There is something about telling a story for the first time that makes it special, more fresh, less rehearsed. Adventures make better stories; for our teens their journeys are often epic, for our volunteers, their experiences are often “magical.” After the blur of activity that comprises our summer at the Denver office subsides, I am left with my own collection of stories that I tell until they sound rehearsed and with moments that define the season for me:
The summer began with four boys from the Bridge Project tumbling out of their van and circling up with their volunteers to discuss expectations, commitments, and who they would be if they could be a professional athlete. Days before, while getting their boots from our office, one of the teens had said to me, “So we don’t get to bring our cell phones? That’s messed up.” Another had explained excitedly, “I do the cooking at my house, these are the things I will need this week: peppers, onions, carrots, will you have those things for me?”
I went on a pre-expedition hike with one of our new agencies. The teens from this agency had the potential either to be incredibly successful, or to be some of the most difficult of the summer. Even after sending the girls off, I worried most of the week while they were on the trail and anxiously awaited their “we’re home” phone call. The girls finished their expedition on a Thursday and efficiently unloaded the vans and put their gear away. Often teens jump back in the van at this point, ready to head home to couches, televisions, and showers, but they all lingered, saying goodbye to Katie their team leader. As they were loading the van, I looked over to see one of the girls in tears as she said goodbye one last time.
When the boys from the same agency arrived at BCM, my worries disappeared. They were so ready, so motivated, so excited to go that issuing their gear went almost too quickly. We laughed and joked, and as the guys and their volunteers left I knew this was going to be the most fun I would have sending kids off all summer. When they returned, they worked as a cohesive team unloading the van, and spent their last minutes together as a group. One of the young men came up to me, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you for making this happen for us. How do I come back as a volunteer next summer?” It turns out he was one of the superstars of the expedition, and asked the team leader if they could just leave him behind for another week in the wilderness.
The last boys to return made my summer. They had barely stepped out of their vans before asking if they could go back. The teens were all ear-to-ear smiles and the volunteers had an air of excitement about them that only comes from a flawless week of mountain air and surviving monsoon like downpours with a bunch of teenagers. While de-briefing they described the challenge of overcoming language barriers with refugee youth, walking to the summit hand in hand, and seeing their teens take on responsibility and independence for themselves as the week progressed.
We never know what we are going to get when it comes to teens and their first day jitters or last day exhaustion, and it is always exciting to hear about challenges overcome and sights seen. “I made it down the hill into Josephine Lake, I had to scoot down most of the way, but I did it!” “TFrank wasn’t going to summit because he was too afraid of heights so he stayed on the ridge with one of the volunteers. He changed his mind though, and walked to the summit pounding his chest as he realized what he had overcome.” “I think I got the most mosquito bites of anybody.” “You know, this trip really changed my perspective.” “We saw all these elk down in the valley. It was so cool.” “The best part was making it to the top.”
This summer was full of enthusiasm and excitement. I feel lucky, because while I do not get to experience every trip firsthand, I do get to be the first to hear so many of our teens and volunteers’ stories, and the light in their eyes as they tell them.