At ICO, we work closely with a number of schools, principals, and after school programs and their directors to work together to help the kids they serve access the outdoors. The principal of Urban Assembly School for Wildlife Conservation who our fantastic team at NYC ICO supports is moving on, but took the time to write this letter to our amazing team of volunteers:
I am writing to announce that I will be transitioning over the next few weeks from the principalship at UASWC...[we] are all working to ensure a successful transition in leadership...I am confident that our mission will remain as focused and purposeful as it has always been.
As founding principal, this was not an easy decision and I want to personally thank every you for your dedication as a founding partner in delivering a program that challenges students with high college ready expectations, and also provides the supports our students need to reach them – including fresh air! The Sierra Club Inner City Outings Program and your team on a personal level contribute a great deal in engaging students and their families in their education and breaking the cycles of poverty that otherwise limit their opportunities. I am truly grateful to you and the work you’ve done with our students.
In Washington State, the population of the military community is approximately 40% of the state's total population. Additionally, the revenues generated around the military community, ranging from military installations and their surrounding communities to the aerospace industry are a powerhouse in the state's economy. Why then is the Washington military community an underserved population in regards to outdoor access, outdoor recreation, and outdoor based therapeutic programs?
On August 4th and 5th, I was given the honor and privilege to lead a committee consisting of a diverse cross section of the military community from across the state in attempting to address this issue at Islandwood's second annual Military Families and Veterans Action Summit. While there are numerous brilliant ideas by brilliant people regarding the military community and the outdoors, most seem to never quite materialize out of the conception or planning phase. At the summit, we enjoyed a rare opportunity to plan and action our ideas, not only backed by the direct buy-in of numerous outdoor and military community organizations and sponsors, but we enjoyed the direct support of Washington Senator Patty Murray, Representative Derek Kilmer, and the WDVA Director Lourdes E. (Alfie) Alvarado-Ramos.
In two short days, our team rolled up their sleeves and drew from years of experience in working with the military community in the outdoors in a variety of organizations ranging from hiking and climbing to agriculture and sweat lodges to formulate an actionable plan that would not only serve as part of a comprehensive solution stemming from the Islandwood Summit, but that would also serve as a feasible, achievable, and measurable plan as part of Governor Jay Inslee's Parks and Outdoor Recreation Task Force recommendations.
Our recommendations were broken down under four major categories as follows in brief:
1. Mental and Behavioral Health: The use of the outdoors in the treatment of mental and physical health has proven to be incredibly effective.
- Partner with existing mental health and military community health care organizations for veteran and active duty outreach and to modify existing care (VA and Tri-Care) with privately funded initiatives that increase the scope and effectiveness of existing treatment.
- Encourage the use of alternative therapeutic practices such as outdoor, equine, art, and tribal ceremony as primary forms of treatment as opposed to limited augmentation of existing practices.
- Reach out to military community youth with outdoor programming in order to reach their military parents. Use the children as a means to engage adults in healthier lives outdoors.
2. Research: While numerous examples of anecdotal evidence exists as for the effectiveness of the outdoors in treating mental and behavioral health issues, effective scientific research must be conducted to bring the outdoors to mainstream public health.
- Connect the Washington military community and state and NGOs to existing outdoor research initiatives around the country (U Michigan, California Berkley, Georgetown, and the VA Center of Excellence)
- Generate Washington based research; connect WA universities, nonprofits, government agencies and members of the military community to partner in research that will lead the nation in connecting outdoor therapy and recreation to public health.
- Expand research into the effectiveness of other alternative therapies such as art, equine, and tribal ceremony.
3. Networking, Public / Private Partnerships
- Create a Washington State veteran subcommittee or task force to oversee outdoor recreation and outdoor therapeutic initiatives in direct partnership with the WDVA.
- Design and implement a system of MOUs between community members, NGOs, Universities, and the WDVA to encourage partnerships and cooperation across the state.
