Despite the government shutdown, ARC had a successful and adventure-filled October Retreat the weekend of October 11th. Instead of staying in Yosemite, students camped in the Nelder Grove of Sequoias below giant majestic trees. Many students overcame their fears while rockclimbing and learned to trust themselves and others. There were a lot of smiles and laughs.
Maria, from Truckee, insisted that there was “no way” that she would be able to scale the rock wall in front of her on Saturday afternoon. Just a few short minutes later, with the encouragement of her team below, she had reached the top! The power of recognizing that you can do something that you didn’t think you were capable of can have a powerful ripple effect. You can confront your fears and dare to dream!
“He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Thank you for an outstanding weekend!
Prior to starting college, Jessica Rivas had no idea backpacking even existed. Then she discovered the Yosemite Leadership Program (YLP) at UC Merced, and began the journey that led her to call the wilderness her second home.
Jessica was raised in a Spanish-speaking home in North Hollywood where, she says, “the buildings shine brighter than the stars and walking up four flights of stairs is the equivalent to walking up a hill in the backcountry.”
In the YLP program, participants learn about leadership their first year, meet actual leaders during their summer internship and apply what they’ve learned by creating a capstone project on their final year in the program. Last year, tutoring a group of ARC participants in the Learning Skills course at Merced High School while studying Cognitive Science and working as a Wilderness Ranger, Jessica developed her capstone project, where she led a group of students to discover the Yosemite wilderness and helped them understand the abstract science concepts in their textbooks.
During her ARC summer internship, Jessica discovered, “Like many of the ARC students I was relatively new to outdoor recreation. The highlight of my summer was realizing that my weaknesses in the outdoors were actually strengths in the eyes of the participants. I wasn’t the fastest runner or the highest climber, but that didn’t matter because we experienced these challenges together and it became clear that it wasn’t about making it to the top of the mountain but making it further than we thought we could.”
“I began to understand how to empower individuals by just loving them. To know that ARC honors compassion enough to make it a core value made it clear to me that the world can be changed with love and that students respond positively to that. In my opinion ARC students enjoyed my presence as a college student because I could relate to their challenges. I wasn’t just a person who was close to their age, I was a person who struggled with them, cried with them, laughed and learned alongside them. They trusted me because I failed too. One student told me that she looked up to me because I had been through a lot and yet laughed harder than anyone she knew. They knew my story and understood that if I could make it in this day and age, so could they.”
As a result of her experiences working with youth in the outdoors, Jessica’s passion is to research the ways wilderness affects the brain, specifically to understand what chemicals are released in the brain when people are exposed to wilderness stimulus for copious amounts of time.
In Jessica’s words, “Being involved with YLP, furthering my education at UC Merced and working with ARC, have been invaluable contributions to what I want to study and realizing what truly makes me happy. My dreams have changed throughout the years, and something time has taught me is that you can never really predict where it’s going to take you, but as long as you keep an open mind and make the best out of the situations you find yourself in, life has a way of figuring itself out.”
Twenty-six Dos Palos HS students and their family members attended the ARC BBQ on September 28th. Students participated in youth-designed outdoor games and were awarded prizes from local businesses. The activities included a sleeping bag race, water-bottle-pyramid throw, and a tent-construction competition. Every participant received a prize courtesy of Subway, Pizza Factory, and America Taqueria and Bakery in Dos Palos. The picture above, taken by photographer Kiauna Conger, shows the preliminary discussions before the sleeping bag hop! Thank you to all the attendees and the local businesses for their generous donations!
ARC congratulates Sarah Cupery Ottley, who is enthusiastically moving from the role of Program Director into the Executive Director position. Sarah has been with ARC since 2009, when she joined the organization to open a new program site in Yosemite. Because of her rootedness in the Yosemite community, years of experience as an interpretive ranger and educator in the area, and excitement for a new challenge, Sarah hit the ground running.
Sarah was quickly promoted from Course Director of Summer Immersion Courses to Outreach Coordinator for Merced County Programming, to Program Coordinator of the Yosemite/Merced site, then to Program Director of the entire organization. Ready for a new challenge and excited about opportunities for learning and growth, she has now stepped into the role of ARC’s Executive Director.
Seeing first-hand the effectiveness of ARC’s programming, Sarah has quickly gained a passion for the field of youth development. Speaking about her five years with ARC, she said, “It’s an incredible experience to work for an organization in which so much transformation takes place. Every time I work with our participants, I’m able to observe that they have grown in confidence, character and academic ability.”
Beginning her career in environmental education by working at National Parks in Arizona, Alaska and California, Sarah solidified her passion for working in wilderness environments. She then worked five years at Yosemite Institute, receiving consistent training as an educator, backpacking guide, and risk manager while teaching over 300 youth a year and leading backpacking trips of up to fourteen days in length.
Sarah speaks conversational Spanish and has 10 years certification as a Wilderness First Responder. She has received additional training in organizational risk management, expository reading and writing education, and youth development. Sarah uses her love of music and Bachelor’s of Music degree from Wheaton College in Illinois by performing weekly in a string band.