Thursday, May 22, 2014

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.

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