Thursday, May 22, 2014

SheJumps! by Janine Welton

My Wilderness and Civilization internship culminated on a cloudy spring day in early May.  I sat on the forest floor with a group of women, the smell of pine needles and moist earth fresh in the morning air.  Our introductions to one another brought up similar desires for the day:  wanting to feel competent, understand how to assess risk, learn technical skills, and most importantly, wanting to gain confidence and act as leaders.  

For my project, I partnered (through the Wilderness Institute) with an organization called SheJumps to run a women’s outdoor rock climbing clinic in Missoula.  When I began searching for a topic I knew I wanted to use my love of outdoor adventure to create a project that was meaningful. Bridging the gap between my recreational lifestyle and my engagement with my community is something that has been on my mind throughout the Wilderness and Civ. semester.  My advisor, Natalie Dawson, suggested working through SheJumps to create an event that would reach out to other women in the community.  SheJumps’ mission is to empower women through increasing female participation in outdoor activities.  Because the organization does not have a presence in Missoula, the objective of my internship (beyond my own personal learning and service) became introducing it to the area.  A town full of athletic and adventurous females, Missoula has huge potential for being a hub of communication, sharing, and growth amongst women.

Creating this event was about a more personal exploration than simply fulfilling an academic requirement.  A lover of mountains, I find my greatest internal growth in backcountry skiing and climbing.  There is something incredibly satisfying about being competent and able to step up and take the lead, whether it is during a day of climbing at a local crag or the planning of a long, remote trip. Striving to work towards SheJumps’ mission gave me a chance to reflect on my own behavior as a female athlete and the relationships I form with my adventure partners, male and female.  Too often, I’ve found myself in the position of backing down and feeling inadequate in comparison to my partners, even when I have valuable knowledge and skills.  Why is it that women so often step back and take a submissive role?  Is it at times easier than stepping out, speaking up, and being seen? 

My internship also confronted me with the reality that running female-only events is at once important and also very exclusive.   At times, the process of advertising and recruiting participants became uncomfortable and made me think hard about why I feel so strongly that female-only space is important.   The majority of my adventure partners are male and I enjoy the balance and dynamic of my interactions with them.  What I don’t enjoy are the times when I back down and lose my ability to confidently state what I think:  something that happens more frequently when I am in mixed or male-dominated groups.  For me, having female-only trips gives an opportunity to re-gain confidence and practice communicating in a supportive environment.  Once I’ve found my voice and confidence with other women, I can transfer those patterns to my interactions with men.  I’ve realized that ultimately, this ability to be confident and a leader with all of my adventure partners is a skill that I have the responsibility to develop.  I hope that over the course of the coming months SheJumps can begin to have a presence in Missoula, and more women will begin that journey towards feeling comfortable and confident in their knowledge and decision-making, no matter who they are recreating with. 

InnerRoads Wilderness Program by Will Thelen

I have been working for InnerRoads Wilderness Program for the past three months. InnerRoads was founded in 2001 and operated on its own before partnering with the Youth Homes in 2005. The purpose of InnerRoads, as outlined in its mission statement, is to help teenagers “change direction, find motivation, build self-worth and insight, develop interpersonal skills, and better understand the connection between their actions and consequences.” Struggling teens are often offered a variety of therapy choices that might resemble a visit to the doctor. However, in this program students have the opportunity to go on a backpacking trip for about a month! During an InnerRoads trip students are exposed to many backcountry living skills while simultaneously being challenged to reflect on where they’ve come from and see what changes need to be made in their habits or actions to take them where they want to go in life.

My main task this semester was to put together a field guide for InnerRoads students. Up until this April, there were a series of handouts and loose papers that were given to students upon their arrival in the program. First, I complied the documents containing the field activities and journal prompts. After formatting and arranging them in one document, I was tasked with writing a narrative to help guide students through the four main phases of the program. This was the most fun and difficult piece of my work because I had to translate directions meant for instructors into something that would make sense to students. Aside from putting together the field guide, myself and the two other interns worked on organizing logistics for InnerRoads. This would usually entail cleaning and fixing packs, organizing the gear shed, and I also had the opportunity to help with a gear fitting for one of this year’s students.
Over the past couple years I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of work I want to be doing after I graduate. I am obviously interested in being outside as much as possible, but it has been a challenge to decide exactly what I want to be doing. At this point I’m settled on outdoor education or wilderness therapy. I’ve participated in several field courses as a student and an intern, but working behind the scenes for a program that focuses only on wilderness therapy was new to me. I think the most important part of this experience for me was learning about what kind of language to use with kids who are struggling. Some students may have not even traveled into Wilderness before, so it is challenging to be clear about Leave No Trace philosophy or safety procedures without being too commanding or overbearing in a way that might cause students to ignore you.

This internship was a great way to finish Wilderness and Civ. After learning so much about Wilderness travel, philosophy, policy, and management, my internship with InnerRoads provided me with an excellent environment for applying what I had learned and allowed me to practice teaching these ideas to others. I am excited to continue developing my own Wilderness skills as well as continue teaching others about how to take care of Wilderness and themselves.

