I’d just moved to Portland when I was a sixth-grader. I grew up in the country and [Outdoor School] felt like coming home for me to be back in the woods. I still remember getting soil samples and singing these songs and going on this hike to see a bear cave — which years later I realize was not really a bear cave.
I met Ross [“Garlic” Turkus] in an Outdoor School about twenty years ago and that changed my life, because Ross went on to work at Olympic Park Institute up in the Olympic National Park. I thought that was such a cool and good job that I followed him up there. So, meeting Ross [at Outdoor School] really actually did change my life.
I remember being really excited to be in a cabin with some of my classmates. We met kids from other schools. So when I went back [as a Student Leader] in high school, it really taught me how to teach and how to be a leader, how to caretake these kids. It led me to be a teacher. I’m a teacher today because of Outdoor School and so it’s had a profound impact on my life.
I remember back then [Student Leaders] were called junior counselors. You have these high schoolers who are learning how to be leaders, how to lead songs, how to be parents basically, how to be teachers and role models. I can’t say enough about it.
One of the things I love about Outdoor School and the reason why I volunteer for this campaign is it’s the most inclusive place I’ve ever been. Every kid gets to come from whatever schools are participating. So it doesn’t matter if you’re in a wheelchair or if you live with autism or you’re an immigrant who just got here two months prior. I’ve seen all those situations in Outdoor School and the kids just get included into the culture. You build this week-long culture of inclusivity, and it breaks down all these barriers.
The natural science [component] is totally critical because we’re a growing population. We’re a growing state. We have to have kids who] understand the natural resources we have in Oregon and what makes Oregon special. Bringing kids together from different schools and being a really inclusive place brings the magic into it. It builds something between the nature, the natural science and the hands-on experiential learning mixed with all the diversity and inclusivity. It’s just really one of the greatest things that we can do with kids.
At the end of the day, I think [about how] Oregon passed the bottle bill. I think it was 1971. Trendsetter. So for me, this whole campaign is again about Oregon being a trendsetter and putting our money where our mouth is and sending every kid to some kind of outdoor experience—it’s an equity thing.
Not every kid can afford going to the outdoors. Not every kid gets to go to sleep-away camp. Not every kid gets to go to summer camp or even go hiking with their family, so this is an equity piece where every kid in Oregon will have access to the outdoors.