Lilly Sanchez was first introduced to Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) in the spring of 2016 when she attended two ARC weekend retreats: camping in Yosemite Valley and hiking in Big Sur. On these trips, she crafted personal, reflective poetry, visited waterfalls, hiked through Redwood forests, and more. Lilly realized that she enjoyed being in the outdoors and making friends from other schools, so she decided to apply for ARC’s 40-day summer course in Yosemite. The course combines academic instruction with outdoor adventure and, for the first time in 2016, Sanger High School students were invited to apply.
For Lilly, she feared that her academic struggles might force her to go to summer school and miss the opportunity to spend the summer in Yosemite. There were two classes that Lilly had fallen behind on. , but she was determined to not let her grades prevent her from living and exploring Yosemite. She took the initiative to make up the work, get help during lunch, and study after school. She wasn’t sure if or how she might change during the summer, but it was already apparent that Lilly began her transformation well before the course. Lilly remarks, “In the past, I had many experiences where I actually did try, but never made it. So I eventually quit and didn’t want to try anymore; I got tired of failing at things in life that mattered to me.” This, we learned, would no longer be the case – Lilly would learn the depth of her determination.
Upon arrival for the summer program, Lilly faced her first big challenge: the first backcountry expedition, which spans eight days. She recalls, “[We] had to keep [hiking] even though I really wanted to stop… I told myself I couldn’t do it…” On the hike, Lilly learned camping and backpacking skills, including how to use a compass and how to read a topographical map, how to cook in the backcountry, how to set up a tent, and much more. Lilly celebrated her birthday during this first expedition and her new teammates’ support and compassion for her helped her persevere through the difficult hikes.
The turning point for Lilly was when she completed her metaphorical poem during the second week of the summer course. Once the final edits were made, Lilly was asked to read over her work. Next to ARC’s Summer English Instructor, Michael Dominquez, she slowly and quietly mouthed the words, tearing up as she reached the end. “Before ARC when I had a difficult task in my way I wouldn’t try my absolute best just because I thought I couldn’t… I told myself I couldn’t do it but really I could, I was just too afraid to admit it because the thought of actually trying then failing scared me.”
After seeing what she could accomplish while hiking and in the classroom, Lilly tackled each challenge with more and more confidence. She overcame her fear of heights during rock climbing, she became more comfortable with being open and vulnerable with her cohort, she successfully completed two essays, and she became a leader among her peers.
Currently, Lilly is a junior at Sanger High and she has plans to join the Navy after she graduates. She says that, on the ARC summer course, she learned that “I am greater and better than what I thought myself to be.”
Maria Valdez, known also as Imelda, first heard about Adventure Risk Challenge from a friend back in 2009 when she was a sophomore at Truckee High School. Unsure at first, she applied for the summer course completely unaware of what her experience with ARC would bring. She was excited to be out of her comfort zone, to be removed from technology, and to visit beautiful natural places, but she didn’t know what it would be like to be away from home for 40 days at the University of California’s Sagehen Creek Field Station.
Eight years later, despite the physical and mental challenges of the 40-day course, Imelda has very fond memories of her ARC summer. She still remembers the views she cherished from the top of her rock climb; she remembers her 24-hour solo and the feeling of being alone with her thoughts for an entire day. During the solo, students stay within a small area in the wilderness by themselves (they are checked up on by ARC staff). Imelda described it as a unique experience for a teenager: “It was very unfamiliar, but it was one of the best parts. From [the solo], I was able to know myself better. In your challenges, sometimes you’re going to be alone, but you can overcome them.”
During her time with ARC, Imelda made deep connections with more than just her fellow students. Years later, ARC continues to impact Imelda’s life through her friendships with ARC teammates, volunteers and staff. About half of the people she met that summer are still in her life in some capacity from coworkers to personal friends. Imelda still maintains a close friendship and mentoring relationship with several community members from that summer as well, including Susi Lippuner and Paul Bancroft, who have helped guide her through her academic and professional successes.
Imelda is a source of inspiration to future and current ARC students. The oldest child of a single mother, she helped take care of her younger siblings and worked multiple jobs throughout high school. After her summer with ARC, she continued to devote many hours to community service, and during her senior year of high school she received several scholarships for college, including one from the Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation for her dedication to the community. In 2011, she accepted an offer to attend CSU Chico.
