Lessons from Youth Leadership Adventures

YLA Visit Day 2015 6
By Murali Krishnan
This summer, on July 25th, 2015, I had a gift to learn from young high school kids. I was invited as an adult coach to observe and help in the Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA), an innovative program run by the North Cascades Institute(NCI). In turn, I got a lot more learning from the program as well.
Thanks to NCI, YLA is conducted for motivated high school students. According to the institute:
During summer expeditions, students canoe and or backpack, camp, and complete service projects while receiving hands-on training in outdoor leadership, field science, communication skills, and public speaking. Upon returning home, students ages 16 to 18 in Science and Sustainability courses design and implement their own service projects in their home communities.
Incredible learning comes from a deep connection with nature. Now imagine being in the wilderness with no immediate access to transportation for miles amidst the mountains and forests filled with thick tall trees. And add to that this episode continuing for 8 or 16 days. Yes, the digital cameras may become dead weight after taking amazing pictures of nature and not being able to charge up. Yes, the cell phone batteries run out too. It is in this setting that about 8 students spent their summer in the North cascades. Better yet, I believe they invested their summer to connect with nature and discover themselves. And here is a fun video from the group.
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Understand and appreciate nature.
Nature is beautiful (okay, we all know that). Thanks to the National Parks investment, we have beautiful undisturbed places like North Cascades with abundant beauty. These kids gained firsthand experience of the nature both day and night for a few days at a stretch. They understood the vital role trees, mountains, and water play in our climate and lives. They had the opportunity to see wild animals, handle the small rapids, travel miles at a stretch in canoes, visit serene caves and fjords, and enjoy it all. They also connected with the need to preserve nature and Earth. They became leaders to represent the need to take care of environment and be leaders in their communities. NCI had accomplished its mission of developing strong talent.
So, get your kids to learn about nature. Participate in nature programs and contribute.
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Nurture and be nurtured
The NCI coaches provided education in all levels – about nature, hiking, canoeing, living in the wilderness, keeping company, education about mountain and lakes, etc. The coaches also nurtured the kids to handle home sickness, discover themselves, and prepare for the capstone speeches. Several kids had never done public speaking. They were expected to speak about their experience and lessons. They had prepared well. As the adult coach, we got to listen to their speeches and provide inputs. I believe each kid gave a fantastic speech – personal, insightful, and inspiring. Hats off to the NCI coaches for providing the nurture in this wilderness setting.
So, when you have an opportunity to nurture others, especially kids, go for it in full throttle.
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Inner Strength is valuable.
Often we take our lives for granted and that events will go our way. In reality there are a variety of challenges that behold everyone from simpletons to well to do persons. Each of us need extra doses of inner strength to be resilient in trying times.
In the wilderness, the kids get to carry a backup and sleeping mattress. They walk tens of miles a day or canoe in the beautiful waters of Ross Lake. They have a limited ration of dry food and fresh water. When they are physically tired, they still have to keep pace to travel from one place to another to pitch the tents for the night in a safe place. Introspection begins and brings forth inner strength in them. The students came from diverse backgrounds from small town schools, but during the trip each spoke about their challenges at school and challenges with the 16-day trip. Each one had discovered their inner zen of strength to carry on despite being tired. They not only developed the physical strength but also the mental strength which will last a life time.
So, in trying times, take a nature walk. It will refresh you and build your inner strength.
YLA 2015 5
Keeping company builds support.
The kids came from different schools and had not met before. In some cases, they were away from their parents and family for the first time for more than a day or two. And they were in an unfamiliar place. NCI had wonderful travel and educational coaches (3 of them) per party. And in this environment, they quickly formed company among themselves – chatting up and learning about each other. One student wants to grow into being a lawyer, another a computer person, a third wanted to go into environmental education, etc. They shared their ambition, aspirations, challenges, skills, and jokes freely. They shared in cooking and making meals. They shared in pitching tents and managing rations. They had formed friendships that can last a long time.
So, in any environment, get together and chat. However much stressful our lives and work are, keeping company goes a long way to build support.
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Work Hard; Have Fun
The kids had to do a lot more than what they were used to. They carried their own food, made their own meals, and cleaned up afterwards. They cleared patches, pitched tents, and of course packed up to go the next day. They had hike miles up the mountains, climbing at high altitudes (sometimes with limited oxygen supply), and canoe in the open waters for miles. They worked hard! And all along they shared stories and jokes, and played games. And they had fun!
So, work hard, have fun.
I enjoyed this program. My 10 years old daughter said it better, “… when I am old enough, I want to go for this program.”.
Again, I am thankful to the North Cascades Institute for giving me this opportunity. I also appreciate the kids in the Youth Leadership Adventures 2015 program for coming out and learning there. As for you readers, please get involved in the North Cascades program or something similar in the future.

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