Adolescence is a time of meandering, metamorphoses, and in some cases misdemeanors. Teenagers as a species are expected to develop into full-blown adults by the time they graduate high school, as well as perform a spectacular juggling act with new and more vigorous responsibilities being thrown at them. The act starts out easy enough, balancing chores and school work, but quickly escalates into establishing a social life, and deciding what your future will be like. On top of that mess, I decide to mentor eleven-year-olds for a week at a time.
One word: stressful. I love it. For two weeks a year, since sophomore year, I have involved myself in Outdoor School. Outdoor School is a haven where “selfish” teenagers have the opportunity to volunteer. Where the “uncommitted” student devotes their time to take care of and teach science to sixth-graders. Its an amazing experience, and at times can be overwhelming and stressful. The soul of the program lies upon the backs of the dedicated young adults who are there for selfless reasons, rather than selfish. The challenging experiences I’ve worked through at Outdoor School have shaped me into the person I am today, but there is one moment in particular that changed me forever.
It was during my second week of Outdoor School, a week of being a single parent. For a second-timer, the idea of being solely responsible for a tirade of sixth-grade girls is terrifying. I lay awake that first night, anticipating the week to come. Suddenly a young girl woke me up whispering [my ODS name], “Flurry,” in labored breath. “I can’t breathe.” My mind was scattered, failing to grasp a single calming thought. But my body knew that I couldn’t show my fear; sixth-graders can sense fear. Though I hadn’t had the smallest of clues of what to do first, I asked her if she had an inhaler, she pulled one out of her bag and used it, [and] I assumed that would be the magical solution to all our troubles. When it wasn’t, my mind completely shut down and went into autopilot mode. I grasped her quivering hands and urged her to sit on the ground with me. I asked her if this had happened before, when she responded with no, a metaphoric light bulb lit in my brain.
It can creep up behind you without even a hint of its presence; being familiar to its ways aided me in my on-site diagnosis. Homesickness. I didn’t belittle her medical emergency by simply labeling it as missing home. I felt fear was heightening her medical issues. Sitting adjacent to my student I first got her to calm down by taking deep breaths. Afterwards I told her a few stories of my accomplishments, and my follies to keep her mind distracted and tranquil. After a few minutes her breathing returned to normal. I was in no way certified to say she was clear, so the next step was to check in with the nurse. After getting another student to accompany us, I snuck into a neighboring cabin to wake another student leader to watch my cabin while we were gone. We entered the nurse’s office at 2:00am, and left 45 minutes later.
Before Outdoor School it was as if I had no purpose in life. I’d spent my high-school career bouncing between activities, never sticking with anything long enough to be significant. I had no idea what my future would hold. But for one week [each] in the fall and spring, the distractions of my everyday life aren’t available. I am forced to think of what my purpose is, and how I want to apply that to my future. That night in the cabin amidst the chaos I took control of the situation, and provided the necessary tools she needed to feel better. It’s a daunting task for juveniles to become adults, but Outdoor School has been my stepping stone into that realm. I am seen as a positive role model to the future generation, but they have played an integral role of influencing what I envision my future to be like. That night I was questioning why I was put with the individual responsibility of taking care of a small army of sixth-grade girls; I understand now. I have the ability to provide what is needed in situations. I am a caregiver. I want to help people the way I’ve been helped in the past. Outdoor School allowed me to realize my purpose in life: helping others. I plan to expand on the lessons learned at Outdoor School by becoming a nurse.
When I was younger, I was in the hospital a few times because of a heart condition, and I have the distinct memory of all the nurses who made my stay more comfortable. At Outdoor School, I’ve learned how to interact with children, and I second-guess myself less often. Outdoor School has given me real confidence, and not the false sense of bravado provided by high heels. It has sharpened my instincts, and has taught me how to be a caregiver. I was once that same scared and homesick child — now I am their Student Leader. That’s what I intend to do for the rest of my life: help those who need help. Thank you, Outdoor School, for giving me the opportunity to work with an army of sixth-grade students for up to a week at a time. It is because of you I was able to find my life’s purpose.