- Create a WDVA website to provide outdoor resources for active and veteran community in order to consolidate reputable resources and to provide communication between organizations to better facilitate internal communication for individual service member needs.
4. Funding and Branding
- Create a State or WDVA grant program in partnership with private foundations to empower grassroots organization to conduct effective care, research, and programming for the military community.
For me, mountaineering has always replicated the good things that come from combat. Camaraderie, putting your life in the hands of your team in the pursuit of a dangerous objective, the inherent risk and thrill, operations and logistics, an adversary, and a sense of self worth and extraordinary accomplishment. The mountains have also been a place for me to move on with my life and to heal after ten years in the Army, the majority of them in spent in a state of constant preparedness, fighting, and recovery.
Many of my fellow soldiers and I have always had difficulty in processing these experiences, lacking the medium or the proper words to really get at the heart of what we experienced. I feel at home in the mountains, seemingly balanced half way between my old life and my new one, and for a brief moment, I am able to transcend from my daily life into a state of clarity, able to see and understand who I have become, where I have been, and where I am headed.
In choosing the Boston Basin in the North Cascades for the 2014 Sierra Club Military Outdoors Adventure Film School, we attempted to recreate the positive challenges and outcomes of combat for our veterans to tell their stories for themselves and for the world. This was no canned veteran event. Success and failure hinged on our veterans ability to act as a team, to move beyond their percieved limits, and to learn about themselves.
After two months of pre-production training and expedition planning, our team began the expedition with a grueling approach hike, followed by top class instruction in mountaineering and outdoor technical film making. In small teams, they filmed their endeavors while working together in climbing Sahale Peak, Shark fin Tower, and the Aguirre. After six hard days in the mountains, they returned to Snoqualmie Pass where they were mentored in post production, crafting their stories through three sleepless days. The filmmakers debuted their films at the North Bend Theatre at the first annual Veteran Film Festival in an emotional yet thrilling night.
I am incredibly proud of our team. The Instructors from the Adventure Film School, Nasa Koski, Liz Hampton, and Micha Baird executed a highly successful program. Guest Instructors Benjamin Patton from I was There and Micahel Brown gave top class mentor ship and and guidance to our team. Chris Simmons and Aaron Mainer of Pro Guiding provided professional level instruction and leadership in the mountains. A special thanks to our sponsors Race for A Soldier, Outdoor Research, Cascade Deseigns, Danner Boots, and the Martin Family Foundation for your generous support in making this event possible.
Finally, I would like to personally thank our veterans Daniel Shoemaker, David Fierner, Elle Hanson, Melanie Barrow, Aaron Gerenscer, and Brian Mockenhapt for giving everything the had to this project. They achieved in 10 days what many wont achieve in a life time. Some made a goal of personal of physical summits, all achieved personal summits. they alone deserve credit for what they have accomplished. I'm lucky to have been there to witness their journey. Their words, their pictures, and their films speak for them best.
Captain Dan Shoemaker's world was forever changed on June 11th, 2010 when his platoon was attacked by a suicide car bomb in Jalula Iraq. His combat injuries were only the start of his battle as he began his fight with cancer that day. Enjoy No Matter What.
For 7 days, the Boston Basin became my home. It welcomed me with frustration, exhaustion, and more than my share of bruises. The mountain took every opportunity to test my physical strength and psychological vulnerabilities.
Every night, defeated, I sat under the stars wondering why I took on this journey. Every morning the crisp air of the sunrise reminded me why.
Life gets complicated after deployment. Every day for almost a year, I left a piece of myself in the mountains of Afghanistan. In that void, the sight, smell, and sounds of war followed me home. I thought that I was climbing the North Cascades make a film. But that's not why the mountain called my name.
The mountain wanted to return something to me that was left behind on a battlefield on the other side of the world...
My peace. My purpose. My sanity.
Words cannot express how thankful I am to the Sierra Club Outdoors and Adventure Film School for giving me the opportunity to heal the wounds of war through fun, friendship, and filmmaking.There is no better place to clear you mind than being in the great outdoors.
