By Kerry Brophy
Reprinted from The Leader, Spring 2001, Vol. 16, No. 2
Southwest Outdoor Educators Course 1/7/2000
A young girl in a Washington, DC public school is helping her fifth-grade class develop a wetland habitat and wildlife sanctuary. She is learning about water runoff, the names of different plants and trees, and how it is all effected by pollution in the Potomac River. She might have never heard of NOLS, but the man who is bringing her classroom into the outdoors is very familiar with the NOLS approach to outdoor education. Dewayne Hudson, a graduate of a NOLS Southwest Outdoor Educators Course in January 2000, took a NOLS course to more effectively educate urban youth in the outdoors.
And that is just what he is doing today. Hudson is a founder of Outdoor Creations, a non-profit Organization with a Hands-on Science and Nature after-school acadamic program in Washington, DC. The organization serves urban youth in a variety of educational programs, including Hudson's "Woodz in the Hood," which allows kids to learn about nature and natural resources right in their very own city neighborhoods. At Washington D.C.'s Adam Simon Elementary School, near a water runoff that trickles from a concrete pipe and eventually ends up in the Chesapeake Bay, fourth and fifth-grade students have undertaken an extensive wetlands project. Hudson has enlisted the financial and technical support necessary to design and build the habitat. He believes that the kids can use this opportunity to explore their own physical and emotional limitations just as he did on his NOLS course.
"NOLS gave me confidence in terms of being an outdoor educator," says Dewayne. "It taught me to use teachable moments and use the environment around me to be a better teacher." For Dewayne and his fourth and fifth-graders at Simon Elementary, even an urban stream can be a 'teachable' wilderness setting, a classroom without walls where students discover their powerful connection to the natural world.
Dawson Her Many Horses
Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educators Course 7/24/00
Dawson Her Many Horses remembers waking up one morning during his NOLS course and seeing red. The morning sun had turned the rocks, the trees, even the sky ablaze in a fire of color. This one moment-getting up early in the red light to go bouldering with two coursemates-sums up his experience on a Rocky Mountain Outdoor Educators Course in the summer of 2000.
"It was a phenomenal experience," recalls Her Many Horses. "I wanted to go primarily to learn the skills. I came away with these skills and a lot more, too." Most importantly, Dawson says he left the course with a solid foundation of leadership skills and a better sense of different leadership styles. These tools have proved immeasurable for Dawson, a strong leader in his own community.
Dawson's NOLS course was just one stop on a young man's path that has been filled with many destinations and achievements. A Native American and a member of the Sioux tribe, Her Many Horses has lived throughout the West. He also spent two years at Amherst College in Massachusetts as well as two years serving as a Vista volunteer for the Boys and Girls Club of Wyoming's Wind River Indian Reservation. His main project was to develop a Peer Theater Group using a grant from the Wyoming Department of Health. The company used teen culture to convey positive lifestyle choices and address topics like substance abuse, child development, HIV/AIDS and alcoholism. He has also been a member of Wyoming's Statewide Community Planning Group (SCPG), working on a committee to prevent the spread of HIV throughout the state and has taught as a Red Cross HIV/AIDS instructor.
NOLS has helped Dawson decide where to go next. "I have a strong sense of who I am and where I come from," he says. "The course really changed the trajectory of my life. It was like a prism where the light shifts." That shifting has sent him towards a NOLS instructors course, which he hopes to complete in the coming years. He also plans to continue his HIV prevention work in Wyoming and perhaps Africa.
Los Angeles, California
Absaroka Wilderness Course 7/27/98
Elias Munoz climbed straight up the 13,000 ft. peak. He didn't stop, not even to glance back at the others or catch his breath. His feet ached, he was suddenly frightened, and he'd never been so tired in his entire life. A single thought ran through Elias' head like a chant: 'I can do this, I can do this, I can do this.' Finally, he reached the top.
"I closed my eyes," Elias remembers of his 1998 NOLS Absaroka Wilderness Course, "and I walked up to the edge and I opened my eyes. Then BAM! I saw everything. Tears just came out of my eyes looking down onto the Absarokas where miles and miles of mountains abound. I got on one knee and said a prayer."
Elias grew up on Hancock Street in LA's Lincoln Heights. His father, also named Elias, works for a community development agency as a compliance investigator, and his mother, Soledad, works at home. Both sets of grandparents immigrated from Mexico.
After drifting farther from his family and closer to a life of drugs and street fights, Elias found his way to the Los Angeles Conservation Corps (LACC), a program designed to get kids off the streets and into community projects. One afternoon, the LACC handed out the NOLS catalog to workers, announcing a scholarship opportunity for three corps members to embark on a NOLS course the following summer. Munoz won the scholarship and found himself transported from a hot summer in LA to a remote wilderness area in the middle of Wyoming.
