On the weekend of March 17th, fourteen Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) students from the Central Valley and the Tahoe region had the opportunity to stay at Hutchinson Lodge at Clair Tappaan and snowboard at Northstar California Resort. For many of the high school students, this ARC trip at Northstar was their first experience snowboarding, and for a few, it was their first time seeing snow. Northstar provided snowboards, lessons and passes for the whole group, facilitating a meaningful day on the slopes. By the end of the day, the students were riding the chairlift up the mountain and confidently snowboarding down.
The students shared leadership responsibilities throughout the weekend, taking turns cooking meals and washing dishes. In addition to the snowboarding, the students participated in a journaling activity and a creative writing workshop, and they wrote a personal story and shared it with the group.
Jose Ponce, a junior at Truckee High School, served as a peer leader for the weekend. He is a graduate of the 2016 ARC Tahoe Summer Course. Jose demonstrated the leadership skills he gained from the summer: teaching about ARC traditions; facilitating a reflective journaling activity; and motivating his peers throughout the weekend to fulfill their own leadership roles.
As part of the Tahoe ARC Summer Course, the students each work on a transformational essay expressing their growth and self-discovery. In his transformational essay, Jose talked about the challenges he has faced as an English learner and his journey to overcome them. He stated, “I worked hard on my English skills so I could communicate with others. I worked on practicing presentations, speaking in front of the class… I spent many years improving my speech and I never gave up.”
Jose is motivated to improve his English and expand his comfort zone by speaking in front of groups and using his voice confidently. He continues to grow and give back to ARC through his drive, dedication and leadership.
Thanks to Northstar, fourteen more ARC students like Jose will be back in Tahoe later this month for another weekend of snowboarding, writing and leadership.
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.
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.
After being in the back country for eight days, Gustavo was able to sit back and reflect on his experience in base camp. Here’s what he had to say:
“First experiences are often jarring and make us feel like we are not able to do something that is in front of us, however that is not the case with the ARC program. When I first started the ARC program and was picked up for the first orientation, my first thought was “Can I actually do this?” My first taste of the ARC program was getting to hike up to Fresno Dome in full backpacking gear all the while being a complete novice to the intricacies of backpacking. My legs were on fire, muscles I didn’t even know I had were sore the day after orientation was over. That was only three days. As I lay on my bed I started to wonder if I could actually survive forty days and thirty-nine nights. I’m on my ninth night now and I can say with complete confidence that I think I can do this. The physical part of this program is something that I am not used to, I went from couch potato to hiking sixteen hundred feet in steep mountains and being swarmed by an endless amount of mosquitoes that seemed to almost regenerate after each swat.
That may seem like it would shoo a lot of people away and it should, it is not for the faint of heart or people with faint calves. What this program does offer is something that I don’t think many other programs can offer, a sense of community and a feeling that you belong here because you have a place to call home, even if it does change with the daily hikes that are not in base camp. I can honestly say that I don’t feel homesick in the slightest because I feel like this is my home and I belong here. Even now I am being lulled into a deep unconsciousness by a friend of mine that is currently playing a piano that we found at base camp. What I left back in my home was quickly replaced by these twelve strangers that I feel are now an extended part of my family. We’ve been through so much these past couple of days and we’re only 1/5th of the way done. We laughed, we suffered, we cried, but overall we experienced something that brings everyone together; happiness. It is the fact that we are strangers that makes us all want to be as close as possible, we rely on each other for many things and one of the biggest is emotional support.
One of the biggest breakthroughs that happened during our trip was when we picked up two rocks, one heavy, and one light, we were then told to hold the heavy rock over our head and read something that we feel is a big burden in our lives. It was an experience that I will treasure forever because it made me realize how insignificant my problems were in the grand scheme of things, but I still couldn’t let go of my rock because I felt that I had an obligation to do so. I held on like my life depended on it and my arm was shaking to the point where I thought that I was going to give out before I give up. Then I heard Michael say “It’s okay to let go, it doesn’t mean that you quit, it means that you are strong enough to move on from what is troubling you.” Hearing that made me have an epiphany, six thousand feet in elevation and here I am having a full-blown crisis about a rock that signified my problems and emotional weight. It took a lot in me but I was finally able to let go while we all said what troubled us in sync. That was when I realized that through the help of ARC, the personal questions, and my new family that I was able to find the courage in myself to let go. It was a weird feeling, mostly because my arm fell asleep but at the same time I felt so alive. It was as if, quite literally, a huge weight was taken off of me.