If you can't see the forest through the trees, then get above the tree line.
If a pair of combat boots could tell a story, what would they say? Follow a pair of boots to war and back and discover that for many, putting on boots to go to war is EASY.... Taking them off is where the real battle begins. These Boots.
I figured the adventure film course in the northern Cascades would be great because, really, how could it not be? A week of alpine climbing with other vets while learning how to make movies. But I wasn't expecting the days to be as amazing as they were, or that I'd learn as much as I did, about alpine climbing, film making, and the experiences and perspectives of others on the trip.
Leaving the Army after three tours in Iraq, Josh Brandon felt stuck between his old, pre-war life, and his life in combat. Full Ruck looks at the role outdoor adventure and the mountains have played for Brandon, who heads up Sierra Club's Military Outdoors, which runs adventure programs for veterans.
Originally, when I made the decision to attend Adventure Film School, my number one rule was, DON'T get personal. I wasn't interested in making a film, that was a first hand account. Then, as Michael Brown says, "The Magic of the Mountain", took hold.
1000 Steps is a film about self discovery, friendship, enlightenment, and most importantly, the journey. Sometimes, many factors play into a "light bulb moment". For me, this experience was not only a defining moment, but a life changing one. It truly was the hardest thing that I have ever done; though, it certainly won't be the last.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Always do the things you are afraid to do". I wrote this quote on the inside of my boots, right before leaving for the expedition. Truthfully, I was petrified, and thought I would never make it out alive. Even though I didn't accomplish everything I had planned on, I survived, and I'll do it all over again, in a heartbeat.
Knife is the story of a Soldier who struggles to leave combat behind. During his time in the mountains he finds a way to loosen his grip on his inner warrior and comes to find peace.
Enjoy the rest of the Photos:
As promised, here's the follow up from the post early this week about four other ICO groups doing amazing work outdoors on special trips in amazing places nationwide!
Raleigh ICO leaders took nine youth from the Wake County Heritage Park Learning Center to Fort Fisher State Park and Aquarium for a coastal experience and an overnight “sleeping with the fishes” program at the aquarium. The youth, most of whom have never seen the ocean before, got to experience swimming, sand and more swimming! In the early evening they participated in the “Sleeping with the Fishes” environmental educational experience at the aquarium, where the group spent the night in the aquarium in front of the large shark tank. They participated in a program about reptiles and sharks, made t-shirts with an ancient Japanese fish printing method, and got a private aquarium tour the next morning. In talking about the beach environment, Tabion, one of the youth, reacted with surprise: “We swam in the Atlantic Ocean??!! I thought we were swimming at Fort Fisher, not the ocean!!!”
Seattle ICO leaders took 12 students from Washington Middle School on their final outing of the school year to Mt. Saint Helens for an overnight camping adventure. The students, many of whom are new to Seattle, coming from northern and eastern Africa and Southeast Asia, have had introductory experiences with ICO, including walking through forests, putting on hiking boots, and paddling a canoe. This camping trip helped instill confidence and teamwork, learning the skill sets needed to set up tents, assist with camp chores, and overcome fears of trying something new. Only two of the participants had slept in a tent before this outing. The group drove to Mt. Saint Helen’s Volcanic National Monument on Saturday and, although the mountain remained shrouded in cloud cover the entire weekend, it the group hiked the Hummocks Trail and explored the different microclimates and ecosystems created post-eruption. The group then camped in the Lewis River Valley, which provides access to ten miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, and trout streams. Setting up camp, cooking, learning about “leave no trace” ethics and proper etiquette in the woods, plus a night hike through an old growth Douglass fir forest followed by a game of “capture the flag” by headlamps, made for a very full day. The next morning, the group packed up camp and ventured to Ape Caves, an underground series of lava tubes 2.6 miles long dating from a flow that occurred roughly 2,000 years ago. The students had headlamps and got to experience challenging spelunking, scrambling over approximately 27 boulder piles and scaling an 8-foot high lava wall, all while learning about the geology and power of a volcano. After the strenuous morning, most of the kids slept all the way back to Seattle. A highlight of the trip for the teachers who came along was to see so many of their “hyperactive” classroom kids engaging and exerting themselves to the point of stillness. This was truly a special and memorable outing for these students, who will be eager to be part of ICO trips in the new school year.
