Connections Can Last Forever: 2009 ARC Graduate, Maria Valdez

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.


A Warm Hello – Kelsey Porter

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.

-Kelsey Porter


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.

-Kelsey Porter


Final Expedition

This is us, working as a team getting ready for our last expedition. I am feeling excited because we are leaving tomorrow, but worried because we will be leading the trip ourselves!



Creativity in Action – Spring Skiing and Filmmaking with ARC

Adventure Risk Challenge prides itself on connecting academics to outdoor adventure, and we do it in a variety of ways.  But what we don’t always talk about is the importance of creativity in our overall mission.  Creativity in ARC can mean freely choosing your turns down a snowy mountain slope or thinking about the right imagery to capture your thoughts in a personal essay.  We believe creativity is essential to personal growth and exploration in the outdoors.  This past week, in both Tahoe and Yosemite, creativity was on display!

On March 1st in Yosemite, four ARC students—Dahlia, Brock, Kiauna, and Francisco—were given an ‘Honorable Mention Award: Sharing the Visitor Experience’ by the National Park Service in the Youth in Yosemite Short Video Contest.  The students submitted a video called “Yosemite is Our Home,” which they planned, edited, and directed.  The video interspersing clips of the ARC students describing their experiences in Yosemite with visitors’ descriptions of their feelings about the Park.  At the awards ceremony, the video received more laughs than any other.  It is evident from all the smiles and laughter throughout the movie that the students had a lot of fun throughout the filming process.  Thank you, Dahlia, Brock, Kiauna, and Francisco, for all your creativity and hard work!  To view the video, visit

On March 1st in Tahoe, eight high school students and four adult staff/volunteers headed to Northstar for a day of snowboarding and skiing.  The conditions were great since we had just received a couple feet of “Sierra Soft” in the days before.  Our instructors gave us a guided tour of the mountain, as the participants enjoyed the sunshine and fresh snow.  As we wove our lines through the trees in the afternoon, we realized that athletic pursuits of any kind are essentially a creative act.  You have to choose when to turn, where to go, when to check, and when to just let it rip.  It this sort of free riding that has allowed a new generation of athletes, including our ARC students, to express themselves in a creative ways in the outdoors.


Sleeping Bag Hop was a Great Success at the Dos Palos BBQ!

 Twenty-six Dos Palos HS students and their family members attended the ARC BBQ on September 28th.  Students participated in youth-designed outdoor games and were awarded prizes from local businesses.  The activities included a sleeping bag race, water-bottle-pyramid throw, and a tent-construction competition.  Every participant received a prize courtesy of Subway, Pizza Factory, and America Taqueria and Bakery in Dos Palos.  The picture above, taken by photographer Kiauna Conger, shows the preliminary discussions before the sleeping bag hop!  Thank you to all the attendees and the local businesses for their generous donations!


ARC Leadership Moves Forward

ARC congratulates Sarah Cupery Ottley, who is enthusiastically moving from the role of Program Director into the Executive Director position. Sarah has been with ARC since 2009, when she joined the organization to open a new program site in Yosemite. Because of her rootedness in the Yosemite community, years of experience as an interpretive ranger and educator in the area, and excitement for a new challenge, Sarah hit the ground running.

Sarah was quickly promoted from Course Director of Summer Immersion Courses to Outreach Coordinator for Merced County Programming, to Program Coordinator of the Yosemite/Merced site, then to Program Director of the entire organization. Ready for a new challenge and excited about opportunities for learning and growth, she has now stepped into the role of ARC’s Executive Director.

Seeing first-hand the effectiveness of ARC’s programming, Sarah has quickly gained a passion for the field of youth development. Speaking about her five years with ARC, she said, “It’s an incredible experience to work for an organization in which so much transformation takes place. Every time I work with our participants, I’m able to observe that they have grown in confidence, character and academic ability.”

Beginning her career in environmental education by working at National Parks in Arizona, Alaska and California, Sarah solidified her passion for working in wilderness environments. She then worked five years at Yosemite Institute, receiving consistent training as an educator, backpacking guide, and risk manager while teaching over 300 youth a year and leading backpacking trips of up to fourteen days in length.

Sarah speaks conversational Spanish and has 10 years certification as a Wilderness First Responder. She has received additional training in organizational risk management, expository reading and writing education, and youth development. Sarah uses her love of music and Bachelor’s of Music degree from Wheaton College in Illinois by performing weekly in a string band.


Charting Successful Courses

ARC's "Uniquely Undefined" Tahoe Cohort Out in the Field

ARC’s “Uniquely Undefined” Tahoe Cohort

On Top of the World - Yosemite Style

On Top of the World – Yosemite Style

At both our program sites, Yosemite and Truckee, ARC hosted very diverse groups in our summer immersion courses this year—from urban and rural California, from 12 towns, seven cultural heritages, and six languages spoken among the participants. Our teams were filled with many different personalities as well: the vocal leaders, the organizers, the jokesters, and the encouragers.

“I liked the diversity of backgrounds of each ARC student. I learned a lot about their stories and culture,” said one participant. Read More


ARC Tahoe Rocks!

The ARC summer course is in full swing, bringing participants together from varied cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. This group is full of strong and good-natured go-getters. They have tackled the biggest challenges facing them with a sense of adventure and a can-do attitude.

During their backcountry expeditions, the ARC 2013 cohort has been learning how to become a team and work together efficiently. For many, this is the first awareness that teamwork is an important skill in life. They are learning how to look out for each other, support each other, and do things as a group instead of individuals—a skill not commonly taught in our society. Read More


Don’t Miss ARC’s Voices of Youth Event July 30 in Truckee


Is 10 youth voices over the course of 10 years, courageous enough to speak out about their past challenges, their insights, and their hopes and dreams for the future. The Power of Ten is hundreds of transformational moments: summiting a mountain peak, trusting the rope to hold you while climbing, or spending 24 hours solo in the wilderness. Click here to witness the Power of 10. 
Read More


Welcome to the ARC Blog!

For ten years, ARC has been delivering innovative outdoor and academic programming, impacting the lives of hundreds of young people around the state of California. As we look forward to the next 10 years of ARC, we invite you to share in our successes and in our stories. The ARC blog will provide you with a rare glimpse into the lives of our staff and young people as they revel in the beauty of the wilderness, create life-long bonds with each other, and embody our four core values of integrity, service, compassion, and determination. We hope you will visit often and share your thoughts and inspiration with us.