J’Saun Bastien recently graduated from Thompson Island’s Green Ambassador 3 year program. This May, he stood in front of the 2017 Annual Gala’s audience to share his history and his passion for Thompson Island. In front of his friends, family, and Thompson Island’s loyal supporters, J’Saun recalled his first visit to Thompson Island with his middle school class in 2012. But J’Saun didn’t beat around the bush – he explained how his initial trip to Thompson Island almost never happened.
“You know what I was thinking?,” he asked leaning forward towards the audience candidly, “Noooo thanks, J’Saun. Just stay home. Sure, I always liked watching Animal Planet, but that was very different from being on an island surrounded by plants and bugs,” he laughed, “I mean, what kind of people really enjoy being outside in the scorching sun, constantly getting bit by mosquitoes, just watching grass grow???”
After a pause J’Saun chuckled and said, “Turns out… my kind of people.”
J’Saun’s initial hesitation wasn’t surprising to Tyler Nay, Thompson Island’s Discovery Program Manager. “Students can be really intimidated coming to the island for the first time,” he explained.
For many, it could be their first visit to a nature preserve, their first time on a boat, their first overnight trip away from family, and with so many unfamiliar experiences all piling up at once, students can easily feel overwhelmed. So Tyler says it’s important to help students start having fun and forming connections with their instructors and peers right away.
The icebreakers start early. Tyler has his students play games, “so they’re moving around, having fun and being active. No real challenge – just something focused around having fun and working with the rest of your team,” he explains.
And while the opening icebreakers may be brief and lighthearted, the group bonding, team building, and opportunities for connection that follow are serious business. Because at the end of the day, Thompson Island staff aren’t interested in simply providing a fun field trip – their goal is to create a space where students can let their guard down and open up.
J’Saun recalls the feeling vividly. “When I went to the island for the first time in 7th grade, I got to experience a place that I felt safe,” he said. “All the fears and insecurities that I had about my neighborhood, my bullies, all vanished. [Thompson Island] was a place that let me, be me. The front I carried for so many years, fell away. I got to be a kid: have fun, be curious, be excited.”
In J’Saun’s words, Thompson Island staff hear the echos of the Island’s goal: to create a safe space where students are able to open up, step out of restrictive comfort zones, find inspiration, develop confidence, and believe in themselves. It’s the work that continues where the icebreakers end. It’s the work that repeats year after year, visit after visit. But it is the work that pays off.
As J’Saun told the audience, “For me, I now believe the possibilities are limitless, I believe in myself so strongly because for 5 dedicated years, Thompson Island has believed in me. The staff…Shalese, Sam, Olga… I know you are here tonight and you guys have always been there for me. So thank you for being by my side year after year. And thank you for helping make me who I am today.”
View J’Saun’s full speech: