On a clear morning in Portland, Oregon, fourteen youth with oversized backpacks await a long day of travel. Along with five veterans, a few volunteers and “Axe the Service Dog,” they are headed to Fairbanks, Alaska. From there they will pile into bush planes and fly into the Arctic Circle. This is Soul River, a non-profit organization founded by decorated Navy veteran Chad Brown, and their three-week deployment to the CHANDALAR RIVER is the culmination of outdoor conservation education, collective strengthening, leadership development, healing, and a whole lot of fly fishing.
At first glance, this group is an unlikely bunch to be rowing down an Arctic River in search of fish but as they pull on their waders and start casting, it’s clear they know a little something about why we all seek out closeness with the river. Many of the participants come from different worlds and while they know that their experience with trauma is what initially binds them together, it isn’t what defines them.
On the river, the tasks at hand require all of their focus, and these mission-driven experiences in wild spaces give them a sense of purpose and provide a new context to understand themselves and their capabilities. This is a story of how U.S Veterans can change lives and find purpose by volunteering their time. It is a story about the bonds formed between the veterans and youth on the river and about the importance of the natural world to mental health. More than anything, it is a story of resilience.
For more information about Soul River and to donate click HERE.