Nature to Nurture the Mind

Local Gloucester student hikes over 60 Miles at Ravenswood to promote mental wellbeing.

Thomas smiles on a hike

For Thomas, it seems like challenges are made to be met, and goals made to be exceeded. 

A local student in Gloucester and a part of the Gloucester Transition Program, Thomas has been setting goals to get outdoors and conquer his anxiety for the past two years with the help of his teacher and biggest cheerleader, Heather Driscoll. This fall, Thomas set an initial goal of hiking 15 miles, picking Ravenswood as the place to do it. 

“Not only did he reach [his goal], he actually blew it out of the water,” Driscoll explained. Thomas hiked over 65 miles at Ravenswood with friends from the program by his side. Every Friday, no matter the weather conditions, he set out on the trails. Along the way, he explained, his confidence grew, his anxieties were quieted and he found a passion for leadership. 

“It was definitely challenging sometimes, but we got through it together, working as a team,” Thomas explained.  

A Ravenswood trail in December

Thomas points to a trail on a Ravenswood wayfinding sign

Over those 65 miles, Thomas learned how to navigate all the trails at Ravenswood. He selected his route based on the features he was looking for – from boardwalks through the swap, to boulder fields, and scenic overlooks.   

“I would say what made it special was getting comfortable speaking out to others and saying hello to people who are also walking on the trails,” Thomas shared. 

Thomas described himself as nervous at the beginning of the challenge. “I was like a little bit nervous about it because I wasn’t sure if I would feel comfortable walking out in the woods.” 

“There was a lot to be nervous about,” added Driscoll. “We don’t know if we’re going to see a wild animal or are we going to see dogs, or we’re going to see people. Or what if someone’s nice? What if they’re not nice? What if we get lost? What if we get separated from the group? What if we get hurt? All sorts of things that could go wrong.” She continued. “We can think over and over again all those negative things that could happen. But they didn’t. We just got to enjoy.” 

“I think to see the transformation for Thomas where he started out with, I would say a lot of anxiety, something that he works on every day really. Thomas is a very courageous person.” She finished.

A scene from Ravenswood trails.

Driscoll explained that when Thomas started hiking, he might have begun the walk feeling anxious, but by the end the nervous energy was clearly gone.  

 “I had forgotten all about it,” he shared. “After I was done with walking at Ravenswood, I would just forget about what I was worrying about.” 

Thomas grew his leadership skills on the trail too, taking charge of the group, and growing his full voice from what Driscoll described as a whisper to a commanding and full one. Thomas’s growth included not only personal confidence, but the ability to generalize leadership skills from beyond the trail.  

One of Thomas’s favorite memories came later in his hiking challenge, when he and friends ventured out without Heather for the first time on the trails. “Me and a friend went out alone without Heather, and it was great knowing what to do and not feeling worried about being alone and stuff,” he shared.

Thomas and a classmate navigate Ravenswood

Thomas smiles on the trail

For those who maybe haven’t tried getting outside to relieve their anxiety, or haven’t taken on a challenge like this, Thomas shares the following: 

“Talk to the ones you trust and love and that they’ll help you achieve your goal. Nature helps me calm down. It lets us get away from the bad stuff and this focus on the good stuff.” 

Thomas, along with classmates, was recognized in January for reaching his hiking challenge goals with a small ceremony at the Cape Ann YMCA that his friends and family attended. Pilar Garro, Director of the Long Hill Portfolio and Erina McWilliam-Lopez, Executive Director of the Cape Ann YMCA were also in attendance. “It felt amazing and surreal,” Thomas shared. 

“It was such a lovely recognition for these young men,” shared Pilar. “To see our Trustees places make such a positive impact, allowing for growth, learning, and fun all at the same time, is inspiring and speaks to the core of our mission here.”

Photo order(L to R): Lisa Williams, GHS Coord of Special Education Erina McWilliam-Lopez, Executive Director at the Cape Ann YMCA; Jack Frates Julio Torres Thomas Bernard Pilar E. Garro, Director with the Trustees of the Reservations

Thomas is now working independently at an internship in Gloucester, and looking forward to the next trails he gets to try out – and returning to Ravenswood for some more hiking in the summer. He’s learning how to find the right environment for himself, with the trails at Ravenswood paving the way.  

The word he uses now to describe himself? Determination. 

Congratulations to Thomas and his classmates for their accomplishments in hiking Ravenswood. 

To learn more about the property and what you can find there, click here.

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