On July 26, this summer’s 40 day course ARC Graduates said hello to their families, and good bye to Yosemite. (At least for now.) At the graduation ceremony, the students presented their poems once more, translated meaningful letters into their families’ preferred languages, ate delicious food, and were given certificates, ARC sweaters, books, and heartfelt speeches by the ARC instructors as parting gifts.
It was a bittersweet occasion, but the bonds made this summer will not easily break, or fade. This ARC family is keeping in touch, and the January reunion is sooner than it seems!
ARC youth explored the wilderness this summer – in Tahoe’s backcountry and Yosemite National Park – sharing moments of joy, exhaustion, and accomplishment. In Tahoe they hiked Desolation Wilderness, summited Mt. Tallac, rafted on the Truckee River, found their courage on the ropes course and spent an overnight solo. In Yosemite they backpacked along Yosemite Creek, visited alpine lakes, summited Eagle and Tuolumne Peaks, and rafted on the Merced River.
One of the defining characteristics of the ARC participants this summer was their compassion for one another. They embraced each other as equal members of the team, and learned to trust and bring out the best in one another. In recognition of the close bond they created, Tahoe’s group named themselves “JGFF,” an acronym for Jiātíng, GIA ĐÌNH, Familia, and Family, representing each of the native languages of the individual team members.
ARC interviewed two summer participants, Hebert Cisneros and Carla Martinez, to hear first-hand how they experienced ARC’s Summer Immersion Courses. Hebert excelled in his role as “Head Honcho,” Leader of the Day in the Tahoe/Truckee course. Carla was selected by her Yosemite course peers to be a Guardian Angel, who is responsible for the group’s safety and wellbeing on their final expedition.
Meet Hebert & Carla, Brand New ARC Grads
ARC: What were your greatest hopes and fears before and during the course?
Hebert: “My greatest hope before the course was to have self-motivation. I felt like everyone I knew believed in me, except myself. On day 19 of the course (at Community Interview Day), I met a guy named Hector. Hector really inspired me with a story about how he came to be what he always wanted to be, a Civil Engineer. He told me, ‘Where there is a will, there is a way. I just need to be willing to pay the price.’ For some reason, his words really motivated and made me believe in myself. I’ve never been so motivated in my life. Before the course, I had a huge fear of not being able to complete the backpacking expedition. It seemed really hard and tiring, maybe because I was always lazy and never wanted to walk more than two miles, especially with the backpack on. Here in ARC I had no other choice but to keep going. I kept telling myself, ‘I’m not pushing myself to my limits until I faint, so I kept pushing.’ Sure enough I travelled six miles with a huge backpack on like a CHAMP!”
Carla: “My biggest fear before coming was not being able to accomplish things. I had a fear of not meeting ARC’s expectations. On the outside I’m really strong, but on the inside I often feel weak. I was scared that I wouldn’t fit in to the group and that others wouldn’t accept me. I have a strong personality and I’m scared that sometimes I rub people the wrong way. I was scared of giving up when hiking all those miles. We hiked over sixty miles over the forty days with heavy packs on our backs. My hope was to follow through and make my brother and sisters proud because they pushed me and supported me. My brother did the course in 2006, and he loved it. He told me the course would be life-changing and he encouraged me. I just hoped that I’d feel proud of myself because I have never really felt that way about myself before. This will be a first. I will have a sense of achievement and I will start thinking positively about myself.”
ARC: What was the most challenging part of the course for you and how did you overcome it?
Hebert: “For me the most challenging part of the course was being away from my family. I’ve always been so close to them and really didn’t like the idea of being away from them. A wise guy once said, “Problems don’t exist, there’s only challenges.” He is right. I decided to take on the challenge. I soon realized, it has only made me stronger and appreciate my family more.”
Carla: “The most challenging part of the course was hiking the long hours. It was difficult because I wasn’t physically prepared. Getting through uphill climbs for a long period of time was really demanding. I overcame these hikes with the support of my teammates. They encouraged me even though they were exhausted as well. They wouldn’t forget to remind me to keep going.”
ARC: Tell me a story about a memorable experience from the summer course. Describe it. How did it feel? Maybe it was a moment when you realized something new or unexpected about yourself?
Hebert: “A memorable moment was when I was leader of the day. Every day, a person gets chosen to be a leader of the day and he is the one in charge of letting the whole group know what to do and also makes sure the group is on time for everything. At the end of the day he gets feedback from his peers. So when it was my turn for people to give me feedback, they made me realize something I always wanted to accomplish. They told me I knew how to express myself, and for a long time I had trouble with that. It felt great to realize that I’m finally confident enough to express myself. I guess meeting all these volunteers and awesome people here in ARC really opened my eyes to something good. Thank you ARC!”
Carla: “I was honored to be chosen to read my poem in front of 60 strangers at the Youth in Yosemite Open House. As I was walking up those four navy blue stairs I wanted to turn back, hide my face, and run the other direction. I read my poem like it was the last breath I would ever take. The loud applause hit me from every direction and, before I knew it, my smile had developed from ear to ear. My poetry reading made me feel like a new person. Reading my poem in front all of those strangers in the audience and doing so well made me feel like I could accomplish anything.”
ARC: What are three things that you have taken away from your participation in ARC?
Hebert: Three things that I learned from the ARC course is to not be afraid to be myself, leadership skills, and my biggest goal for the future, which is to be a RALLY RACER!”
Carla: “I will take away leadership skills, all the small things that I’ve learned like cleaning and cooking (because I know my mom needs help and I know I can help her more), and a new sense of adventure. Now when I go back home, I want to go hiking and do healthy activities that make me happy. ARC has made me discover a new-found confidence in myself.”