Eco-therapy initiative helps young refugees in Chicago

By Jessica Nieberg
Medill Reports

Clearing brush and trimming tree branches may be an Earth Day activity for some, but for Muntadher Al Maeeni, it’s a therapeutic experience. The teenage Iraqi refugee has been in the United States for more than two years, and he’s found community through a program called REACH, which trains youths like Muntadher to be leaders and gain confidence through outdoor activities.

Shana Wills runs the program which hopes to fill in the gap of resources that the disadvantaged and refugee teenagers need. “I watched a lot of boys fall into recruitment by gangs, become suicidal, become severely depressed,” she said.

Studies show eco-therapy can improve mental and physical well-being while reducing stress and advancing cognitive skills.

Photo at top: Muntadher Al Maeeni tears down a tree, with Joe Bana a volunteer with the Forest Preserve overseeing the day’s activity. (Jessica Nieberg/MEDILL)