2021 Winning Moments – Elkhart Parks Summer Adventure Camp

2021 Winning Moments – Elkhart Parks Summer Adventure Camp


I recently celebrated my one-year work anniversary at ULEAD, and wow has it been a year. One filled with new places, people, opportunities, and stories. As I reflect upon the eventful year and all the good that 2021 provided, there is one week that stands out among the others as an extra special memory. You see, I have a passion for leading others in outdoor adventures, it is one of those things that bring me joy and warms my heart. It was a big part of my life and work prior to joining the ULEAD team, so I was pumped when the discussion of an adventure camp was mentioned by the Elkhart City Parks department. As discussions progressed with the fine team at the Parks Department, it became clear that there was a need for a program to engage local high school students. Thus, the very first Elkhart Adventure Camp came into focus.

We carefully planned out four days of adventure for a week in July and began partnering with Servant Leadership lessons with each outdoor activity. We set up a morning of rock climbing to discuss being an authentic leader, a 13-mile bike trip on the famous Pumpkin Vine trail focusing on the importance of developing others as a leader and charted a 7-mile canoe trip on the Elkhart River to showcase the importance of sharing power with others. It was going to be a few days filled with challenges and exploration of the resources Elkhart County Indiana has to offer.

July 12th rolled around and it was our first morning of camp. I was excited to meet the seven students that had signed up and happy to learn that we had students from every corner of our county, even one joining us from Michigan and one who just moved to Elkhart from the Dominican Republic eight months prior! It was so much fun getting to know the students and learn their hopes for the week. To my surprise, we had a large range of initial feelings towards participation in outdoor activities. I suppose I just expected that everyone would be as excited as I was about the chance to get out and explore. As it turned out, some of the students had dabbled in a few of the activities prior to this camp experience, while others weren’t too sure they even wanted to be attending something called an adventure camp and were only present because their parents signed them up! One of our younger students seemed particularly closed off to the idea of being at camp, or at least that was the vibe I got from the short answers and hoody pulled up over her head the entire first day. I remember thinking to myself after our first day, I’m almost certain several of the students won’t return for day two.

Well, to my amazement, day two arrived and so did all seven of the students. This gave me hope that perhaps the students were more tenacious than I thought, or at least that they had persistent parents. Our activity for this day was rock climbing. I was impressed to see every one of the students give climbing a try and most climbed multiple times throughout the morning. The mood had seemed to shift and I was seeing more smiling faces. At the end of our time together, I mentioned that tomorrow we would be riding bikes on a 13-mile section of the Pumpkin Vine trail. I thought that this would be the most laid back and familiar of all our adventures. However, I was quickly informed by the girl in the hoody that she had never ridden more than a mile before in her entire life. I told her if she could ride 1 mile, she could ride 13 and that we’d be there to help her. It seemed reasonable to say but inside, I was uncertain of what the next day would look like…and this was supposed to be an easy adventure.

Day three arrived and would you believe it, she rode the entire 13 miles with a smile on her face? At the end of our ride, she proudly said that she didn’t think she had the ability to ride that far but was surprised to find out it was easier than she thought. The pride she felt from the accomplishment was experienced by the entire group and everyone shared in her success.

Our fourth and final day was the 7-mile canoe trip. Each of the students partnered up and after a brief lesson on how to paddle a canoe we set out. It was a beautiful day on the river and we only had two canoes turn over, so all in all a pretty successful 7-mile river float. We held a short closing ceremony complete with certificates and a celebratory friction fire to represent their perseverance through the challenges. After the ceremony, I asked if any of the students wanted to try their hand at the friction fire. Only one student stepped up to try it, yep, the hoody girl who rode her first 13 miles! At the end of the program, her grandmother came to pick her up and thanked us for offering this camp. She then told me that when she dropped her granddaughter off the first day, she was pretty certain she wouldn’t return to complete the camp, but that every day she picked her up, her granddaughter would express how much fun she had that day and what she was looking forward to the next day. I realized then that some of the best surprises in life are the unexpected developments of someone facing a challenge and not only overcoming it but thriving because of it.

These are the kinds of surprises that warm my heart and keep all of us at ULEAD pursuing the opportunity to create experiences for student growth. While this camp was a first, we have already begun discussing plans for next summer and some of the students, including the girl in the hoody, said they plan to be back next July. I am already looking forward to the challenges and growth in-store at our second Elkhart Adventure Camp. Perhaps I’ll see you there, but if not, get out and make your own adventure. You may be surprised at what you can do if you put yourself to the challenge.

Tyler Huston – Program Architect at ULEAD

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