Connections. Agreements. Bravery. Perspective. Claiming space.
So much worth celebrating.
Language can, at times, be confusing until there is a shared understanding of what certain words or terms mean. One specific instance of this, can be the common misunderstanding or use of the concept of therapeutic or wilderness therapy. The wilderness, community, and connection can be powerful forces for positive change, collectively and individually. Time in nature and creating the space for authentic human connections can have beneficial outcomes for all people; and in particular, those who feel isolated in their circumstances or need an opportunity to have some distance from a specific challenge or story.
As a facilitator, I am not a counselor, nor do I attempt to provide counseling or advising beyond my scope of expertise or training. My hope is to hold each individual capable and able, to trust that you know best for yourself, and to create opportunities for you to both hear and listen to yourself; as well as make connections with your peers in the circle, whose stories also have wisdom to share. My facilitation style is to ask questions that help you find your way to your own voice, to uncover needs and pieces of your identity that may have gotten buried underneath the weight of illness, injury, trauma, chaos, or disappointment. I don’t give advice or tell you what you should be doing – but rather, aim to provide experiences and reflective activities that help you find your own answers.
Beyond those opportunities for personal reflection, there is also the invitation to share those discoveries or questions out loud with the group – to be witnessed, acknowledged, and celebrated. At times, these discoveries of something you would like to reclaim, accept, celebrate, or change can be both powerful and challenging. It’s important as the facilitator, that I am not taking us into territory that we can’t find our way through – that to ensure the safety and health of the group, that we only venture to the places we can find our way back. Working with practical ideas about how to carry these important discoveries back home is an essential part of our conversations as we near the end of each program.
There is also the important element of what discoveries or reflections come after the program has ended. Often, it can take awhile to digest an experience, and to feel or realize what has been gained. For some, to actualize a step or change one might like to take, can be instantaneous – for most of us though, it can take a lot of effort, strategies, and support. It is the hope and intention that the Eddy Out reunion activities can provide some of that support and inspiration, as well as continued engagement in relationships that are formed during our days together on the river.
The discoveries we make in the wilderness can be both powerful and subtle. Sometimes, just being out, away from routines, habits, or circumstances is the reprieve and perspective needed. Other times, the reflections and experience of being witnessed by a supportive group of peers or mentors is the catalyst for positive change. And in other moments, it’s just floating on the river, feeling the current as a partner in your journey, the rapids offering self-reflection on your own capacities, the night sky a mysterious and encouraging friend. Every element of a LEAP program can provide impact depending on what speaks to each participant in that moment of life. The wilderness elements are thoughtfully navigated and enjoyed, and the many human elements are given equal, if not greater, consideration and care.
There are a handful of questions we are consistently asking at LEAP: How do we offer this opportunity to more people? What more can we offer our partner communities? How do we create more touch-points for the communities that get built on each of our programs in the summer? There are of course also questions that fuel the refinement of what is already so good about our programs, to enhance our impact in subtle yet significant ways.
Through taking up these questions over these first many months as Program Director, and through extensive and on-going conversations with partner staff, I’ve been developing a set of new program offerings and curriculum, as well as refining the impactful multi-day kayak programs that have been the cornerstone of the LEAP vision. In 2018, we will facilitate four new types of programs alongside continuing to offer our long-standing and primary river programs. Our wilderness river programs will continue to be our Flagship offering – the original and well-tended LEAP experience.
We will also incorporate a new version of our reunion gatherings – Eddy Out offerings will be day or half-day events each Fall for each Flagship group to reunite, touch-in about goals, celebrate progress, and reinvigorate friendships. As a 2017 participant said: I learned that it is okay to “eddy out” of life and regroup, rest, and reset. That’s what we hope our Eddy Out programs offer to each individual and group. These programs may often include a family engagement component for groups where that is applicable and appropriate.
In explorations with partner staff, it was shared that for many prospective participants it can be challenging for them to imagine themselves in such a different setting, doing an activity that is completely new to them, for an entire week. In the hopes to engage more participants who may experience this and other barriers to attending our Flagship program in Idaho, we will facilitate three new programs that are shorter in duration and a bit closer to home.