Throughout college Imelda continued to dedicate her time to bettering her community. As a member of Community Action Volunteers in Education (CAVE) she volunteered in the school system, did park cleanup and offered services to the homeless community of Chico. Imelda worked as a Community Service Officer and was promoted to a Field Training Officer for the University Police Department. From there she was selected to work with Chico Safe Place where she did outreach, awareness, education, intervention and research on crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and harassment for the Chico State community. Additionally, she was the designer for the Multicultural Echoes Magazine, a literary magazine on campus, and even spent a summer studying abroad in Spain.
In addition to all of her extracurricular activities, Imelda was recognized for her high academic achievements in college. She was a part of several national honor societies and each year she was granted new scholarships, including a national scholarship for her accomplishments and hard work. She was on the Dean’s List for all of her 10 semesters, consistently achieved a 4.0 GPA and completed over 200 hours of community service. In 2016, Imelda graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice from CSU Chico. Upon graduation, she was awarded the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) Achievement Award for achieving academic excellence in her program while contributing exemplary service to the community.
Imelda currently lives in Truckee and works full-time as a Bilingual Advocate at Tahoe Safe Alliance; she now works alongside the advocates who brought her hope many years ago and helped her along her journey to college. She also works as a fill-in Security Guard at Martis Camp where she is the only woman among the security team. Imelda continues to strive for her lifelong dream of being an FBI agent, a goal she’s had since the 6th grade. As a woman of color, she is defying others’ expectations and stereotypes as she gracefully and confidently moves toward a career in law enforcement. Her strength shows through in her dedication, “I continue to face my biggest obstacle, but I have hope. I am working hard and doing my best to get there.”
Through her actions and her words, Imelda is an example and an inspiration. To any future ARC students reading this, Imelda wishes to share these words:
It was a struggle, the 40 days, but I would do it again. Even though it’s not going to be easy – it’s going to be difficult in one way or another – you get to see things you probably won’t see again, and those connections that you make can lead you to success.
Hello ARC and Aim High Community!
I am the new Tahoe Outreach and Student Support Coordinator for both ARC and Aim High. I was born and raised in Truckee and graduated from Truckee High School. After high school, I attended U.C. Berkeley and attained degrees in Social Welfare and Spanish. During college I also studied abroad in Santiago, Chile where I studied Spanish Literature and Gender and Women’s Studies. Throughout the past four years, I have had the opportunity to work as a guide and instructor on multi-day rafting and backpacking trips for both OARS and GirlVentures. I am so excited to be back in the Tahoe community and working for ARC and Aim High. I cannot wait to make connections with everyone in the ARC and Aim High family and I’m looking forward to helping increase access to college and outdoor experiences for our youth.
Querida comunidad de ARC y Aim High,
Soy la nueva coordinadora de apoyo estudiantil por ARC y Aim High en la región de Tahoe. Nací en Truckee y me gradué de Truckee High School. Después de la escuela secundaria, asistí la Universidad de California, Berkeley donde estudié trabajo social y español. Mientras estuve en la universidad, hice un intercambio en Santiago, Chile donde estudié la literatura española y estudios de género. Durante cuatro años tuve la oportunidad de trabajar como guía y instructora de rafting y trekking por las compañías de OARS y GirlVenures. Estoy muy emocionada para integrarme en la comunidad de Tahoe de nuevo. Espero hacer conexiones con toda la familia de ARC y Aim High y estoy emocionada para aumentar el acceso a la universidad y las experiencias en la naturaleza para nuestros estudiantes.
High school senior, Rosenda Sanchez-Avina, entered the ARC summer course in Yosemite a quiet and shy student. At first, she kept to herself and was slow to become close with her peers. Rosenda said after the course, “One of the most challenging parts of ARC was being able to be open about myself and my feelings because I wasn’t accustomed to having people talk to about those things.” By the end of the course, she had overcome this barrier. She confidently read her metaphorical poem “Free Like A Bird” in front of a large audience and was integral part of the ARC student team.
Each day during ARC’s summer courses, a student is Leader of the Day and is responsible for making sure the schedule runs smoothly, that their peers are safe and comfortable, and that the day’s tasks are successfully completed. Rosenda remembers, at first, when she was the group’s Leader of the Day, she didn’t feel comfortable. She was reluctant to take charge of her peers and take ownership of the group’s development, but eventually, Rosenda grew to be one of the strongest leaders in her cohort. She remarked, “I learned how to take that role and how to work with others in a compatible way.”
