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January 29, 2013

Inner City Outings: Nature and Decency

Shavar-fishing
This guest post by Shavar Thompson originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Chapter's newsletter The Sylvanian.

To say that I remember the exact dates of my active membership with the Harrisburg Inner City Outings program would be lying. To claim I remember every member on every trip would be exaggerating. A lot of time has passed and friendships have become distant to the point that telescopes may be needed to reclaim them, similar to astronomers making sense of familiar patterns in our universe. What I can claim with confidence is the feelings associated with the memories of humbling, motivating, informative, character- building, and spirit enriching trips with folks that I consider family to this day, no matter how far apart our walks of life take us.

Some of my fondest memories of the past are from the heart of Cumberland Courts. It is where I always enjoyed playing my favorite sport (football), where I first encountered lifelong friendships, love, and camaraderie; where wrestling matches and ring-up would last until after the twilight zone came on at night, and where truth or dare ruled the night. Anyone who grew up at Cumberland Courts with me would tell you that its heart is our hearts. And forever imprinted in our hearts will be Messiah Lutheran Church.

Shavar-at-Rudys-Tree-Farm-1

For me the church couldn't have become active in our lives in a timelier manner. I was a kid who felt like the world hated me and was desperately looking for direction. And it was delivered. We called the angels of Messiah Lutheran Church "THE CHURCH PEOPLE." Members of the church would come tell us Bible stories and bring enough refreshments to feed the whole complex.

As the years rolled along, members of Messiah Lutheran Church took it upon themselves to introduce us children to the Inner City Outings program through Sierra Club. The pioneers of this initiation have slipped from my memory but I do remember we were the first set of kids from our neighborhood to join the program. Along with the first set of children came the servants to guide us. A few names I remember are Ms. Deb, Mr. Brian, Mr. Brook, and Mr. Pat.

Some of the first trips I can recall going on are the haunted hay ride at Fort Hunter, fossil digging, and the Christmas tree farm. Trips like The Haunted Hay ride instilled courage into our hearts at a young age. They also allowed us to build camaraderie amongst each other on a level equivalent to what organized sports accomplish. I learned a deeper understanding of the importance of qualities like teamwork, honesty, integrity, strong will, forgiveness, sacrifice, determination, and faithfulness.

If not for the Inner City Outings program I wouldn't know how to navigate the Appalachian trail. I remember being instructed to follow the white markers with awareness of my surroundings. I know the difference between plants that are edible and non-edible. I know the delicacy it takes to preserve fossils. I know how much a small act, like planting a tree, can create life. I was able to build leadership skills while in the ICO program.

One of the most valuable assets of the ICO program is the cultural diversity. As a kid in the program I was able to see the love and intelligence instilled in all people. The admiration of these folks allowed me to respect people of different colors and circumstances. The love they gave me reversed the concept of the world hating me and allowed me to love others too (even folks I do not know). Through preservation I learned to love inanimate objects as much as animate. Without the ICO program I may not have ever gotten over my youthful frustrations, or even built the necessary comprehension skills to make sense of the world.

Shavar-and-Josh-1997-fossilOver time in the ICO program the challenges the staff put us through became more complex and physically demanding. We were not allowed to be content with outings that were just fun-filled. The ICO program trained us early to be able to adjust to adversity. Through backpacking, canoe trips, and kayaking I learned that sometimes you have to work beyond exhaustion to reach a goal. Better yet, I learned the joy of reaching goals that you work hard for. I also learned that along the way to those goals, you will need people who care for you. To this day I draw motivational strength from my peers. Inner City Outings taught me not to be afraid to ask for help or seek guidance. I credit my will power to the times when I wanted to give in and quit but the staff of the ICO program cheered me on to continue. For them giving up wasn’t an option, conquering one’s doubts was priority. Together we accomplished the goal. The love of each other and of nature created decency.

The Inner City Outings program allowed me to temporarily escape the madness that goes on every day in urban neighborhoods. I was not only allowed to see more, but I was shown that there were alternatives to what I knew as truth. I tested water, built pots out of clay with manure I helped collect, dug fossils, navigated some of the most dangerous trails in the U.S., built reefs, made birdfeeders, snorkeled, caught crabs in the middle of the ocean, etc. (the list could go on forever if my hands didn’t tire). -- all in the name of conservation. In the name of what God wants us to be: servants. Without ICO I wouldn’t be as open-minded, passionate, humble, grateful, caring, and loving as I am today. I wouldn’t love my environment and all the creatures in it. I wouldn't care about picking up the garbage I see floating around. I wouldn’t have had an opportunity to witness God’s love on Earth and I wouldn’t have wanted to give back the same. May the giving start here.

Thank you Inner City Outings!!!!

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