Overall the ARC program is a place for learning about English, environmental science, leadership, but most importantly, yourself. It is in the very nature of this program to explore yourself and find what makes you, well you, in the wilderness we all take off the mask that we put on for others and replace it with dirt from a hard day’s climb. It is both liberating and exhausting to see who you truly are in nature. Seeing your reflection in a dirty puddle or shiny spoon is like seeing a completely different person, because we finally took down the facade and can now see ourselves the way our inside truly is. To some that may be disturbing, but to me it is beautiful. I can’t wait to see what else this program has to offer.”
“This is honestly the coolest place I’ve been to (along with my hometown in Mexico),” wrote Maria Hernandez, a sophomore at Dos Palos High School, as she sat sitting in front of a campfire in Yosemite. Maria along with her fellow ARC participants had visited Chilnualna Falls earlier in the day and had just finished preparing and eating a meal together. For Maria, it was not an average Friday night after a long school week.
“I like the trees, the little hills, the people, and overall the environment. I know it’s been just one day, but I can’t wait for what’s ahead.” What was ahead for Maria’s ARC weekend? On Saturday, she woke up at 7:30AM and hiked seven miles round-trip on the Mist Trail. She climbed 1,900 feet up stone steps, saw a rainbow extend across the powerful expanse of Vernal Falls, and she lay in the sun next to the pools of water above Nevada Falls (the top of the hike). It was a weekend of physical challenge and beautiful scenery with the waterfalls near their peak.
Maria wrote of the experience, “Right here, you are face to face with nature. To be able to step away and leave your daily life, even for a little while, is one of the most awesome feelings ever. Here you can not only hear the silence, but you can feel it, as if engulfed in a warm and fuzzy blanket in the middle of winter.” It was Maria’s first time in Yosemite and she is excited to return again soon!
When you’re a high school sophomore who has never experienced life away from home, forty days feels like a long time to be separated from your family. Francisco del Rio, a 2013 Adventure Risk Challenge summer course participant, described the feeling of leaving home like “the Pacific Ocean was ready to release its massive waves on my face.” He said he held the tears back and took a step toward a new beginning, “to become a more disciplined, appreciative person who has a better idea of his future.”
Before participating in the ARC summer course, Francisco was a student who rarely studied for tests. Like many teenagers he says, “I would wake up in the middle of the day without thinking of what my goals for the day were.” He was an unmotivated student who didn’t see the connection between his classwork and his future.
Francisco also described taking his parents for granted. He says that “at home, I would stay out with my friends and not come back until my parents were asleep.” He remembers lying around on summer days while his mom was at work, instead of helping with cleaning or laundry.
On the ARC 40-day summer course in Yosemite, Francisco lived in the wilderness, slept under the stars, wrote and performed poetry, and began reflecting on his future. The turn-around point for him was four weeks into the course when he had some reflection time alone, overlooking the Sierra Nevada mountains and journaling his thoughts. At that moment Francisco says, “I wanted to prove to myself that I had changed and that I was a more disciplined person.”
His summer course teammates noticed his transformation. On the group’s final backpacking expedition, they selected him as one of their two leaders. For four days, Francisco was responsible for navigating the group for over twenty miles of hiking and for the well-being of his peers. ARC instructor Ann Reynolds said, “Francisco’s positive attitude and light-hearted spirit made him a strong leader. There were points during the course when he adeptly assessed the mood of the group, helped resolve conflict, and encouraged his teammates when morale was low.”