Los Angeles ICO took 28 students from the School for the Visual Arts and Humanities and Los Angeles Academy of Arts and Enterprise on a two-hour Level II rafting adventure along the Kern River. Along with the expert guides from River’s End Rafting and Adventure Company, the students learned the basics of paddling a raft safely and working together as a team to navigate the river. Trip highlights included going down three rapids, swimming in the river, and a variety of water games. This special outing was a treat for these urban kids who primarily go hiking with ICO during the school year.
Nashville ICO spent a weekend canoeing and kayaking down the scenic Duck River near Columbia, Tennessee. Fifteen students—refugees from Somalia and The Congo—from Catholic Charities’ Refugee Youth Program were very eager to see the sights of their new home, and the ICO leaders were very happy to show them as much as they could about the natural world outside the confines of the housing projects where most of them currently live. This special outing included a morning of paddling, swimming, and lunch, and then paddling to a primitive campground for an overnight adventure. The teens cooked dinner over a fire, set up tents, and slept well. After fixing a camp breakfast in the morning, they packed up their gear and paddled back to the put-in site. The weekend provided the ICO leaders an opportunity to teach the teens how to canoe or kayak (whichever they chose) and experience a typical American summer day of swimming, paddling, and relaxing as they let the current pull them down the river.
AWE RESEARCH PROJECT
Sierra Club Outdoors, the University of California Berkeley’s Psychology Department, and the Greater Good Science Center are teaming up on a research project to measure the physical and mental benefits that teenagers enjoy as a result of their participation in a series of six ICO rafting trips. The research is investigating the link between awe experienced when out in nature and good health and resilience.
Specifically, the project’s benefits include: scientific methods to document the positive outcomes of outdoor programs; engaging teenagers in hands-on psychological research; and producing data on the health and wellness benefits of being outdoors. Participants will complete questionnaires before and after the trip, provide saliva samples to measure hormones and immune functions, keep a trip diary, and collect video and photos during the trips—all to measure, observe, and collect data on the physical and emotional state of the teens on these trips.
The first rafting trip of the research series occurred in late June on the south fork of the American River with approximately 25 students from Oakland High School’s Environmental Science Academy. The participants were accompanied by environmental science teacher Kevin Jordan, ten SF Bay Rafting guides, Craig Anderson, and UC Berkeley research project manager and his graduate student assistants, as well as Sierra magazine writer Jake Abramson and a Sierra free-lance photographer who documented the trip. Amidst all the chaos of gear, participants, and extra people, the trip and research component went off without a hitch. The simple pre- and post- trip questionnaires and journal reflections provided an excellent way to get the young people focused and reflect on their outdoor experience. And having the college graduate students interact with these college-bound high school students proved a plus for everyone. Craig Anderson came away saying that this first trip experience exceeded his expectations on participant reactions and data collection; ICO rafting leaders realized the importance of adding a journal exercise and including some environmental science on their trips to truly enhance the fun. We hope having some science behind what we intuitively know is true—that being outdoors is a positive value for both the body and mind—will help raise awareness and encourage support for our outdoor programming.
We plan on taking the information we learn from this first pilot research program and implementing a three year longitiduinal research project in 2015 that will work with youth as well as veterans and service members to determine the benefit of what the outdoors does for all of us. For more information get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org
In June, seven different ICO groups from across the country participated in special trips we support from the National level. Here are three trip summaries from our groups in Boulder Valley, Orange County, and Cleveland.
