When Rob and Kathy Wenzel first came through North Idaho about four years ago, it seemed like they had entered a time warp.
“Meeting the people, we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is like going back 50 years into a beauty where people are respectful and loving and neighborly,’” Kathy said.
They moved to Bonners Ferry from Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2015 and set up a counseling practice, Art of Redirection. They found ways to invest in their community, volunteering with the fire department and doing some counseling at the Boundary County jail as well.
As they got to know the community, they saw that the same problems that affect the rest of the country were also in Bonners Ferry, and they wanted to do what they could to address these issues.
Enter their Night Activities, a free program for teens and their families.
“While we were volunteering at the detention center, we found out that the similarities here to the (bigger) cities is the kids are doing drugs, they’re drinking, they’re caught up in pornography, so they’re hitting what we call the four major food groups: drugs, alcohol, sex, electronics,” Rob said. “They’re pretty high numbers. Bonners Ferry is just a reflection of what’s happening across the U.S.”
So Rob and Kathy approached school superintendent Gary Pflueger with the Night Activities, which mirrored a program they had led in Colorado.
The school board approved it, and the Wenzels have hosted the program at the Bonners Ferry Middle School since January.
Night Activities focuses on wilderness emergency response, survival games, search and rescue, and emergency services, according to their program description online. It is a 10-week program that facilitates “reinforcement of appropriate structure, limits and expectations,” which aims to “enable participants to re-learn necessary skills and concepts of accountability to function on a more respectful level at home, in school and in the community.”
Currently they have eight families and 12 children involved in the program, which meets Fridays at 7pm, Kathy said.
As the weather gets nicer, Rob said they will get outside and show participants how to start fires, set up shelters and teach some nighttime skills.
For now, he said, they are playing games and doing activities to teach them about the value of rules, limits and expectations.
They hope the program grows, and with it they will need more adult volunteers who already possess such wilderness survival skills—or who are at least willing to come out into the woods along with them.
Gus Jackson, fire chief of North Bench Fire District, has worked with the Wenzels through the fire department and said he also recognizes the need that Night Activities is trying to address. Jackson grew up in Bonners Ferry and said the variety of activities teens can get involved with has decreased since he was young.
“Aside from (4-H) and the school programs, there’s not a lot outside of that,” Jackson said. “It just seems like there’s less and less to do that’s constructive, especially for teenagers.”
Besides simply giving teenagers something more to do, learning wilderness skills could also lead them to explore and pursue related professions, according to Jackson.
Rob agrees, adding that Night Activities will also be a way for students to meet law enforcement, search and rescue experts and other professionals.
“It might change their mind and give them a career goal so they push through high school,” Rob said.
The Wenzels emphasized as well that the children and families involved with the program are not necessarily already involved with the “four major food groups” as they called them. They would just like to prevent kids from going down those paths.
“The kids that do sports, that keeps them out of trouble, (as do) the kids who do a lot with church,” Rob said. “We’re catching the kids that are in between there who don’t do either one. These kids are great. They’re cool. ... Any kid is at risk if they don’t have adults to speak to them.”
One basic motivation for the program is that the Wenzels love the wilderness and want to share that with young people. They hope by equipping families with these skills—both wilderness and relational—that the community as a whole will benefit.
It is a community the Wenzels want to be a part of for awhile. They bought some land by Smith Lake and plan to build a tiny house on it this summer.
So far they said the program is doing well and attendees are enjoying it.
“These kids are liking it a lot,” Rob said. “At first they don’t want to come because Mom’s bringing them, but they’re having fun and looking forward to going into the woods.”
But, the Wenzels said, they need more help to keep the free program going—and growing.
“We have gotten some people to get involved as volunteers, but we gotta get more. We gotta surround these kids, because as kids hear about it more will want to come in.”