Francisco’s teammates also admired his playful, fun, enthusiastic charm. When the ARC students taught students from the Boys & Girls Club about water conservation issues, Francisco put a new creative spin on these lessons. He taught the younger students about the effects of pollution in the Central Valley in a hands-on exercise where students donned ponchos, symbolizing run-off as rain storms (sprinkler water) pushed them to lower ground. The younger students loved the active learning on a hot summer afternoon.
Francisco, a 6’4” high school sophomore, also demonstrated great compassion and love for his family. During the ARC graduation, he read a poem that he wrote about his relationship with his father. The poem was appropriately entitled “I am a Giant Sequoia Tree.”
Since his participation in the 40-day course, Francisco has become active in his community and started coaching youth soccer (his team won the league championship this year). He applied and was admitted to California State University, Fresno and he is excited about studying broadcast journalism. He hopes to one day share with a television audience the experiences he had as a young man with Adventure Risk Challenge, seeing the beauty of Yosemite and imagining a brighter future for himself in college and beyond. Read More
“Am I really going to do this?” Brock Sanders asked himself. “Am I doing the right thing? What am I going to get out of this?” Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) had offered Brock a spot in their leadership and literacy summer course, but he couldn’t imagine spending 40 days away from home, hiking through the Yosemite wilderness and sleeping under the stars. My mind was set on “NO,” he said.
The quiet of a Yosemite night seemed scary compared to the comforting laughter and screams of his ten brothers, sisters, and cousins. A sophomore in high school, Brock wanted to escape his hometown of Dos Palos, CA, but he also felt at home surrounded by familiar faces and friends. Yosemite, he imagined, had dark nights and was full of menacing creatures.
Brock had been struggling at school, often putting his head down in class and having difficulty completing his homework. He didn’t think he could write and his lack of confidence was clear in the scribbled handwritten essays that he turned in for English class. He described himself academically as “not being good at anything.”
After saying “no” to Yosemite for weeks, Brock finally allowed himself to be convinced by ARC instructors to attend the course. He decided that the fun would outweigh the homesickness and that new summer adventures would be more exciting than his regular summer routine.
In Yosemite, he hiked over seventy miles through the National Park. He saw the Park’s iconic landscapes, swam in alpine lakes, and rafted on the Merced River through Yosemite Valley. In class, he began to see himself as a more responsible student. He said, “Before ARC, I never did my homework. I just threw the work in my binder and never looked at it again, but ARC taught me the importance of responsibility.”
After ARC, Brock had a new-found confidence in his writing and academic ability. He wrote a moving poem entitled “I am Yosemite Creek” about the struggles he had in high school. He described himself as being “surrounded by a whirlpool of equations, formulas, letters, and numbers/they keep circling me, tangling me up and won’t let me go.”
When he returned from Yosemite, the whirlpool had stopped. He would write freely outside of school for fun. His grades began to improve significantly. He joined multiple clubs, including FFA and a leadership group. He joined the swim team. This year he wrote, “I am now excited to attend school…I am ready to take on future challenges!”
On his college application, Brock wrote, “If it was not for the ARC program, I would still be failing my classes, I wouldn’t be in any clubs, and I wouldn’t be on the right path to a successful future. I am so happy for what ARC has done for me.”
Away from Sagehen and the wilderness, I found out life in the city is more complicated in a big city. During the 23 days course at ARC, we overcame so many challenges and experienced a lot of fun: backpacking, rock climbing, rafting, ropes course, etc… I really cherish all those experiences this summer. I believe that even though we are apart from each other, the spirit of JGFF is always there!!!
P.S. I miss all of you so much!!!
We want to thank Chris Raines for coming to teach us how to use pastel charcoals to create amazing drawings. It was fun because we were able to use our own imagination to add more detail to the pictures. Creating this art also let us experience a sense of enjoyment with the outcome.
Today we interviewed some very inspirational people. We met a judge, a president of a corporation, a poet, a park ranger, an entrepreneur, an executive director of a non-profit, and more. They inspired us to become more involved in our communities, to focus on our passions, and not be distracted by negative influences. Before the interviews, we did an icebreaker where we asked questions of one another and played a thumb war game (see picture of me with Magistrate Judge Michael Seng). Today was a fun day of getting to know new people! – Alondra