Father and son team find the right path

It’s a long way from the Himalayas to Toronto’s inner city, but Jim Hayhurst and son Jimmy Jr., members of the 1988 Everest Express Team, have made the stretch. The life-changing experience inspired a desire to focus on the truly important, by helping others find a purposeful trail through life. Both men are deeply committed to a charity run by Jimmy Jr. called Trails Youth Initiatives, dedicated to helping inner city children.

Consulting school principals, social workers, teachers and community workers, Jimmy Jr. , soon realized there were kids who managed to excel, and others constantly in trouble. But the kids between the two extremes were vulnerable and needed support systems. “They’re the kids who aren’t in trouble now,” says the elder Hayhurst, “but they’re going to be if somebody doesn’t do something for them.”

Son Jimmy, now Trails’ Executive Director, got chilling confirmation of that statement after the tragic murder at the Just Desserts restaurant in Toronto. One of the Trails kids revealed he’d been recruited by the gang involved in the shooting. But given the opportunity to join the Trails program, held chosen Trails instead. “We’re making a difference,” affirmHayhurst Sr., now Chairman of Trails.

Mission Not Impossible
“Our mission is to make the kids contributing members of their community by increasing their self-confidence, improving their skills and their knowledge … We wanted to have a real change in their lives, so we knew we could only work with a few kids … but we assumed there’d be a ripple effect in the community, Jim Hayhurst says.

The 90 youngsters sign on for four years, dedicating two weeks in the summer, a weekend every month and part of Christmas and spring break to the Trails camp. It’s interactive and fun. Games, roleplaying and presentations by boys and girls develop life skills -effective communication and conflict resolution — and challenge thinking on substance abuse and relationships.

Face the challenge
“We challenge them physically as well, 11 says Jimmy. “The ropes course is a series of challenges, like a jungle gym up in the trees. They’re all strapped in but they’re 35 to 40 feet up in the air. It’s team building. They also do hikes and canoe trips as a group — it’s recreation and learning,” he notes.

Trails will move this fall to a new, permanent home north of Stouffville, Ontario. The kids, involved in the planning from the start, will build cabins and clear trails this summer. The Hayhursts wanted them to have a stake in the place, for little else in their lives is permanent.

The first “graduates” of the program couldn’t believe they were through at Trails — so now they’re leaders-in-training. “They don’t want to leave,” smiles Hayhurst Sr. “They say it’s the best thing in their lives.”