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Q&A: John McCall

Arkwings Foundation president

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Since its inception in 1991, John McCall's ArkWings Foundation has taken more than 600 local inner-city youth on weeklong trips to the American Southwest in an attempt to nourish their bodies, minds, and spirits. McCall, an associate professor with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, has the teenagers spend part of their time climbing, rappeling, hiking, and canoeing and another part distributing medical supplies at a Native American pueblo. Once back in Memphis, the community service continues. — By Zac Hill

Flyer: Taking kids on camping trips to New Mexico isn't most people's idea of medical care.

McCall: Medicine is an integrated process. A lot of medical schools around the country — Harvard, Duke, Stanford — have mind-body institutes. It's about reconnecting medical schools to teach more than just the allopathic aspects of medicine.

For so long, we didn't know how to measure that stuff, so the emotional and spiritual aspects of health got carved up and locked out. Really, we're trying to help people answer life's three questions: Where did we come from, what are we doing here, and where are we going? ... People are hard-wired to ask these things.

What happens on the mission trips?

Taking care of yourself to take care of others is a fundamental principle. We take the kids out to work with some of the Native American groups in New Mexico, and we distribute health-and-wellness kits as part of a Fourth of July parade. We do all kinds of outdoor activities, but the kids constantly say their favorite part is the parade. "For the first time," one of them said to me, "somebody wanted something that we had — and we had something to give to them."

That's our "transformational experience": getting these kids outside of their everyday environment, breaking the cycle and planting the ideas that there is something else in the world besides what they're used to. Most of these guys have never been out of Memphis.

What happens when you get back to Memphis?

When we come back to the real world, we see the kids once a week, do service projects, and talk. We collect medical equipment from hospitals and doctors' offices. The kids help pick this stuff up and take it to a warehouse where we transfer it out. We give the equipment to medical mission teams that are going overseas.

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