When reflecting back on her time with ARC, Rosenda speaks fondly about the Youth in Yosemite Open House that takes place in Wawona. At the Open House, youth from different summer programs in Yosemite share some aspect of the work and how it has impacted their lives. Her teammates Linda and Gus shared their poems for the first time and Rosenda remembers feeling proud to see them share and represent ARC.
Now with college on the horizon, Rosenda does not carry the same fears she had before ARC. “I used to be quite afraid of making mistakes and of large changes, but I am now more open to the idea of growing and learning from each situation.” She plans to enter her college life ready to take chances, seek leadership roles, and confidently make new friends in a new place.
The Wild Bill Integrity Award was presented to Linda Yang on Saturday, September 10th in Yosemite Valley. Linda was a participant in Adventure Risk Challenge’s (ARC) 40-day Summer Immersion Course in Yosemite. She explored Yosemite’s natural beauty with eleven teammates this past summer, surrounded by waterfalls, alpine lakes, and spectacular granite cliffs, while bolstering her academic and leadership skills. Linda was selected for the award by ARC staff for her consistent positive attitude, strong moral character, and a willingness to look out for the needs of others at all times.
The award included a luncheon at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel) and an award presentation at the base of Yosemite Falls. Candra, Russ, and Debbie Canning generously sponsored the award and ceremony in honor of their father, Bill Canning, or “Wild Bill,” as he was affectionately known. Spouses Matt Glerum and Allie Canning participated in the luncheon and ceremony as well.
With vistas of Yosemite Falls and the Valley’s huge granite rock formations, Linda read a poem she wrote during ARC’s summer entitled “Mother Nature.” Also, a beautifully constructed plaque made of wood and slate was presented to Linda. Her name was engraved on the plaque as the first annual recipient of the Wild Bill Integrity Award.
Candra Canning said, “My family was thrilled to meet Linda and hear how she has been living and leading with integrity during her time in ARC and we know she will continue to be successful in her life.”
Integrity is one of ARC’s four core values (along with determination, service and compassion) and was also an important value of the San Joaquin Valley Young Leader’s Organization (YLO) which was co-founded and co-sponsored by Bill Canning. Wild Bill used to emphasize to his youth participants: “Integrity is between you and yourself. Integrity is what you do when you know no one else will find out.”
When asked what integrity meant to her after the luncheon and ceremony, Linda said that “Integrity is an act of sheer kindness and though there is often no reward, there is self-knowledge that you yourself have done good for others.”
During the luncheon Linda and ARC Executive Director Sarah Ottley expressed gratitude to the Canning Family for the gift that Wild Bill Canning inspired. Sarah said, “ARC is extraordinarily grateful to be able to honor a student like Linda each year, who embodies the values that Wild Bill lived by and imparted to his family, his students, and his community.”
Wild Bill was an entrepreneur with interests in cattle feeding, almond ranching and whitewater rafting. His passions were his family, the high country of the Sierra Nevada, backcountry skiing, whitewater kayaking and developing teenage leaders in the San Joaquin Valley. He attended college at UC at Davis and had his entire career in the San Joaquin Valley.
Bill was passionate about youth and what the outdoors could do for their confidence and success in life. Bill was the father of four children, was married to his wife Barbara for 52 years and passed away on April 1, 2014, leaving a long legacy of outdoor adventure and of giving back to his community.
Candra Canning said, “Our day in Yosemite together as a family, honoring this wonderful student, was the perfect full circle to honoring our dad and keeping his legacy of integrity alive. Congratulations Linda and thank you ARC for introducing her to us.” ARC looks forward to continuing to honor the legacy of Wild Bill Canning for many years to come.
Linda is a senior at Edison High School in Fresno and will be attending college next year.
Fear is a part of our human nature and our actions can many times be halted by that fear. That was something that I believed was going to happen when we all went rock climbing during our second expedition. It was the Fourth of July and we were all stoked to have the opportunity to rock climb. I was thrilled, until we got to our destination and I saw the ropes hanging off the side of the mountain. I was going to be hanging off the edge of that mountain and that is one of my biggest fears. It showed the possibility of something that was meant to go wrong. One part of me was not ready and wanted to go last, while another part of me wanted to get it over with. So I went second in my group. I put on my equipment, gave the proper demands to my belayer, my hands reached out and I climbed on. It was the scariest experience I had during the entire trip. All I remember was the encouraging words from my co-students and avoiding looking down or up because I did not believe I would make it to the top, but I did. When I reached the top and looked out, I felt true pride for what I had accomplished despite my fear of falling. It was a beautiful sight and feeling that one single experience had created.
