Skip to main content

Concordia alumna opens new space in nature for curious minds

From its home in the wilderness, Brila — a charity founded by Natalie M. Fletcher — helps inspire youth to think, create and engage
January 25, 2024
By Samantha Rideout, GrDip 10

A group of people dining outdoors near a lake with a forested hill in the background at sunset. Brila’s new headquarters allow for hiking, swimming, kayaking, campfires and stargazing in summertime, and snowshoeing, sledding and skating during winter | Photo:

In 2007, Natalie M. Fletcher, PhD 19, launched Brila, a charity that encourages youth — and the adults who support them — to explore philosophical concepts through dialogue and creative projects, notably via its summer camps. 

Over the years, the organization has offered programming at a variety of locations including Concordia’s Loyola Campus in Montreal’s Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood. But in spring 2022, to mark its 15th anniversary, Brila found a space to call its own: 96 acres of wilderness in the Lanaudière region, just one hour north of Montreal.

The site includes a forest with large trails, as well as a field overlooking a serene lake. “When you’re there, you get the sense that you’re off the grid,” says Fletcher. “All you hear are birds and frogs.”

Even so, there are weatherized wood cabins and comfy mattresses, as well as multimedia equipment, because Fletcher doesn’t want to exclude anyone who doesn’t consider themselves outdoorsy. The point is not to rough it, but rather to create “a space apart” for an immersive experience. “There’s something magical that happens when humans don’t have other distractions and can just be together,” she explains.

A smiling woman with brown hair, wearing a black top, red scarf, and brown pants, seated on a wooden stool against a purple background. Adults often underestimate the abilities and insights of children and teens, says Brila founder Natalie M. Fletcher | Photo: Melissa Gamache

This year, the new setting will host programs for all ages, including Brila’s “Imagi-Nation” overnight camps for kids ages seven and up featuring creative challenges to think and make outside the box while enjoying the outdoors. “You wake up to wacky games, discuss big issues that matter to you like the environment, then design a creative solution, such as building sustainable homes for gnomes, before finishing the day by the campfire under the stars,” says Fletcher.

There are also training retreats for adults who are learning to facilitate philosophical workshops themselves. 

Growing up with philosophy

Fletcher is proud that Brila is a member of the international Philosophy for/with Children (P4wC) movement. “It’s an approach that gives children a chance to dialogue about the questions and issues that concern them the most in their lives,” says Fletcher, who is a certified P4wC trainer and teaches at Université de Montréal. “So, we’re not just viewing them as eventual adults: we’re valuing who they are right now.”

Fletcher has crafted her own approach within P4wC dubbed “Philocreation.” She developed it as part of her doctoral studies at Concordia’s Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies in Society and Culture

“I saw my doctorate as a lab to work through my ideas for my charity work,” she says. “It was hugely inspirational to be in a university program that supports artistic and activist practice. That’s rare.”

Philocreation fuses philosophical exploration with creative expression, notably through its “philozines”: collaborative publications that record participants’ ideas in the form of writing, artwork or multimedia creations. Recent philozine topics included “Can Belief Be Scary?” and “Are We Truly Free?”

Creative expression helps young people to retain and apply more of their ideas. “We’ve also found that there are kids who don’t get as much out of the classic P4wC approach because of ADHD or other exceptionalities,” Fletcher says. “But they’re brilliant. They just need different ways of interacting with the ideas through visual and tactile aids.”

Over its decade and a half in action, Brila has seen numerous kids come back year after year. These participants credit the organization with fostering abilities ranging from critical thinking to building their own values. They also emphasize that they have had a lot of fun.

To Fletcher, the most exciting thing about these young people is their intellectual humility. “We try to model doubting, wondering, asking for help, being okay with changing your mind and feeling comfortable with complexity,” she says. “We also show kids how to express disagreement in a respectful way.”

In other words, they learn an alternative to the rigid thinking that underpins polarized TV newscasts, social-media flame wars and even violent extremism.

“I’m in awe of the young humans who have grown up in front of my eyes, because they truly want to make the world better,” Fletcher says. “But not in a dogmatic way. They’re full of care; they’re beautiful thinkers.”


Brila is offering a discount on summer camps for the Concordia community: use the code concordia24+ in the registration form to benefit.


Back to top

© Concordia University