Servant Leadership in Politics

By Lane Brown, National Alumni Board

Think of a time, whether at the A/U Ranches or a DiscoveryBound (DB) event, when you had the opportunity to listen. Perhaps it was during “Alone with your thoughts” or sharing inspiration before an activity. Perhaps it was a visiting speaker delivering a talk or the breath before singing the first notes of “Whither” at the close of a new adventure.

Think about how that moment sticks with you today, and what you might have learned through listening. You might realize it shaped how you interact and work with others in the months and years after.

Three alumnae of Adventure Unlimited programs who have embarked on careers in politics use listening as an invaluable tool to interact with their constituents.

Each of these alumnae offer different perspectives of what has remained with them since their time at camp or in DiscoveryBound (previously known as A/U chapter programs), but all in some way recognized the importance of listening.

Camp helped her be her best self

Emma Pinter, a longtime participant of DB programs as a teen and a former staff member at the A/U Ranches in the late 1990s and early 2000s, now serves as a City Council member in Westminster, Colorado, and she was just placed on the ballot for the Adams County Commissioner race.

Emma Pinter

Her public service position, which she holds in addition to working full time in the financial services industry, includes overseeing a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars in public funds, hundreds of employees, and answering to roughly 110,000 current constituents.

Pinter was first elected to public office in 2013, and she recognizes that in her work she has an opportunity to interact with members of the public every day and listen to their concerns and ideas. She says, “You have a choice in how you can see them,” and feels that camp helped solidify for her a “faith that people are good,” in part because camp helped her to be her best self.

“Everyone is looking in to see the true you,” Pinter says about how her camp experience lifted her out of a particularly turbulent childhood and served as a place where she was not labeled by her circumstances, but regarded as a true child of God.

Camp was incredibly healing for Pinter during a particularly traumatic time, when she needed to put plans for graduate school on hold to care for her sister, who had been struck by a motorcycle while living abroad. Pinter, who was working two jobs at the time, immediately flew to be by her sister’s side to help.

After prayerful listening, Emma says she felt that the next natural step was to reach out to the camp director, and she remembers telling him, “I just need to be at camp right now.” She was accepted on staff and that summer helped Pinter reclaim a focus on healing. Pinter and her husband, alumnus Jonathan Hess, have two daughters, and the oldest will be attending camp for her fourth summer in 2018.

Understanding both sides

Karen Rippberger is currently running for a seat in the Oregon State House of Representatives, which holds primaries in May. In addition to her political aspirations, Karen also teaches English to Chinese students through online courses, volunteers with the local Chamber of Commerce in LaPine, Oregon, and serves as the second reader at her Christian Science branch church and on the board for the Christian Science Committee for Institutional Service in the State of Oregon.

Karen Rippberger

Karen felt led to run for office as she gained the inspiration that there was a higher ideal of legislator available to her community. Karen participated in A/U chapter activities beginning in 1969 and attended camp in the summers of 1971 and 1972. She remembers riding a chartered bus from the Bay Area in California to Colorado, meeting many new friends and befriending other campers who didn’t know anyone.

“A/U was a real safe haven for me,” she recalls, noting the inclusivity and accepting atmosphere at camp that made her feel welcome and secure.

Karen points out that in her local political climate, there are clearly divides between Democrats and Republicans. Based on her early experiences with camp as an inclusive space and her experiences in applying Christian Science outside of just church, Karen sees politics as a parallel to work correcting impositions on Christian Science.

“Camp had a lot to do with forming my ability to respond in a Christian manner,” she recalls, adding that there are “impositions on both sides on what people are like.” As a representative, she aims to serve her constituents while also helping both sides listen better to one another and work together.

Character, stamina, skills

Jessica Morse is running for the 4th congressional district in California, which covers a swath of the Sierra Nevada range and surrounding communities. As a fifth-generation native of the area, Jessica feels that a life in public service is a calling.

Jessica Morse

She’s focused on emphasizing the public servant aspect of politics, and she started her campaign with a three-month listening tour in 10 counties, during which she learned the region’s most basic needs.

Jessica says that the concept of servant leadership was one she learned through the A/U Ranches, where she attended as a camper and counselor, and in DiscoveryBound programs in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“The reward is in the impact,” she says, citing multiple experiences when she learned to value the positive impact for others more than her own recognition. She adds that camp shaped her character in a “really profound way” and helped her establish a deep sense of moral courage, which drives her today to serve others and stand up for her beliefs.

Jessica also points out the practical skills she learned at camp that have helped her on the campaign trail. She credits her camp experience with enabling her to better understand the outdoors, from orienteering to basic forest ecology. Her district extends across multiple national forests and Yosemite National Park.

“Camp also taught me stamina,” she says, referencing outdoor challenges such as multiple-day camping trips and the Denny Creek trail run for Round-Up (high school) campers.

Working at camp also included certain chores that taught Jessica one skill that’s sure to reinforce the humility with which she aims to serve.

“I’m not shy about cleaning toilets,” she laughs.