Say hello to Brittany Salley-Rains! Brittany is a proud Cottonwood Institute alumnus currently living it up and exploring the great outdoors in Montana! We had a chance to catch up with her recently to see what she has been up to and hear how her time spent with Cottonwood Institute and CAP has influenced her life looking back years later.
What are you up to these days?
Well! These days I am in the thick of an Accelerated Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing program in Great Falls, Montana. When I am finished here, I will fulfill a two year commitment to work in a critical access/critical shortage health care facility while continuing on towards a Doctor of Nursing Practice. Enjoying the vast wilderness here in Montana is a big part of my life and whenever I can, I am hiking, biking and bike touring, camping, and playing in the wild spaces here.
What CI program(s) did you take?
I did the Community Adventure Program (CAP) at New Vista High School in 2004-2005 as well as being involved in the Endangered Wolves Project, and the Earth Knack: Stone Age Survival Project.
What do you remember most about your Cottonwood Institute (CI) experience?
I remember doing the service projects during the overnight camping trips and and extended courses. Fence-building and post-hole digging were hard work! But it felt so incredible to see our accomplishments at the end and to give back for all that we had learned from the host organizations.
What were the coolest skills you learned from CI that you have showed your friends and family?
I still use principles of the one match fire all the time when I am camping and I certainly use some of the knots we were taught. But mostly I think the principles of sustainability and self-sufficiency are what have really stuck. Experiences on the Endangered Wolves Project and the Earth Knack courses absolutely led me to become a gardener, and a chicken person, and think critically about what I consume and where it comes from.
Lastly, the Sit Spot activity was very impactful to me. I so appreciate the opportunity to practice this now when I am in a wild place or just if I am feeling overwhelmed. I think it is a great way to not only open your senses and tune into what is happening around but also cultivate some awareness of yourself and what you are experiencing.
Looking back now, how has your CI experience impacted you long-term?
Being a part of Cottonwood Institute and CAP as a high school student allowed a unique opportunity for me to think critically about my impact on my community and some areas that I could effect change. Specifically, it provided the opportunity to take part in brainstorming/creating, implementing, and evaluating a community intervention to a group identified environmental, sustainability or footprint issue. It introduced ideas and skills regarding community and relationship building and how to mobilize resources to effect change in my community. It fostered self-efficacy and personal responsibility unlike any other extracurricular activity I participated in. I felt ownership over the projects I took part in and ultimately was personally invested in their success because myself and other students were involved and leading the initiative from beginning to end.
How has your CI experience helped you create positive change in your community?
I think that my participation in this program instilled in me a belief that not only did I have a responsibility to be active in my community but also introduced skills to help me be effective in that capacity. Since CAP, I have built on these early experiences in non-profit work, fundraising, event organization, and advocacy that I have lead or participated in. CAP gave me the confidence, the opportunity, and the tools I needed.
Based on your CI experience, what advice would you give to other students?
As far as creating change in your community goes, use your resources! There are a lot of different people interested in your mission (whatever that may be) and getting their perspective and their expertise may just be as easy as reaching out. Speaking of different perspectives, diversity is good and leads to a stronger team. Respect differences as strengths.
Written by Brittany Salley-Rains, edited by CI Admin Coordinator, Vicki Whisenhunt
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