What happens when underserved youth are exposed to “peak” wilderness experiences? Transformation. For eleven years, the ARC program has proven that individuals experience deep personal growth by facing the fears and doubts brought on by challenging wilderness endeavors. They come away with an “I can do it!” attitude—a powerful way of changing the way they view the world and their future.
ARC holds the vision that these youth, who may have originally lacked access and opportunity, will be leading outdoor education programs of the future. These future leaders will be able to truly relate to program participants, because they once experienced the dramatic shift themselves.
ARC trains youth leaders, hoping to create and fill positions within the organization with graduates of the program. Several ARC grads have continued their involvement with the organization as interns, staff, and Advisory Board members, two of whom are Salvador Meza Lemus and Vera Reyes.
Salvador Meza Lemus, Tahoe/Truckee’s 2014 summer intern from the small Central Valley town of Dos Palos, said he learned to keep going “even when the hill is steep, the backpack is heavy, and my legs are giving up.” Since graduating from ARC’s 2010 Summer Immersion Course, Salvador continues to meet his commitment to personal growth. At the end of his freshman year in college at UC Santa Cruz, he faced summer labor in the fields of the Central Valley unless he managed to find a job or internship. ARC’s Director, Sarah Ottley, who continues to track ARC grads in college, encouraged Salvador to apply for the summer internship.
Salvador’s responsibilities as an ARC intern included teaching leadership classes, organizing food and gear, making meals, welcoming volunteers, posting to ARC’s blog and Facebook page, taking photographs, making slideshows and videos, and leading morning fitness. His favorite and most important responsibility was spending time with the students, sharing experiences and learning from them.
About the backpacking expeditions Salvador said, “The magic happens every time one of us wants to give up [but] no matter how steep that hill is we express words of encouragement for our team. It demonstrates all of the ARC core values: Determination for not giving up; Compassion for knowing exactly how the other person is feeling; Service for giving words of encouragement and helping keep the pace going; and Integrity for not letting the team down.”
At the end of the 24-day course, Salvador said, “Throughout the course I have learned with the students. I have improved my leadership skills, and have learned how to work more effectively as a team. We have built trust, kindness and integrity and together we have overcome many challenges.”
Vera Reyes, also a 2010 ARC grad, is now an ARC Advisory Board member, which she says “is an honor and a way of ensuring that students in underserved communities experience outdoor education, learn and challenge themselves, as well as empowering themselves as leaders to change their lives and the lives of others.”
Vera is a first generation student attending the University of California, Merced where she is studying Biological Sciences with an emphasis in Ecology and Evolution. ARC is what set her in motion toward outdoor leadership, the first step of which was the inspiration and belief that she could attend college. She then enrolled in the Yosemite Leadership Program, which led to a 2013 summer internship for the Yosemite National Park concession Division of Interpretation.
“My passion and willingness to learn and work in the park motivated me to continue developing professional skills this summer under the Education team of the park,” Vera said. “As the Youth Education Lead, I was a leader and mentor to all the student interns. I am confident that the new skills that I obtain this summer will help meet my future goals in a successful career focusing on youth and National Parks.”
Vera, who describes herself as an action-oriented people person understands the issues among underserved communities, the misconnection of youth and public lands, as well as the lack of empowerment that many teenagers experience. She is preparing to introduce ARC to businesses and corporations in Merced County in hopes of sponsorship through 1% FOR THE PLANET, to build community partnerships and contribute to the success of outdoor leadership programs.
“I am extremely proud of who I have become and the direction that I am headed. Most importantly, I am thankful for youth programs like Adventure Risk Challenge and the Yosemite Leadership Program for allowing me to connect and obtain professional skills from Yosemite National Park. Coming from an underserved community, I am aware that not everyone has the ability to visit a National Park and much less use it as a classroom for learning. For this reason, I feel it is necessary that we continue to support our youth programs and continue to reach local and underserved communities,” Vera said.