Youth Outside | The Power of Community

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, Youth Education Manager Andy Bassett celebrates the community in our youth programming.
Andy Bassett Andy Bassett
Youth Education Manager
November 24, 2020

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to take a group of incoming college freshmen on a rafting trip in Arizona. I scrambled to get all my gear together before we launched, and that first night I realized that I had forgotten to pack my tent. Thankfully we were in the desert, and I was sleeping on my boat, so I didn’t have to worry about insects and other critters on the beach. The first night I lucked out with a light breeze coming off the water and a crystal clear sky. I slept like a rock.

The second night was less fortunate. Shortly after the sun went down, clouds began to gather. Around midnight a patter of raindrops started hitting my sleeping bag. I packed up my bag and created a makeshift shelter with two sleeping pads draped over my back, but as the rain became stronger, the pads acted less like a roof and more like a funnel, directing water straight down my back. For the next four hours, the rain continued as I sat hunched over the front hatch of the boat, sopping wet.

I’ve been reminiscing about stories like these from my time working in the field a lot recently. River crossings on 33-degree days, getting a cactus spine in the tip of my middle finger on day two of a 14-day climbing camp, and eating a breakfast of cheesy grits only to realize an hour later than they were not instant grits. Each of these moments were marked with sub-optimal circumstances, and I had to remind myself that it’s a temporary setback. And, in nearly all of these scenarios, I was lucky enough to be enduring the misery with others. My bouts with adversity and uncertain situations ended up as a team effort.

Transitions

These past few months have been tough for all of us. When we made the decision to cancel youth programs due to COVID-19 concerns, we entered the uncertainty of not knowing when and how we would resume, or when we would all be able to see each other again. Thankfully during this time, I have been able to rely upon one of The Mountaineers core values to weather the storm: community.

A leader and students from Aki Kurose Middle School on a stewardship day. .jpg

A leader and students from Aki Kurose Middle School on a stewardship day.

The youth community at The Mountaineers is truly impressive, spanning multiple branches, consisting of hundreds of families and kids, taught by over 200 volunteers, and supported by nearly a dozen staff. This  community has remained nimble, creative, supportive, and thoughtful during this unprecedented time.

When it became clear we were suspending programming, our staff in the youth department worked tirelessly to find a way to continue to provide high quality educational experiences to students in a safe and effective manner. Clubs trips were redesigned countless times to address group size limits and border closures. Camp Directors created multiple camp options based on different levels of re-opening to ensure we could provide some type of summer camp experience for our youth. New virtual resources and activities were created, like our 10 week “Youth: Stuck Inside” blog series or our online “Summer Quest.” We provided dozens of activities for youth and families to do over these past few months. Though programs and activities looked a little different this last spring and summer, we kept one main goal in mind: to figure out a way to keep our youth community connected.

Community

We are fortunate to have a cohort of passionate, dedicated volunteers to administer a large part of our programs. As our annual Mountaineers Adventure Club (MAC) summer trip went through each of its iterations, our youth volunteers provided valuable insight, quality education, and most importantly, their time. This allowed our teens to not only experience a memorable summer, but also to continue to learn new skills and develop mastery over existing ones.

New Image -Seattle Pioneers Hike - Cherry Creek Falls, Photo by Carl Marrs..jpg
A family on a hike with the Seattle Pioneers at Cherry Creek Falls. Photo by Carl Marrs.

So many of our families and parents have reached out with emails, texts, and phone calls. You’ve been checking in to see how we were doing and how we might be able to still run programs. It can be hard to think you’re moving in the right direction, but when we get a quick note of support and concern from a member of our community, it makes all the difference. One of my favorites read, “In this new uncertain world of outdoor education, I thought you’d appreciate knowing that your enthusiastic championing for getting out into the wild is paying off.”

And from the bottom of my heart, I must tell you, these mean the world to me.

Looking forward

We are still planning for the future, and hope to offer open enrollment for youth clubs starting in September. For kids aged 7-18, we have four separate aged-based clubs designed to provide community programming and education for youth and their families. These clubs run October through August and offer monthly skill-building meetings and weekend activities, including climbing, snowshoeing, hiking, and many others. For more information on our clubs visit our website at mountaineers.org/youth, or contact one of our club managers:

Kitsap: Debbee Lynn, debbeel@mountaineers.org

Olympia: Becky Nielsen,  beckyn@mountaineers.org

Seattle: Carl Marrs, carlm@mountaineers.org

Tacoma: Sarah Holt, sarahh@mountaineers.org

As I sat huddled under my lousy makeshift shelter on the river, I knew it would eventually stop raining. Today I have to remind myself that this, too, is temporary. Find the good, embrace learning, and seek out the important people in your life, because they become the scaffolding that supports you through the hard days. During a challenging time, it has been calming to know the community that surrounds us is strong, capable, and kind. Thank you to everyone for your continued support of The Mountaineers and our Youth Programs. Please continue to take care of yourselves, I look forward to seeing you all in the mountains.


Our youth programs wouldn’t be possible without donor support. Thank you for helping to get kids outside – to learn more, please visit  mountaineers.org/donate.

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.

Lead image of MAC member Aiden Flynn climbing Liberty Bell via the Beckey Route. Photo by Carl Marrs.