This summer’s five-day Witherbee Boys High Sierra Expedition came with a handful of firsts. It was the first five-day group course to be run in the High Sierra and my first time working with a group of only teenage boys. Having never worked a course shorter than fourteen days, I was excited to see how Outward Bound could be done in a whirlwind of less than a week. Additionally, I was incredibly lucky to be working with Amanda August who came from the Baltimore and Philadelphia Outward Bound bases with years of experience running short courses. We were ready for the eight young men who traveled all the way from Los Angeles.
Our group of adventurers were a sent to us by Outward Bound California’s new partner, Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters of Los Angeles (JBBBSLA). For the past 20 years, JBBBSLA has provided one of the largest outdoor summer camp options for low-income youth in the LA area called Camp Max Straus and as students develop and grow into outdoor leaders they participate in the Witherbee Wilderness Backpacking Program. We knew this crew was ready for a true Outward Bound experience.
A goal I have going into any Outward Bound course I instruct is to create the space for a strong group to form. Amanda and I had a plan to meet this goal. Beginning on the first night, students spontaneously started sharing their life stories. I was awed to hear the students share freely their past struggles and successes. We also used go-around-questions to allow the boys a space in which to open up. To illustrate the strong group culture they created, I think of their responses to the question (introduced by one of the older boys), The sixteen and seventeen year olds shared fears of the future and growing up, while the younger ones shared fears of spiders and being alone. When a thirteen year old spoke of his fear of the dark, an older student validated this fear and shared that he, too, used to be afraid of the dark. The compassion that these young men had for each other was inspiring.
Also impressive was their ability to pick up on technical skills and complete them with excellence. On the third day, we gave them a short briefing on the aphorism passed down from Outward Bound’s founder and granddaddy of experiential education, Kurt Hahn, that your ‘disability is your opportunity’. The crew took this to heart. Wildly gesticulating, albeit silently, they set up a storm-proof camp with tarps taut, bear cans in a circle and a kitchen area ready to prepare a meal. They had only had one day of practice setting up camp and yet they rose to the challenge with excitement and determination.
The Outward Bound magic happened on this short course. These Witherbee students were challenged and discovered that their limits were far past where they had previously thought them to be. I am grateful to have checked off a few firsts with this group of motivated young men.
If you have a non-profit program, company, or school based out of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area and you think your students could benefit from the challenge of an Outward Bound California course, contact Emma Rapp at [email protected].