The 2009 Crawford Prize Recipient
Robert Kohel is the founder of the Eagle's Nest Center which is a not-for-profit organization created to help all youth of all races and nations to co-exist in a peaceful manner. The Center focuses on issues like fear, anger, guilt and shame associated with social problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, family violence, and depression. The goal is to provide services that address these issues through a Native American based spiritual perspective. It accomplishes the goals by providing a safe environment where youth can come and receive services that will help them create a healthy way of life in today's world for themselves as well as continued support to maintain a healthy co-existence among all people.
After a very troubled youth and early adulthood, Kohel met his wife, now of 25 years, Judy. Then in his early twenties, he saw the need to be a man and take care of his family including a son and daughter. Kohel realized that he did not want his children to go through the same life experience as himself, and he set about turning his negative behaviors into positive resources and wisdom to guide his children and their friends.
Wanting to share his love for the out-of-doors with children, the family was always involved in all types of outdoor activities. With no male role model, Kohel watched other fathers look deep inside and developed his own moral code of fatherhood. His ideas of discipline included sitting and talking with his children when things went wrong in their lives. He taught them to recognize their own negative behaviors by asking pertinent questions and explained to them how to be accountable for the choices in life. Motivated by their father's compassion for others, the Kohel children began to bring home other children they knew who were at-risk of falling through life's cracks. As a true mentor, Kohel always held true in his heart to his belief that children are sacred and with true compassion for their battles became very successful in helping these children.
Robert and Judy sold their farm and moved to rural Marquette County, Wisconsin, to begin a new life on an old run-down forty acre campground. As their children grew into high school students, their friends and the problems they brought to their home became extreme. Never turning away anyone, Kohel would sit for hours with teens and counsel them with their difficulties. Robert looked to the land to set up a youth camp. As the Kohel children moved on with their careers, other adult and youth volunteers came to take their place and help form the Eagle's Nest Center.
Kohel's personal philosophy surrounds the power of mentoring youth. When you affect a change in one person's life, you also change the lives of their children and grandchildren. Many times, out-of-pocket and through four remortgages of their own home, Kohel continued to guide youth through positive experimental projects combined with Native wisdom. His focus is with rural youth and tribal communities, particularly youth from single parent homes, foster care, and youth who have fallen between the cracks where there are no resources for recreational activities and for positive role models or counseling programs. Kohel developed three main programs which focus on transitional living, restorative justice, and cultural education.
As founder and head mentor, Kohel continues to share his Native American background and couples that with life wisdom when guiding at-risk youth. Many of his stories and teachings have their basis in nature and he strategically plans many of his teachings with outdoor events. Kohel says, "There is always an opportunity to assist, guide, and mentor young people through life wisdom, nature, and recreation".
Clearly, Robert Kohel is making a lasting contribution to the lives of young people in Wisconsin and neighboring areas.