Our Explore offering will be one-day programs, often involving an outdoor or river-based activity, operating in the Portland Metro area. These day-length programs will offer fun, new experiences, and opportunities to connect with peers who have experienced similar situations. Explore programs can be geared toward middle-school-aged youth who aren’t old enough for our Flagship programs or specific sub-sets of the populations we serve such as LBGTQ youth, youth preparing for life post-high school, or youth who remain in treatment for an illness where they are unable to travel longer distances.
Our Immersion offering will be overnight or weekend programs that offer skill-building, community building, and an overnight entry-point for participants who have more significant barriers to attending our Flagship programs. Immersions will be offered in the spring and fall at destinations around Oregon, either camping or in cabins, and are focused on similar populations as our Explore programs. Immersions will offer extended access in inspiring locations that are ripe for learning, personal reflection, and various movement activities.
ReRun will be a weekly program, operating at partner sites for specific populations. A favorite activity on our Flagship program is the opportunity to “rerun” a rapid, as a way to push oneself, build skills, and gain confidence. Our ReRun programs will offer that same opportunity for groups in their own backyard; whether utilized as preparation and community-building for an upcoming Flagship program, a platform for developing life and leadership skills, or creating a safe space for learning, group processing, and personal reflection or goal-setting.
These offerings will begin with three of our partners and specific populations within those communities. For Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, we will offer a spring Explore and fall Immersion program for middle-school aged patients. With New Avenues for Youth, we will partner specifically with their SMYRC (Sexual & Gender Minority Youth Resource Center) program for a spring Explore and fall ReRun program. For Friends of the Children, we will offer both a spring and fall ReRun after-school program – in the spring as a way to form, orient, and support the group that will join us on their Flagship program in Idaho, and in the fall for middle-school aged students. I look forward to sharing about each experience as we flow through the year.
It’s an exciting time at LEAP with many good things to come. We are grateful for your on-going engagement and support as we grow our program offerings in significant ways in 2018. Next Thursday I’ll share more about specific elements that weave through this family of programs. Keep in touch, and paddle on.
On this first day of February, I am enthusiastically holding a full year ahead, with several new LEAP programs to unveil, facilitate, and celebrate. Every Thursday this month, I’ll be sharing about our new programs for 2018, as well as some of the consistent and essential elements that enhance our programs’ impact.
Every year in the life of seasonal programs, turning into a new calendar year is the time we hit the ground running. It’s the time to secure sites or permits, review new guide applicants to begin building an amazing team, and continue the exciting work of connecting with past and prospective participants.
One essential element to any program is to have a strong beginning, middle, and end. In the life of a seasonal program, that process happens on many different scales. For me, it is an annual process to shepherd the LEAP program and operation through the entire year, and I’m solidly in the strong beginning phase. On our programs, that means having well-executed and seamless logistics to get you all registered, informed, and arrived at our program site. From there, it means a warm and enthusiastic welcome – because truly, that is the moment we are preparing for all year long, when you all get off the bus, each of us stops pumping boats or chopping watermelon or any other task, to walk to the dirt area above the beach to create a circle and welcome you. I wait all year to hear you speak your names and to share mine with you. To shake your hands, sometimes making that first in-person connection, other times, saying hello again to an old friend. That welcome and circle of introductions is the place we all arrive and begin together for the adventure ahead. That circle is the first opportunity we have to all stand together and begin to create a safe, inclusive, and welcoming space with a place for everyone to belong and engage the truly awesome work in the week to come.
Many other things happen in the first evening or morning of a program to form our group in strong and healthy ways. From orientation of this new landscape, the river, and each other – to preparing a delicious and healthful meal – to sharing a bit more about how and why we’ve each arrived at this moment, to be on this program together. Together, we create a set of group agreements, with each person invited to make suggestions of what is important and helpful for them to be able to engage authentically. Often too, we share laughter, concerns, and good conversations and connections out of the gate.
Each day of the program, we begin with our own version of a salute to the sun, to express gratitude to be exactly where we are and for the wilderness container we get to move and breathe in. It also, directly, gives us an activity to engage in together soon after waking. When we are ready to launch from the beach for the day, we describe the river ahead, whoop, holler, smooth out anxieties, and high five to remind each other that we’re all in this together. When we create our circle for our evening meeting, we enter that space through a collective activity, sometimes silly, other times more reflective.
