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Natural Awakenings

Outward Bound: Eco-Adventures Instill Confidence and Character

Feb 28, 2011 05:45PM ● By Karen Adams

When Jon Howard was a shy 16-year-old, he took a four-day canoe trip on Florida’s Peace River with Outward Bound that changed his life. “I came away with a belief inside me that no matter what happened in my life, I could deal with it,” he says. Today, he directs the organization’s national at-risk program from his office in Tallahassee, helping kids from around the country similarly gain inner strength.

“Many people think of Outward Bound as a physical experience,” Howard says. “It is, but it’s also mental and emotional. When you align all three, that’s when it’s most powerful.”

When Katie Pastuszek was 14, she spent 10 days backpacking and rock climbing in the West Virginia wilderness. Her Outward Bound-designed trip instilled a deep love of nature and taught her that she could take on unimagined challenges. “Those characteristics stay with a person for life,” she says. Today, Pastuszek serves as executive director of Outward Bound’s Philadelphia center.

The U.S. Outward Bound program serves 70,000 kids annually from centers in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver, San Francisco and other sites nationwide.

The pioneer in adventure-based education programs, Outward Bound has been building confidence, character, leadership and a sense of service in young people around the world for 70 years. Today, the organization is active in 34 countries, with more than a million alumni in the United States alone.

All Outward Bound programs challenge participants to go beyond their own self-perceptions. Some trips venture into the wilderness; others explore urban environments and new neighborhoods, where kids often provide community services. They all learn life skills.

“Their experiences help these kids overcome challenges when they go back to their daily lives, whether they face gangs or bullies or other pressures,” says Jeff Baierlein, executive director of the Baltimore/Chesapeake Bay center. They see their lives differently, he says, and they learn to make good choices, which often include new activities, peers and goals.

“I regard it as the foremost task of education to ensure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity; an undefeatable spirit; tenacity in pursuit; readiness for sensible self-denial; and, above all, compassion.”
~ Kurt Hahn, founder, Outward Bound

By the end of an Outward Bound trip, all the kids share a sense of respect and belonging. “No matter who they are,” concludes Howard, “they definitely become aware that they’re part of a bigger picture.”

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Karen Adams is a
Natural Awakenings editor and freelance writer.

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