Neal was a textbook case in point.
“I fought it fiercely at first, but eventually I came to fully see where I was at and to accept what was wrong about my situation… to get past the acting out. I came to understand that you act based on your sense of self-worth, and I could change that. But more importantly, I saw that I was capable of more and that I was worthy of success.”
Through Trekkers, Neal learned to speak up for himself. He became less reactive. He discovered that forgiveness is something you do for yourself as much as the other person…. and much more:
“I learned that happiness was not just about the goal. It’s about the journey… and how you engage with your life along the way.”
Today, Neal is finishing up his senior year at USM, where he’s majoring in Political Science and Economics. His studies included a semester abroad in Jordan, which is where he discovered a keen interest in human rights. Now he envisions a career that involves international field work, perhaps in some capacity working for the United Nations.
Thanks to Trekkers, Neal’s view goes beyond the waters off Cushing… now it’s the world.