The sun shined promisingly as a group of adventurous teenage girls met in the Centaurus High School parking lot, ready for a night of backpacking in the woods. The girls knew each other from school, but still had some familiarizing to do as a group. One thing they all had in common was being part of a program called Colorado Youth for Change (CYC), which works to keep underprivileged youth on the path to success in high school all the way through graduation day. They had two Cottonwood Institute instructors and a familiar CYC mentor to lead them through this foreign and exciting experience. It was all smiles and laughter on the van ride to White Ranch Park, and although it was more difficult, there were even smiles and laughter on the short hike to the campsite, made more challenging with big backpacks full of gear on their backs.
Upon arrival, they enjoyed a brief moment of silence alone in this new home: an open forest with a stunning view of rolling hills and the city below. They eagerly took on the task of setting up tents, a first for many of them, and settled in for some down time. Once finally feeling at home, they gathered for a very fun and skillful game of camouflage, similar to the childhood favorite we all know as hide and seek. As the afternoon neared an end, the group set out to find a yucca plant to sustain-ably harvest leaves from, and they settled in with great focus and determination to scrape and twist the leaves into surprisingly strong lengths of cordage, which they made in to friendship bracelets to remember the trip by. The daylight began to dwindle, so the group collected kindling and proved themselves to be very adept at making fire with magnesium strikers. Even when it seemed challenging and impossible, the girls never gave up until each and every one of them was able to create flames. What an inspiring group!
The girls all pitched in to help make a delicious dinner before settling in around the campfire for campfire songs. They sang beautiful rounds, counterbalanced by utterly ridiculous and goofy sing-along songs. It was a riot! To end the night each person found a stick on the ground, thought of something that they wanted to let go of, put that attribute into the stick, and watched it burn in the glowing campfire. As each girl and woman went around the circle and shared their weaknesses, fears, and strengths, tears flowed and a very powerful bond was created in the group. It was an extremely powerful night, so much so that nobody wanted it to end and the conversation lasted in to the evening, tucked away cozily in sleeping bags.
It was such a treat for the group to wake up in the woods to the fresh air and sounds of birds calling. After breakfast, packing up and stretching, the group played a hilarious and exhausting game that basically consists of two groups having a never-ending dance-off. The group finished soaking in their time in the woods by taking a short hike to a breathtaking view of regal boulders and vast forested mountains. There they had a final chance to sit alone and be with themselves it the quiet simplicity of nature. When asked what they got from the experience, the girls had heartfelt answers that spoke of empowerment, new knowledge, new friendships, and a determination to go into the upcoming school year with a new passion and focus. With that, the girls said goodbye to the beautiful White Ranch Park and raced down the mountain three times as fast as they had ascended it. It was another fun and impactful night in the woods for Cottonwood Institute, and some of it’s favorite partners at CYC. Thank you to CYC for its continued partnership with Cottonwood Institute, allowing these amazing youth to experience the outdoors in new and exciting ways and form lasting, stronger relationships with their peers.
*Written by CI Instructor Sandy Chervenak.