Boulder Valley ICO leaders repeated a previously successful multi-day service trip to Mission: Wolf, a wolf sanctuary in Southern Colorado. Participation in this outing is so coveted that it serves as a reward for good and frequent participation in other ICO outings over the course of the year. This time, the participants were from Creekside Elementary School, a primarily Latino, low-income public school. Leaders invited parents to come along on this adventure. The group had the opportunity to help the sanctuary facility with everything from moving firewood to butchering animals that are fed to the wolves. They also met the “ambassador wolves” in a face-to-face meeting to help break down fears of the wild. Photos!
Cleveland ICO leaders took 13 young Nepalese refugees, ages 7 to 14, on a horseback riding outing at Maypine Farms. While some of these youth have been exposed to cows and goats in their native country, they have had little to no exposure to horses. After one successful horse-back riding experience last year with ICO, the students wanted to do it again. This special outing enabled the youth to learn how to first groom the horses to develop trust and lessen fear. Then each participant had an experienced teenaged rider take them around the ring and quickly advance to trotting, learning to ride safely, and comfortably. Maypine Farms provided a lovely location for a short game of soccer and a hike before the group headed for lunch. ICO leaders treated the group to a “sit down” restaurant for lunch, which was a new experience for most of the kids. Many of the refugees don’t use a knife and fork to eat, as they eat their Nepali meals at home with their fingers, and American “fast food” (pizza and chicken nuggets) at school. After lunch, the group went to another nearby Metropark for a longer hike before heading home. Cleveland ICO leaders have been able to provide the Nepalese refugee community opportunities to explore the outdoors and introduce them to a variety of cultural aspects in their new home, helping make the transition less harsh.
Orange County ICO leaders took a group of 10 students from Bolsa Grande High School’s Wilderness Adventure Club on a five day camping trip to Reds Meadow in Inyo National Forest in the Eastern Sierra. The group assisted the Forest Service on some trail maintenance while experiencing this beautiful area on three ranger-led hikes to Devil’s Postpile, Minnent Falls, and Rainbow Falls. The students also did some fishing in Johnston Lake and Sotcher Lake near the campground and ate their catch of fresh trout for dinner. Leaders helped the students identify flowers, trees, and animal scat on their hikes, and saw many deer and a brown bear from afar. It was a great way to begin the summer!
Check in later this week for four more trip reports!
By Kelly Mieszkalski, Sierra Club Volunteer
I recently trekked up to Washington DC for Great Outdoors America Week (GO Week) June 23-26 to speak with many of our North Carolina representatives about protecting America's public lands and getting kids outdoors and to also participate in various GO week events. As part of the Sierra Club, I lobbied in in support of the Healthy Kids Outdoors Act (H.R. 4706/S. 2367), a bill to connect more Americans with the outdoors via state-level incentives for agencies and partners across sectors to develop comprehensive strategies to connect children, youth and families with the outdoors, in addition to legislation to designate new wilderness areas though out our nation.
Highlights of my trip included:
I’m looking forward to returning to Washington DC in September for Wilderness Week in celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and to participating in future GO Weeks. I had so much fun getting to know fellow advocates for the outdoors from all over the country and from so many different organizations like the Wilderness Society, REI, NOLS, Wilderness Inquiry, Outward Bounds, Natural Leaders Network, and more!
Thank you to the Sierra Club for providing me with the opportunity to participate and speak up for those of us here in North Carolina who care so deeply about connecting America with the outdoors and protecting our wild places.
Sierra Club Volunteer
North Carolina Chapter Outings Chair
Thank you to our guest blogger and former staff team member Mark Lemke, a Marine, for reaching out to share a description about the path he took to graduate school in social work and his plans for using the outdoors to help make a better world for those going through the challenges of life, veterans and non-veterans alike. Mark was part of our team for half of 2011...and we miss him! Mark, we know you're making the world a better place!
