If you’ve been part of the Cottonwood Institute family for while, Aleyna Porreca will already be a familiar face. After taking a CAP class at New Vista High School, Aleyna returned to CI as a Field Instructor back in 2010. Aleyna has been an amazing advocate for Cottonwood Institute’s mission and has gone on some incredible adventures since we last caught up with her. Check out what she’s been up to and be sure to let us know where your adventures have taken you!
What are you up to these days?
I moved to Steamboat Springs last spring after a whirlwind year. I graduated Whitman College in Spring of 2017 where I studied Environmental Humanities and Geology. While there, I ran the outdoor program for several years. After graduating, I moved to Portland where I worked for an outdoor school teaching primitive skills. When the season was over I converted my SUV into a living space and traveled from Canada to New Mexico over the course of several months. When that time concluded I found Steamboat to be a comfortable Colorado town away from the hustle and bustle of the Front Range. I now work full time as an Assistant Brewer at Storm Peak Brewery.
What CI programs did you take?
When I began high school I took the Community Adventure Program class as early as I could. Shortly after, myself and two other students co-founded the Earth Task Force (ETF), an environmental club at New Vista High School that partnered with CI and was based on many of CI’s principles. The club was the recipient of several grants and awards and was nationally recognized. Today, the club has split into two separate groups, DirtWorks and Environmental Activism and Community Organizing (EACO), who still put on many of the original events as the ETF once did, but have added many more as well! In addition to ETF work, I began student-leading and eventually instructing trips with CI both through the CAP class at New Vista but also summer and weekend trips.
What do you remember most about your CI experience, and how has your CI experience impacted you long-term?
Working with Cottonwood Institute has consistently been a large influence on my path. The things that stuck with me the most were the sense of leadership and ethical responsibility. The survival skills and ancestral skills I learned and taught at CI I went on to teach in just about every job I had later on (up until now). The service work, community involvement, and creative endeavors were aspects of CI that did much more to shape my personal values.
How has your CI experience helped you create positive change in your community?
Every place I’ve gone since leaving Cottonwood Institute I have become active in local action groups or clubs, especially when I was still in school. Even now that I am currently not working in the outdoor industry, I bring the lessons and skills I learned with me every time I take a personal trip into the side and backcountry. Sometimes it’s something simple like lighting fires with a bow drill when I was living out of my car; other times it’s something like helping a local fire mitigation project or organizing an LNT cleanup in a popular camping area.
Based on your CI experience, what advice would you give to other students?
One of the most incredible things about Cottonwood Institute is that its programs allow students the freedom to make their experience unique to their own interests. CI gave me the tools and the community I needed to grow as a leader and turn passions into positive change. I suppose I would tell any students now to harness those passions and take advantage of the incredible opportunities CI provides in order to inspire change in their own communities. Cottonwood Institute is an incredible organization and I am so thrilled to be able to see how many lives it is still affecting.
Written by Aleyna Porreca, CI Alumna
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