Students prepare for their six-day paddling journey on the Rappahannock. Credit: Brett Stonecipher
Early one morning last week, 10 local high school students arrived at an office in Church Hill and launched into a flurry of activity: They crammed old pickle buckets full of food and gear; they loaded dry-bags with clothing and sleeping bags and double-checked the buckles; they cut para-cord into sections and turned into leashes for sunglasses; they ate doughnuts. Excitement filled the room as the youths circled up one final time. With a spirited “Let’s do it!” from one, they began carrying the fruits of their labor to the brightly painted mini-bus at the curb.
These students are alumni of Blue Sky Fund’s Outdoor Leadership Institute (OLI), a leadership development program which cultivates character and teamwork through a five-day backpacking trip to Mount Rogers in the summer and monthly community service throughout the following year. Blue Sky Fund began running alumni trips last summer at the request of some OLI graduates who desired greater physical challenges and more training in hard skills. Some of the current alumni trip participants graduated from the program earlier this June; some are now returning for their second year as alumni. All of them are now nearing completion of a six-day, 58-mile canoeing trip on the Rapidan and Rappahannock rivers.
They will navigate both flat-water and rapids, camp along the riverbank, and explore trails in some wonderful wildlife-filled areas along the way.
These alumni have been preparing for this trip for quite some time. They decided on their route and made most of the planning decisions on their own. They spent the days leading up to the trip planning their meals, purchasing and re-packing their food, checking and distributing their gear, hunting down rope-swings, and practicing their paddling skills on the James. They’ve also been working on their communication skills, and will be following an intensive curriculum oriented towards leadership and character building while they paddle. This summer, they will delve into four traits of good leadership: humility, empathy, resilience, and diligence.
Character development like this is at the heart of Blue Sky Fund’s mission: to provide transformational experiences for urban youth through outdoor education. The organization is based in and focused on the East End, but runs educational field trips for the 3rd and 5th grades all around the city. The organization also runs after-school Adventure clubs during the year to promote the same skill development and character building as the OLI program.
A pre-trip pic of the students at Blue Sky Fund HQ. Credit: Brett Stonecipher
We will be hearing from the students themselves upon their return, and will have many pictures and stories to share. Stay tuned for more!
Blue Sky Fund will be running first-year OLI crews later in the summer. If you are interested in hearing more about OLI, head over to blueskyfund.org, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. The first year boys crew is full for the summer, but they are still recruiting girls for the program.