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.
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.
Sean (middle) and his energetic team: Mel Hoffman, Yami Gutierrez, Anna Greenberg, and Salvador Meza Lemus
Whenever Sean McAlindin has a tough day or is struggling to find an answer to one of life’s many problems, he spends the day in the woods, on a hike, camping or rock climbing.
Working with Adventure Risk Challenge has been a perfect fit for Sean. As Program Coordinator, Sean has the privilege of guiding and teaching youth while showing them how to feed their sense of adventure and exploration. He shows them how the wilderness can help release the stresses of everyday life. And he enjoys every minute of it.
Based on his commitment to serve the whole community of Tahoe-Truckee, Sean received the Community Collaborative Public Service Award of Excellence last year. His success comes from thinking about and interacting with youth as unique individuals, each with different assets, strengths, needs and barriers. Sean puts his whole heart and mind into these relationships and has had a deep impact on many young people.
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
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.
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.”
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!!!