Imagine running wildly through a field of dewy, spring-green grass. The wind whips through your hair and you dash around with power, speed, and youthful delight. You’re only 14 years old, so there’s absolutely nothing in the entire world that can hold you back. Until suddenly, something does. A menacing headache and a pounding heart begin to halt your joy and you’re forced to stop and catch a second breath. While this may seem out of the ordinary for the average pre-teen, for Turning Winds alumni Jonathon, occurrences like this became his new reality.
Jonathon was born with a congenital heart defect that causes an aortic coarctation. This irregularity, causes Jonathon’s heart to pump harder than the average person’s in order to force blood through his abnormally narrow aorta. While this issue did not affect him much throughout his childhood, at 14 years old Jonathon noticed he got tired easily, experienced a lot of headaches, and had extremely high blood pressure. After going in for a yearly heart check-up, his doctors determined that open-heart surgery would be required.
While the surgery was a success for Jonathon’s physical health, his mental health started to decline. A deep depression set in after the surgery, driving him to self-harm which resulted in constant trips to the emergency room. Jonathon even admits that his depression got so bad his therapist recommended he seek treatment at Turning Winds, a family-run therapeutic boarding school in Montana for teenagers. Although Turning Winds is highly regarded for its unique program, Jonathon was not so excited about the transition.
“It was hard at first because I didn’t want to be there, and after a couple months of being there, when I finally accepted, ‘hey, I’m not leaving until I’m better,’ that’s when I actually started to help myself and started to change myself,” Jonathon told the Moscow-Pullman Daily News.
Following a program focused on nightly group sessions, sports, and the outdoors, Jonathon slowly began to turn his life around. For an Eagle Scouts project, Jonathon and his peers split, stacked, and delivered firewood to a former Turning Winds staff member who had cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and other health problems. These repeated acts of service began to really influence Jonathon’s outlook.
He goes on further to tell the Daily News, “I felt like I really need to help this guy out because I have this big opportunity to help out the community.”
With the help of Turning Winds’ staff members who all understood Jonathon’s mental health struggles, he was able to embrace a new community and find the inspiration he needed to heal from his depression. During his time at Turning Winds, Jonathon earned his Eagle Scout rank, the highest rank attainable in Boy Scouts of America. Now, 17-year-old Jonathon has earned his GED and is planning on attending Lewis-Clark State College to become a registered nurse and work in the emergency department.
His dream is to work on an emergency service helicopter.
These seemingly small acts of service that Jonathon performed at Turning Winds made a huge impact on not only himself but the lives of the academy’s staff too. Teenagers who volunteer with Squads Abroad also have the opportunity to follow in Jonathon’s footsteps and make a major impact on their community. Squads Abroad programs empower high schoolers to use their unique health, education, and STEM skills to serve under-resourced communities and help improve global health and education outcomes.
If you’d like to impact a community and transform your students’ lives like Jonathon, click here to learn more about Squads Abroad!