I often tell people that I grew up on the freeways of Los Angeles. The cars my mom owned are just as memorable to me as places or people. Raised by a hard working single mother, I spent a lot of time out of a traditional home environment being passed off to family members and friends. I would wake up in the car and eat dry cereal, change my clothes, and brush my hair before I got to school.
A revolutionary moment in my life came after 5th grade when I went to an Outdoor Education camp in the Santa Monica Mountains. I’m filled with memories from that summer: sitting with friends atop a hill during a night hike, watching as sparks filled our mouths while we chewed on lifesaver candies; being terrified as I was expected to swim through pounding surf during Junior Lifeguard training; catching my first wave on a long board.
Since then, experiencing the outdoors has become a driving factor in my life. Nothing I do awakens me to the world, or to myself, more than spending time in the outdoors.
Recently, I took an internship with Bay Area Wilderness Training, coming in with the clear intention to eventually become an outdoor leader. My boss at Bay Area Wilderness Training then encouraged me to apply for the Outdoor Educators Institute (OEI). I was thrilled to be accepted to the first OEI class.
OEI was founded to develop future leaders in the field of outdoor education, specifically targeting young adults from urban and culturally diverse communities. It is a one of a kind program that is diversifying the field of outdoor education and providing program participants with the skills to join the outdoor leader workforce after they graduate. Created by the Foundation for Youth Investment, run by Big City Mountaineers and with 25 partner organizations that participated in forming the program, OEI is blazing a new path in outdoor education.
OEI exceeded any expectations I had going into it, and helped push me out of my comfort zone. Not only did I get out of the city, and escape the ‘temperature controlled box’ of a standard learning environment, but I was urged to challenge assumptions about myself and what I want.
During the ten week OEI program, I participated in wilderness training to learn about group management, leadership, and first responder skills. I worked with Wilderness Medical Institute, a partner organization with OEI, to get trained and certified in Wilderness First Responder skills. The program was demanding physically, emotionally, and personally. But the sense of accomplishment from overcoming these challenges was incredible.
One highlight of the program took place on my birthday. We were camping at Prophory Lake in Ansel Adams Wilderness. We woke up at 4 a.m. to hike to the top of Post Peak at 11,000 feet to watch the sunrise. We brought cocoa and one of the program leaders, Phil Henderson surprised me with birthday gummy worms. It was such a unique moment watching the world come to life and being filled with color. It was magic.
OEI gave me the tools I need to be a confident leader and nurtured my ability to think critically and reflect. Because of the program, I’ve realized what type of leader I am, and how to identify leadership qualities in others. I know I won’t always have the answers, but I can certainly rely on my great base of knowledge and encourage others to step into leadership roles.
I’m proud to be a representative of the first graduating class of the Outdoor Educators Institute and I encourage others to become involved in this program. For people considering applying to the next class – jump at this great opportunity! For community organizations and leaders, help us spread the word about this one of a kind program and consider becoming a supporter of OEI.
A world has been opened to me that I never would have thought possible while in my mom’s car on the freeways of Los Angeles. Now, I’m ready to help open that world for other young people who are dreaming of exploring the great outdoors. I’m one huge step closer to doing that, thanks to OEI.