Ecology Project International by Nate Connors

Ecology Project International is a non-profit group based in Missoula.  Ecology Project International (EPI) focuses on outdoor education for adolescents and has programs based in Yellowstone, Costa Rica, Belize and the Galapagos Islands.  During this semester I had the privilege to intern with EPI and learn both about their current programs, but also how they go about establishing a new program as they form a partnership with MPG Ranch, located outside of Florence, Montana.

EPI and MPG Ranch are starting a new internship this summer for high school students based at MPG Ranch.  This internship will assist current researchers at MPG Ranch with their projects and will expose the high school interns to a hands on, unique educational experience.  The research ranges from studying yellow bellied marmot populations to tracking the wild animals that call MPG Ranch home. I assisted Joshua Theurer in developing lesson plans for this internship and setting up some of the curriculum for the students when they are not working with their assigned researcher.  My primary project was writing a cultural lesson regarding the Bitterroot Valley to help the high school interns develop a sense of place while they work at MPG Ranch.  This lesson touches on the Native American presence here prior to European influence and highlights some of the reasons that make the Bitterroot such a unique and special place.

I also had the privilege to design the cover art for the journals that will be used by the high school interns as well as the t-shirts that will be given to both the instructor team and the interns.  Due to the work with elk habitat preservation on MPG Ranch, I decided to use a elk motif.  Behind the elk is a rough interpretation of Castle Crag, which is visible from the Ranch.

When I was not working to develop lesson plans for this summers internship, I spent my time helping around the EPI office in Missoula.  EPI offered a unique chance to see the inner workings of a non-profit and the way in which they manage their classes, students, and instructors.  Everything from recruiting, to enrolling students, doing gear inventories, and helping to sell a company vehicle ended up on my plate.  It was fascinating to see the way in which this vibrant group of people have built such a well respected name in the outdoor education field.

Inner Roads! Woot! by Caitlin Caitlin Piserchia

My internship this semester was with InnerRoads Wilderness Therapy program, which takes troubled teens out on long backpacking trips into the Montana and Idaho wilderness.  The program is intensive and relationship-based; there’s a small staff-to-student ratio and regular support with the program therapist.  Students grow through developing deeper connections with themselves, with their place, and with the other students and field leaders.  InnerRoads is the only licensed wilderness therapy program in Montana, and it’s officially one of the coolest programs in the nation.  For one, it focuses on serving low-income families who wouldn’t be able to send their kids without financial assistance (Also, the great majority of those kids haven’t been out in the backcountry before).  Second, InnerRoads is community-based and includes an in-depth family component.  While kids are in the field, parents are also meeting and doing their own work to grow as parents and help support their kid when he or she comes home.  There is also a community component; when students are transitioning back into school and family life, they volunteer in the community and 

I was a little worried going into this internship that there wouldn’t be much for us to do—after all, the trips didn’t start going out into the field until late in the spring.  But overall, it was an amazing time, and there’s a lot going on behind the scenes year-round.
I first became interested in wilderness (and later, the Wilderness & Civilization Program) because I had an amazing experience in the backcountry with a group of students from around the country.  It wasn’t a wilderness therapy program, but it played a similar role in my life.  I can really appreciate the power of wilderness in shaping self-esteem and a sense of purpose.  This is what InnerRoads is all about.

The best part of this internship was the degree of trust Amy (program director) and Curt (program therapist) placed in us.  Amy asked us what we hoped to get out of the internship, and we co-created our roles for the semester based on what we were hoping to focus on and what InnerRoads needed. 

I feel like I was able to really delve into the inner workings of the program and get a taste of the nonprofit wilderness therapy world. 

The first, and biggest, project I worked on was creating a field staff handbook.  Every April, InnerRoads trains field staff for the season in an intensive, backcountry training.  They usually get a field guide packet for taking with them as a reference.  There are all sorts of other documents and resources that InnerRoads has that had never been compiled into one.  So that was the task of Hunter and I.  Hunter was hired on as logistics coordinator partway through this process, so he took on the logistics section.  I was in charge of everything else.  For the most part, that meant sorting through lots of word documents, copying and pasting, re-formatting, and re-organizing the way the pieces were arranged.  I read a ton about InnerRoads practices and traditions, learned a few transformative “campfire” stories very well after having to re-type them, and I got to help make the story of the program into a cohesive unit for staff leaders.  I also learned that using page breaks is a million times better than not using them. 

I got to add a fair amount of my own work to the handbook.  Based on Curt’s instructions, I created two concept maps on how staff should deal with recognizing and preventing suicidal behavior.  I wrote a fairly long section with background information and instructions for staff.  I was also able to incorporate a couple of small exercises that I’ve seen work well for inspiring self-care/ positive group dynamics in different situations I’ve been in.

All in all, the handbook was over 200 pages.  It definitely felt satisfying to hold the finished, printed copy in my hand and to know that it actually got put to use right off the bat.
My other fairly significant project was working on a grant application (to Clif Bar Foundation), which was entirely new for me.  It was actually kind of fun to write.  There’s a lot of good in this program.