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The Globe and Mail

Using nature to nurture people with disabilities

Tim Cormode, founder and executive director of Power to Be Adventure Therapy Society

chad hipolito The Globe and Mail

Tim Cormode, founder and executive director of Power to Be Adventure Therapy Society, Victoria

Imagine if your health practitioner wrote out a prescription for kayaking, camping or rock climbing to help you through a health challenge? At a time when Tim Cormode, 42, was dealing with his own anxieties, he turned to the outdoors. Fifteen years later, this confident, adventurous crusader for the healing impact of adventure, has united 300 not-for-profit organizations and businesses to support more than 5,500 youth and families in B.C. who are living with a mental or physical disability.

Making a difference

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"Quality of life is improved by the therapeutic outcomes that nature offers. We provide programs to kids as young as 8 who face challenges as diverse as cancer, autism, Down syndrome, brain injuries, abuse at home or tough socio-economic conditions. Programs include a day of family camping trips, snowshoeing, surfing and sailing trips."

First step

"I volunteered for two weeks for an outdoor organization in the U.S. outside of Denver. It changed my life overnight. I can still recall my first rafting trip down a river in Utah with a few people living with a brain injury. I was on Unemployment Insurance and I applied for a grant called the Community Futures Program to start my own business. The rest is history!!"

Aha! moment

"In 2001, my dad volunteered as a doctor. In partnership with BC Children's Hospital, we took eight youth who are living with cancer, ages 13 to 18, on a seven-day kayaking trip to the Broken Group Islands Group on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Still gives me goose bumps thinking about it."

Any setbacks?

"In 2003 we were $45,000 in debt. We were a young not-for-profit with limited assets. I took a loan based on the equity of my home to support the debt and build our business plan. I thought I would lose my home."

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What discourages you?

"Cutbacks in many areas of education, social services and health. To help fix that issue, organizations need to learn to work together, yet the word collaboration continues to be more of a buzzword than an action."

Your hero?

"Nelson Mandela. He taught me to never lose sight of my integrity and to treat all people equally."

What can money accomplish?

"We get 95 per cent of our funding from individuals and the private sector and 5 per cent from the federal and provincial governments. Our goal in 2012 is to raise $1.4-million. With these dollars we can reach out to 550 families, an additional 75 families from the prior year, while expanding our services in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island."

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What keeps you going?

"Just this fall the Adaptive Recreation Program piloted its first family surf program in Tofino. Three families met the Power To Be crew there, most a little nervous about their first surfing adventure. When the families hit the water for the first session their nervousness instantly washed away with huge smiles."

Which celebrity could help?

"Neil Young, and Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam come to mind. I love what they stand for and I love their music. They are community-minded people. Neil also has children who live with a disability. I would love to unite them both for a charity concert for Power To Be."

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Farah Mohamed is the curator of the G(irls)20 Summit. Send suggestions for the Action Figure to

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