"I found myself out there," he remembers. "I didn't want to fall victim to the streets. I didn't want to just be another statistic. I don't want my name written for me on the walls. I want to make a name for myself. I want to be somebody in life, I want to help my people and take care of my neighborhood."
After Elias' grueling hike to the summit, after he spread his arms out and took in the majestic scene spread out below, he sat down and waited for the others. "I started thinking," he remembers, "that my life is just like this mountain. It's hard going through everything, but if I can hike as hard as I did up this peak, I can get over any obstacle in my life. It's all in the mind, you know. Don't give up. Keep on going. At times you might get scared-it might be scary or overwhelming, you'll be tired and you won't want to continue. But if you try hard enough and get through it, it feels that much better knowing you've accomplished something and didn't give up and let it get the best of you. You beat it."
The above piece is excerpted from an article published in the Fall 1999 edition of The Leader. Since its publication Elias Munoz has completed a 12-day NOLS whitewater course as well as training for the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army. He is currently stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Two week Idaho Adventure Course 7/30/99
Before Martha Hansen's 1999 NOLS adventure course in Idaho, she was asked what she thought the easiest and most difficult parts of her course would be. "I can't really say," she offered. "I believe the whole course will be a challenge for me. I will approach each challenge with the same degree of determination, and give it my best."
A 16-year-old from Driggs, Idaho, Martha more than reached up to her own expectations while on her NOLS course. Hansen's instructors heralded her as an exceptional student, a team-player, and a natural leader. She led her course-mates as a small group leader; she perfected her camping and LNT skills; she jumped into each new activity with determination and enthusiasm. "My NOLS course really helped me discover me," she says.
What follows is an excerpt from a thank-you letter written by Martha and presented to NOLS after her course.
Dear NOLS Donors:
I would first like to thank you for making it possible for me to enjoy a two-week outdoor adventure course. Without my scholarship I would not have been able to create so many lifetime memories. Thank you.
The two weeks that I spent out in the field are two weeks that I shall never forget. I made new friends and learned skills that will stick with me for the rest of my life . . . I cannot fully describe the feelings of accomplishment, satisfaction, enjoyment, and peace that I experienced after summitting a 10,000 ft. peak, successfully leading my group to camp through rough terrain, cooking a gourmet dinner in the wild, making new friends and discoveries, and just sitting and watching squirrels play in the trees . . .
The NOLS experience is one-of-a-kind and I am proud to say I've lived it. For me it was more than just a two-week period of learning to read maps, set up tarps, and cook outdoors. It was a test of myself; my endurance, my caring, my confidence. I came out feeling all the wiser in every aspect of my life. In times to come I will think back on the things I learned, lived, and experienced during my trip. It will be a memory of a lifetime.
Southwest Outdoor Educators Course 1/14/99
Chris Valdez can't help but remember his Southwest Outdoor Educators Course in 1999. That's because he uses the skills he learned on the course everyday; things like how to remain patient in a leadership role, handle a diverse group of people, and, of course, how to pass along outdoor skills to others. Valdez lives in Tucson, Ariz., and runs a program called Survival Wilderness Adventure Training (SWAT), a ten week outdoor education course for kids ages 10-17 in Tucson's public housing districts. SWAT operates through Tucson's Parks & Recreation Department and won Valdez the Arizona Parks and Recreation's Most Innovative Program Award. Valdez, a former professional boxer, also manages the Old School Gym, a kickboxing and martial arts gym for at-risk youth in Tucson.
Valdez is committed to improving the lives of Tucson's youth through activities that put them in touch with themselves and the outdoors. "The outdoors shows kids how little they really are in a greater scheme of things," he says. "It takes them away from their environment and allows them to stand still for awhile and appreciate the beauty of the outdoors and our environment."
And the NOLS approach to learning in a wilderness classroom seems to be catching on at SWAT. "NOLS Southwest is a tremendous resource for us, " says Valdez. The staff there help SWAT with staff training and collaborates with their summer camps. One of the kids in the program also received a NOLS scholarship for a Gila Wilderness course in 1999. "Seeing him after his course," remembers Valdez, "he was a totally different person."
As Chris Valdez works each day with Tucson's youth, he often faces the question, "what are we doing out here?" It's a question, he says, that we must constantly ask ourselves, and the best answer he's found comes from something one of his NOLS instructors said on his course. "She told us about the Inuit word neonarpuk, which means `to take extravagant pleasure in living,' recalls Chris. "I think, in the end, that that is what we're doing out here."