Strong beginnings happen intentionally and are thoughtfully designed. They are also as dynamic as each participant, each group – they are never the same twice. When you show up, all of my preparations for your arrival get to move into action, your arrival makes them realized, and I am on the edge of my seat for the good, challenging, amazing things to come.
I look forward to every moment of welcoming, every introduction, and every strong beginning to facilitate in this year ahead. Your process as participants to prepare for a LEAP program is as different and varied as you are from each other, but also with overlapping elements of excitement and nervousness, strength, hesitation, resilience, and the boldness to say YES to taking a risk. A personal risk that hopefully yields to increased self-confidence, a greater sense of community, and an experience, that like one of our 2017 participants reflected: showed me what I’m made of and that I can go back to my life and meet whatever challenge there is.
I’ll lay the groundwork for the strong beginnings, while you find your way to YES to show up on the dirt path to take your place in the circle. And then, with guidance and great care, we’ll find our way together as we go down the river.
On September 14th we closed our summer season, throwing our final stones at the confluence of the Salmon and Snake Rivers, leaving behind what no longer serves and pocketing a small stone as a token of something precious to hold onto from our time on the river.
This summer LEAP was able to support 10 groups on the river, meeting 127 participants, 34 partner organization staff, 6 LEAP Board members, 7 guides, and 7 volunteers. As this summer program season has come to an end, it is hard to distinguish who gained the most from our work, as regardless of what role one came to a LEAP program this summer, impacts were significant. As the new Program Director who arrived to facilitate, care for, and grow the program in mid-July – I would arm wrestle anyone for the title of the person who learned the most or person most humbled by the learning and dynamics each program offered.
I continued to learn about the incredible capacity of an individual to focus their efforts, surf their edges, and overcome fears. I witnessed participants floating through Cougar Canyon, awe-struck, their paddle silent across their legs, taking it all in, peaceful. I was honored by the opportunity to coach participants through their tears, shortness of breath, or tight-chestedness as they came face-to-face with a physical and mental challenge on the river, doing the deep work to reorganize their pathway through stress or disregulation and generating a new story about their capacities. I watched the growth of the guide team as they integrated their own learning and experiences on the water with each group. I wrestled with when and who and how hard to push folks and how to maintain each person’s autonomy, respecting their knowledge of themselves. I listened to participants speak aloud their strengths, their big, bright, glorious truths about themselves, and short and long-term goals they set for themselves, along with important practical anchors that will help them be successful on their journey post-river. I quietly enjoyed how each week, consistently, on the third day on the river, having traveled through Snowhole Canyon and paddled through the calmer water of the afternoon, that each group felt at ease having been both in the wilderness and connected as a group for enough days to have their nervous systems settle -- making deeper connections, playfulness, and reflections possible.
Those are just some of the observations living on the surface for me as I reflect on the impacts of the season, and I would love to hear the continued reflections of anyone who joined us on the river. As I continue to transition from life on the river to the pace and stimulation of city life, I have been thinking of and honoring each person who I sat in the circle with this summer. On the final night of each trip, we would talk about the idea of reincorporation, about how to take the impacts of the experience – whether that be friendship, connection, awe, quiet, laughter, community, a new personal narrative, and everything in between – and bring them into the fold of one’s life off the river. Weekly, I would remind each group that the work of reincorporation can feel many different ways, sometimes invigorating and inspired, and other times disappointing and effortful – and more often, some of both. As I move through my own stage of reincorporation, I again deeply honor the energy it takes to make changes or tend to the fragile coals of new discovery when returning to familiar landscapes.
For the time being, the boats are deflated, kitchen cleaned, sleeping bags packed and all of our gear tucked into storage. In my reincorporation phase, I am working to take all the learning from the summer and my years of work with groups in the outdoors to create and roll out new programs in the coming months to expand our program offerings beyond the summer. While LEAP will maintain these summer programs as the foundation of our work, we also look forward to expanding opportunities to foster community, cultivate personal growth, and provide wilderness and nature immersion experiences. We hope you’ll join us – there’s good things to come.