We use wilderness adventure, environmental awareness, cross cultural experiences, community service, leadership development and team building as a means to intersect in the relationships between students, adult leaders and guides through three intentional and sequential program levels; Level I Leadership: Wilderness Backpacking, Level II Service: Community Impact and Level III Leadership: High Adventure Backpacking.
"Leadership cannot be taught. It can only be learned" - HAROLD GENEEN
From the very first moments of heading into a wilderness adventure the students understand that they are in charge. Completely.
Level I is typically, a three-day outing where students participate in a backpacking trip into an area they’ve never been before. Outfitted with the best gear available and accompanied by a guide (and two adults from their associated organization) - they walk into a memory of a lifetime. Why backpacking? It’s a level playing field between men and women, differing mental or physical capabilities, no phones, no parents, and how big of star you are in sports or school is no longer relevant, and there is no place to hide. Students often say "If I was in charge..."- Now they are. Each evening ends with a peer (and leader) evaluation of that day’s leadership team. They return with a working knowledge of their own leadership strengths and how their peers really see them. They get to see how the best leadership is by example and that they have the ability to affect change in others.
Level 1 trips are 3-day trips in Arkansas or Oklahoma, a short getaway that nevertheless provides the same leadership experience as our week-long Level 3 trips. Each trip has two volunteers from the organization and one of our experienced volunteer guides with a wilderness first responder rating.
Before the trip, we meet with parents and participants so they can ask questions and we can address any concerns. The kids don’t bring anything other than personal clothing. LongWalk provides all the gear. We meet at the trail head. From that point forward, the students are in charge of everything: navigating the trail, setting up camp, cooking, everything. They decide when to stop, where to camp, when to eat. We only step in if safety issues are involved. Every day, that day’s leadership is given peer and adult evaluation. At the end of the trip, we meet them back at the trail head, and students evaluate the volunteers who came with them.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - MARGARET MEAD
With the Level 2 Service, students have the opportunity to get involved with a local charity. They partner with a nonprofit to plan a work day project involving groups of 8-12 friends and family from all over the area.
Normal seems broken to many of today’s students; their world calls out for change- what can be done? Those that have completed Level 1 will be matched with other high school and college students from all parts of the community. As a team they meet with a local nonprofit or community outreach and hear of what their hopes and needs are. The students discuss potential solutions and how they might be able to make the nonprofit partner be more effective. The team spends two pre-planning sessions with at least two adult facilitators to decide on which problem can be best addressed, develop a plan of action, and decide on what other nonprofit best addresses the solution they wish to support.
When that partnership is accomplished the students assemble the needed tools and people to accomplish the task in accordance with the experience of the partnering nonprofit, and then serve as the silent partner to our corporate sponsor. Their role is to labor in the shadows to ensure that a mark is left on the problem they seek to remedy. After the job is done, the leaders gather for a meal at a very nice restaurant (complete with an etiquette lesson and menu explanation) and self-evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of their team effort.
Recent Level 2 trips include the Senior Star retirement community, River parks, Turkey Mountain cleanup, and Therapeutics.
"Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be." - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Our week-long Level 3 trips take students out into the Weiminuche Wilderness near Durango, Colorado. We begin these trips in June and continue them through the first week of August.
Just like with the Level 1 trips, students don’t need to bring anything other than their personal clothing. LongWalk provides all the necessary camping gear. We’ll also meet with parents and participants beforehand to address any concerns and answer any questions
The final step is a tall one, they have worked as part of a leadership team; they have heard and considered feedback about their team’s efforts from peers. Now our young leaders will head into the mountains of Colorado to spend a week with 10 other leaders, accompanied by two adults and one guide. Some of the group will have never seen mountains; few (if any) will have lived in the Rocky Mountain wilds for a week. This time leadership will be completely exposed, the students will not have the luxury of being part of a leadership team.
Students are now ready for the challenge of leading a team as an individual for a period of time. This time the peer review won’t be about the leadership group- it will be personal. The length of the trip, the challenge and allure of the mountains, the very nature of extended wilderness challenge, all lend to a reweaving of the social fabric. Those with a history of making those tough ‘good kid’ choices are in a position where they become very ‘popular’. Stories and past experiences are shared in a safe environment, and it is that component that brings inspiration, healing, and long-term bonding for the group. Students return knowing that when the need develops, they can step into the gap, know their strengths and be ready to lead others.