Q + A with Jill Wheeler

Q + A with Jill Wheeler

Q: What is the Wellfit Girls Program?

The Wellfit Girls Program empowers teen girls through adventure and outdoor education, leadership training, yoga and physical fitness challenges, social entrepreneurship and creative expression. The integrative program concludes with a life-changing service and trekking expedition to Peru in June 2015. The Southwest Florida teens will visit Cusco, trek the Sacred Valley reaching peaks above 15,000 feet and explore Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Modern Wonders of the World.

Over the course of the five months the girls follow a specific curriculum designed to prepare them for the final trip to Peru in June. The struggles they will experience on the mountain will correlate to life struggles they may currently have or may have in future years. They will learn they can accomplish anything they put their mind to. The goal is to inspire and empower each girl while nurturing and developing each girl’s individual leadership style. We are building strong women to be our future leaders. This year we are grateful to collaborate with House of Gaia, a 501c3, non-profit

Community Learning Center based in Naples. Stephanie Simon, 15, is one of 10 teens participating in the 2015 program. The high school freshman lives on Marco Island and wrote this about her time so far with the Wellfit Girls Program:

“When my mom first sat me down and told me about the Wellfit Girls Program I didn’t want to hear about it. Really I have to say it upset me. When she explained it had to do with women’s empowerment and that my therapist recommended it, I felt like she was secretly telling me that she thought I needed help. Which, in some way I did need help. For a long portion of my life I struggled with depression, mood swings, and self-harm. It wasn’t fun knowing you were the girl who’d go home and cry herself to bed. BUT being the stubborn girl I am, I didn’t want to admit that maybe this program would benefit me. So, while moaning and groaning, I pushed myself to just DO IT!

First off, a story about teenage girls taking on the task of five months of strenuous training (fitness + yoga) that resulted in a hike above 15,000 feet and visit to Machu Picchu in Peru, sure wasn’t just something I’d heard of before. Coming into the group I had no idea what to expect. I wondered what the people would be like, what the atmosphere would be like, etc. I never expected to walk into a group for teens just like me. Really I’m sure we all felt pretty awkward. Nonetheless a few sessions later we all loosened up, fitting all the norms for our miniature society.

As I write this we’re about half way through the program. Every Tuesday we do fitness and every Thursday is either yoga or leadership group. I am NOT the kind of person who wants to go out and work. Coming here I thought I’d be the same way. This group of girls has seriously changed me. They inspire me to go out and work for myself, and I’ve never had that before. When we run laps, they’re there next to me to support me when I’m struggling. When we do squats, they’re there to tell me I can do it. Because of the other wonderful people in my group I’ve seriously transformed. When you’re a young girl struggling with depression you think you’re stuck in a way. You think nothing will ever change and you’re in a hole with no way out, never wanting to do anything and just giving up and hiding yourself. I never thought that would change and it has. It’s weird that two months could do that to me; and there are still three more to go. For me this isn’t just climbing a mountain.

It’s not just pulling me out of this hole. It’s pulling hundreds of people out. It’s inspiring people to do it and to work for it. I love this group and I love these people. I feel brand new”

Q: What inspired you to create Wellfit Girls Program and the documentary

Stories like Stephanie’s are the reason I do what I do. My Call to Adventure came in 1994 in the wilds of Wyoming. It was a turning point in my life. Nature and my time spent exploring, climbing, surfing and camping for weeks in the backcountry saved my life. There was a time I was so low I didn’t know where to turn or with whom to connect, so I walked outside for hours and days alone. It became my mission to inspire others’ growth and transformation through nature and adventure. Unfortunately, Stephanie’s story is not unique. Too many teen girls struggle through their high school years, but this program can help all teen girls realize their highest potential through adventure.

Adventure Therapy is an integrated form of education, counseling and philosophy using the outdoors, adventure and intentional challenge. It is a humanistic, existential and ecologically minded practice that creates opportunities for expansion, self-discovery and metaphoric learning.

Why make a movie about it? I love documentaries. I’ve been a part of the Naples International Film Festival from it’s inception seven years ago and realized my story, in the vein of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, along with the girls’ unfolding stories would make for a compelling documentary. Warrior One was made to inspire women and girls around the world, to show them that they can climb high in all areas of life, no matter what challenges they face. Everyone can relate to the Warrior archetype. Warrior One is more than a movie, it’s a movement. We had our world premiere at the 2014 Naples International Film Festival and will be out in California at the end of the month at the Newport Beach Film Festival.

Q: Why do you travel internationally to do this work?

A: We intentionally create a series of challenges along the way to build incremental successes, which ultimately leads to a new sense of self and a confident way of being. The program helps these girls overcome self-esteem issues and learn coping mechanisms as well as social entrepreneurship, leadership and communication skills. In stepping out of their known worlds and traveling to Peru the girls develop new beliefs about themselves. By climbing high mountains, they develop higher concepts of themselves. They come home knowing they can move mountains intheir lives; perhaps even mountains they hadn’t realized had been standing in their

Q: How can I get involved?

A: Join our leadership movement for girls by screening Warrior One at your school, yoga studio, organization or company and bring the Wellfit Girls Program to you. We offer screenings, keynote presentations and leadership workshops. You can check out our free social action toolkit about our integrative approach to transformational leadership at www.WarriorOneMovie.com.

Q: How can I support Wellfit Girls Program?

A: Join us at Bala Vinyasa at 6200 Trail Blvd. North from 9-10:30 a.m. on April 25 for a special Power Vinayasa class with Debi Grilo. All proceeds from the class will benefit Wellfit Girls Program 2015. There will be a silent auction and bake sale following class. The cost is $20/person. Applications are available for 2016 for teens 15-18 years old.

For more information on Wellfit Girls Program, contact Colby Robertson at (239) 529-0366 or email colby@wellfitinstitute.com.

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