By Hannah Harn
For 20 years, the 100 Elk Outdoor Center has been a staple of Adventure Unlimited’s programming. It’s a way to bring the same growth we see at camp to a secular program and gives students the opportunity to challenge themselves, whether it’s in a canoe or up in the ropes course.
This past summer, the pandemic gave all of us who work at the A/U Ranches the opportunity to open our gates to day campers. These include those who practice Christian Science and those who don’t, many of whom hadn’t experienced the A/U Ranches before. A lot of these kids were from a town called Leadville, our neighbor to the north in Lake County, and came to us as an alternative to their usual summer programming that had been suspended due to the pandemic.
The opportunity to work with a new group didn’t go away when summer programming came to a close. As the fall 100 Elk season rolled closer, we found ourselves in a unique position to offer a long-term daily program for the Lake County School District’s (LCSD) elementary and intermediate schools.
Those students were with us for six weeks and got to experience just about everything the A/U Ranches has to offer. They canoed, climbed, hiked, zip lined – they got to be kids. They also had daily academic time, working on assigned classwork with the help of the 100 Elk staff. Becca Katz, the community learning director at LCSD and Get Outdoors Leadville, says that students who came to 100 Elk were showing better academic performances.
Encouragement transforms character
One of my students, Miguel, was more stubborn than some of the other kids. He was confident and sociable on the ground, but when he went into the ropes course he tended to get nervous, and sometimes I felt that we were butting heads. No matter the challenge, the group constantly encouraged him, following the example of my co-leader and me of praising the kids for their accomplishments, big and small.
During a soccer game, Miguel and a few other kids begged me to join. I had originally avoided it since soccer is not among my strong suits, but I conceded and jumped in. As the game was coming to a close, Miguel passed me the ball and, in a moment of divine inspiration, I managed to kick it into the goal. Miguel and the rest of my crew immediately surrounded me, congratulating me on my goal and passing around high-fives.
Miguel had traded his stubbornness for a new passionate support for his friends. It wasn’t until after the students went home that afternoon that I realized he had been using the same language and tactics that we used with him. He encouraged me to join the game and told me he was proud of me for trying. It was amazing to see a student turn around and lead me as I had led him. For the rest of his time with us, I watched him continue to use those tactics to encourage his classmates and congratulate them on their little victories.
Opportunities for 20s/30s staff
The LCSD students weren’t the only beneficiaries this year. The uncertainty presented by the pandemic and the need for more staff members to run a bigger program meant 30 of us were able to support 100 Elk. Since the end of the season, many of us have continued working with Leadville schools as crew leaders, supporting their hybrid education model. Our passion for working with kids was reinvigorated by our unique summer, and those of us whose lives had been upended by the pandemic found jobs and housing at the A/U Ranches.
We’ve seen our program give and grow this year, and while it’s hardly been standard, it has been a gift to support camp, 100 Elk, and the whole of the Arkansas Valley this year amid such uncertainty.
Hannah was a 100 Elk crew leader this fall and a lodge manager at the A/U Ranches last summer. She is currently a program coordinator for Get Outdoors Leadville and will be one of the Round-Up Ranch camp directors this summer. You can read more about the 100 Elk summer activities here.
Twenty Years of 100 Elk
In celebration of 20 years, the 100 Elk Outdoor Center is hosting a staff alumni reunion September 3-6, 2021. We’re excited to share this success with the many seasonal staff who have come through the 100 Elk program. The reunion will be a time for new adventure and reminiscing moments of inspiration from 20 years’ worth of seasons. Reconnect with fellow alumni, walk the many trails at the A/U Ranches again and join us for a night of campfire stories and songs you won’t forget. Stay tuned for more details!