My experience so far in ARC has been awesome. ARC has taught me to appreciate the people I have around and to trust in them. The significant moment that impacted me most, was when I participated in the ropes course activity at Calvin Crest. At the beginning of the course, I felt unsure of doing it because I was afraid I would fall and injure myself . But throughout the day, I gained confidence, bravery and most importantly enjoyed the rope climbing activity. During our debrief, we learned that the purpose of the ropes course was to teach us about our commitments to everything we have in life. My main goal in life is to succeed in my academia and pursue higher education by going to college no matter how hard the obstacles will be.The ropes course challenge marked determination in my heart and encouraged me to always have something to fight for.
-Jesus Dominguez Gomez
Today is the 22nd day out of the 40 day summer course. The days seem to go by faster everyday. We are about to start our third expedition, which allows us to be more independent on the trip while the instructors stay behind us, only answering questions. Moreover, this expedition also includes a 24 hour solo, where we are placed in a pre-selected spot in the wilderness. Other than that, as I sit here observing every single person in the multipurpose room, I realized something. I realized that we have all come so close in the last 22 days and whether my co-students realize this or not, we all have bonded incredibly well to the point where I know that it will be difficult for us to leave each other. The countdown to day 40 is not long from now, so for the mean time, we will have to keep making plans to get together after graduation.
“I am eighty-seven feet in the air, with nothing more to support me other than a rope, blind trust in someone that I’ve only known for two weeks, and a harness that squeezes just a little too tight to protect me from certain death. The rock that I am scaling has no surface that I can firmly grab, so I look for any type of indent on the rock to put my fingers through and hoist my entire body. I look down for just a moment to see where my feet can get a grip, bingo! I find a small crevice just barely big enough for my big foot to fit in. I use it to my advantage and fall down. My entire life flashes before my eyes, the feeling of falling is something that makes me gasp for air even as I sit in my chair as I type. My only saving grace was being tugged by the rope as my friend yelled out “Don’t die otherwise you give Mandy more paperwork, remember that you signed up for this!” he said, as I dangled from an eighty foot cliff.
That day made me realize that I am no longer afraid of heights and to always look for proper footing when scaling a cliff. Overcoming the fear of heights was an experience that I will never forget through the ARC program, and thanks to them I have become more confident when facing any fear that I have in life. I’ve learned that to face any fear you need to trust yourself and anyone else that is going to help you face these fears. It is what brings everyone closer together, a common goal to help a friend become more comfortable with themselves and to forge a bond that will last forever. Through these expeditions I have realized that as long as I try hard enough I will be able to overcome a fear or two. ”
“Family is where life begins, and love never ends.”
The first thing that comes to mind when I think of a family are the eleven individuals that I’ve got the privilege to know over these past eighteen days here in ARC. Together we have cried, share some laughs and overcame many hardships. Together we’ve hiked a total of 36 miles during our first expedition, where we struggled to not fall down the steep rocky trails and casually strolled down the gentle and flat trails. We’ve hiked up to Eagle Peak, Yosemite Falls, Mount Watkins, and even witnessed the beautiful Half Dome up close and personal. Many times throughout the expedition, I found myself at the back of the pack because I was always the slowest one. At times like this, these eleven individuals would encourage me and push me to reach my full potential. Moreover, when I doubt myself, they would constantly prove to me that I am worthy. Today I was given the honor to read my poem at the Open house for youth groups. As I stood on the podium and looked at my peers, I saw bright new souls. Each pair of eyes told a different story and held a piece of an unforgettable memory that latched on to their hearts. As my voice echoed off the walls of the ancient barn, I realize they too saw in my eyes an unforgettable memory that had latched onto my heart. The memory of loving and caring for each other and holding that as a prized possession in my heart. I guess when you spend an incredibly crazy amount of time with eleven strangers you learn to accept and adapt. Through the core values that ARC had instilled in us such as Compassion,Integrity,Determination, I’ve learned to accept and love these individuals for who they are and to always be brave. With Gustavo, Eriel, Jesus, Lilly, Prisila, Sandesh, Jose, Wei Ping, Gerzayr, Vanna and Rosenda who are now my family, I’ve learned to adapt to situations and constantly feel surrounded with love, bravery, compassion, integrity and determination.