Tales for Good: Constructing group by the outside | Native

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Winona nonprofit alliance



Alexa Shapiro is the co-founder and director of groundbreaking

By Alexa Shapiro for the Daily News

The sun cast its light over the Mississippi, creating a soothing glow on the river that was warm and inviting. It was late afternoon in early June and a group of 30 people gathered at the Prairie Island Campground, running around and making small talk while they waited. For many it would be the first time paddling in a canoe. For others, it was the first time they had seen the beauty of the backwaters that nestled behind the trees across the river bank.

The Winona Outdoor Collaborative, a local nonprofit that is improving accessibility and inclusivity in outdoor recreation, unloaded canoes and helped everyone put on their personal flotation aids before equipping them with paddles. For the next two hours, this group of strangers paddled together through the backwaters, stopping halfway on a beach in the middle of the Mississippi, before returning for the last glimpse of the sun setting behind the cliffs.

As the group finished their paddle, WOC staff watched in awe as strangers became friends right before their eyes – exchanging phone numbers and making plans to paddle together in the future. People who spanned generations and backgrounds connected through their shared experiences in nature. Moments like these always remind WOC employees why they are doing this job.

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The WOC was founded with the hope of building a culture that would allow everyone to thrive in nature. As a new organization, the WOC is honored to see so many people challenged in nature over the past year. Whether it is about trying something unknown, leaving your comfort zone safely or simply going beyond yourself to find a new friend, there is simply something special about the power of nature to form community and empower people.