Strong Beginnings

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.

-- Valerie