We all make choices in life that have profound consequences on the life paths we chose. I find myself thinking about this often while walking my dog Hooch in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The choices I made took me from Indiana to North Carolina where I served at Cherry Point as a Marine. After the Marines, like many before me, I met a girl and moved. I followed her to Asheville in 2008. My discovery of the Blue Ridge Parkway changed my view on the world. After finishing an undergraduate degree at the University of North Carolina at Asheville in 2011, I was accepted into the apprenticeship program with the Sierra Club. I was the first apprentice for Sierra Club Outdoors, before it was even called Sierra Club Outdoors. That 6-months in DC with SCO eventually lead me to my current destination.
In September of 2011 saw SCO staff and volunteers lobbying members of Congress on the importance of connecting veterans and children to the outdoors for numerous reasons, namely public health and how nature helps wounded and returning veterans. I was with the delegation of former military members and their testimonies planted a seed in my head. I eventually finished my time at the Sierra Club and moved back to Asheville, NC to figure out my future. I worked at therapeutic boarding school for teenage boys and was exposed to case management and group therapy. The seed began to sprout and take hold, the larger picture appeared.
The Sierra Club forced to me to take a more intimate look at what it meant to be a veteran. Friends of mine knew that I was in the Marines, but it was never a focal point of conversation, thus old memories began to fade into obscurity. The Marines I met speaking before Congress on that trip painted a picture of how nature is such an important catalyst for healing. I was finally able to connect the dots and realize how the Blue Ridge Mountains helped me transition into civilian life.
In 2013, I made the decision to attend graduate school to pursue my Masters of Social Work. This was a total fundamental shift from my environmental past, but in many ways they go hand in hand. SCO taught me how rock climbing, fly-fishing or a quiet drive on a parkway is therapeutic and can be used to help people overcome trauma and addiction. Now there are many more components to helping veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or substance abuse than the actives described above. But it proves to be a powerful medium and a solid foundation for those veterans trying to sew their lives back together.
I’m about to enter my second and final year of graduate school at East Tennessee State University. During my first year I concentrated on substance abuse and not to my surprise I’ll be doing that at my second year internship. In a funny, but not so odd turn of events I’ll be at the Charles George Veterans Association Hospital in Asheville, NC. I’ll be working with veterans who are in inpatient treatment for addiction, which many are suffering from mental illness. Self-medicating has become the new norm for many who have experienced trauma, veteran and civilian alike. The seed is begining to blossom and hopefully in the near future will begin to bear fruit.
Next time you’re in nature take the time and reflect how decisions take us places. Take off the headphones and put the phone in your pocket, simply take in your surroundings. The decision to apply to the Sierra Club Apprenticeship Program made me revaluate my values.
I would like to thank Stacy Bare and Jackie Ostfeld for their guidance while I was in Washington, D.C.
Sierra Club Outdoors Nation:
The following trip report and testimonial was written by student Vimary Toribio from NYC ICO, a new CatRock Sierra Club Youth Leader describing the recent leadership retreat which featured caving, hiking, rafting, fishing, and swimming the weekend of June 7 and white water rafting the weekend of June 28th alongside ELLIS High School.
That same night we got to make a BBQ. The food was delicious. And not only was it good but we also used teamwork to make it so it made it taste even better. After that we saw a movie about leadership and teamwork called Coach Carter. The movie itself was really inspiring. It is about a basketball team that needs to learn that to be on a team, you need to support your teammates both inside and outside the game, because if one person fails, they all fail.
The next day breakfast was also divided to everyone to participate. After that, we went caving, Before going into the cave we had been playing some trust games. For some people it was hard because they had to overcome trust issues. But you have to learn to trust your team and know that they won't let you fall. Those activities helped when going to the cave because if one of us couldn't actually go up the rocks they would lend you a hand a push.
We also had an incredible rafting trip. It was really a challenge to carry the raft to the river, but we figured out that we could switch sides if one of us got tired. Again, the keyword was teamwork. Also we got to actually interact with new people and learn about them and their lives while sharing jokes and laughing together, on a really beautiful river. We even saw a bald eagle! It was really fun to get closer to people I already knew and meet amazing new people.
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