“The Everglades is a really raw place. It really is a place that is very primordial. Through Outward Bound, you get an opportunity as an individual to really examine that raw aspect in your own self as you paddle through the Everglades. It creates a metaphor for us to see ourselves as dynamic individuals. Where do we excel? Where are we challenged? Really facing those aspects of our own characteristics. It’s very humbling to sit in the back of a canoe or the cockpit of a sea kayak and be able to bear witness to those opportunities as people make those momentous and monumental discoveries within themselves.”
Trish Haitz is the Program Director of the Everglades Program for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. Having over 20 years of experience working with Outward Bound, Haitz has seen, first hand, how the myriad wilderness expeditions offered through this program can truly change lives. Outward Bound strives towards these self-discoveries, making this their overall Mission Statement: “To inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world.”
Teaching and working by the core values of compassion, integrity, excellence and inclusion and diversity, Outward Bound is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary within the United States. What began as training exercises for British seamen in World War II has becomean international organization, capitalizing on founder, Kurt Hahn’s belief that, “there is more to us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”
Through Outward Bound Schools across the United States, outdoor programs come in all shapes and sizes. The original Wilderness program is offered to the individual of nearly any age who wants to personally challenge themselves. The Intercept Program is offered to teens and young adults who are struggling with destructive behaviors while Heroic Journey is for teens dealing with grief. OB also offers a Veterans Program which is fully funded by different government grants and individual donations. Group programs and corporate training programs are also available.
These wilderness excursions vary from across the world to across the country. OB offers backpacking, mountaineering, dog sledding, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, rock climbing, rafting and multi-expedition trips. Each trip can range in length. Some courses are offered for three days, while one-week or two-week courses are available, all the way up to three-month long expeditions.
“With many of our courses, you don’t need any experience to sign up and apply to be a student. During each of our courses we teach all of the technical skills that are necessary to be successful in those mediums,” explains Ben Hoops, Program Manager for the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School (HIOBS). This particular school offers numerous courses out of Key Largo, Florida as well as courses in Maine andother areas of the country. “The way an OB course works is we segment them into phases. The first phase is the training phase, in which the instructors are very hands-on in teaching those technical skills and providing a framework for the group dynamic and group development, as well as individual leadership development. As students and the overall group procure their skills and show confidence and a competence with those skills, they transition into a main phase of the course. This is where they become more involved in the decision making on destinations for the day and things of this nature. As they begin to master those skills and show a mastery of working through group challenges; behavioral, motivational and leadership challenges presented by being in a foreign environment, then they can transition into their final expedition. This is where the students are in total control of all the decisions made within the group.”
Jacob Hurtley, a sophomore at Marco Island Academy Charter High School, just completed a week-long sailing trip out of Key Largo during his Spring Break. While this was actually Hurtley’s third OB trip, it was still a challenge as his group of Collier County students worked through the three phases. “The final is when it’s all up to the students. We plot the courses and choose where we’re going to go. We’re the ones getting everything done and the instructors are just along for the ride,” he explains of the last leg of their voyage. “That, itself,was a personal challenge for all of us to both work as a team and to maneuver the boat, not having the instructors to lean back on.”
Hurtley first learned about Outward Bound through his grandparents, who avidly encouraged him to go on an expedition. His first trip was hiking and canoeing through the Appalachian Mountains at eleven years old. The next year he did a two-week sailing stint in Boston Harbor. “I was transitioning from middle school to high school and it really taught me to learn how to lead and to know that certain people may not always want the same things as you, but you should look for a common ground. We would rotate positions throughout the trip, such as captain and navigator. It really helped me work with other people; work with my peers. Although I may not have been in a leadership position it helped me learn how to lead.”
These leadership skills have come in handy, as Jacob is currently the Student Body President of his school, having been elected by his peers. He is also involved in Civil Air Patrol, as First Sergeant. “I pretty much take what the Cadet Commander wants to get done and I make it happen. I tell those under me what needs to happen and make sure they get it done.” Hurtley credits his successes in these arenas to his experiences with Outward Bound.
Trish Haitz would certainly agree with Jacob. At her OB outpost in Everglades City on Sunset Island,Haitz leads groups of freshman from high schools through out the area and throughout the country. “Primarily, we work with intact school groups,” she explains. In a number of instances, “the whole freshman class comes together and we break them up into groups of ten students and two instructors, and they go on expedition for five days. We are working on class bonding and we have a lot of curriculum on South Florida; it’s history, the struggles with water, different programs working toward the restoration of the Everglades, historic water flow and the introduction into that ecosystem.” For some of the schools located in South Florida, that ecosystem is right in their own backyard.
Sunset Island in Everglades City is located on an historic Calusa shell mound. “It was first settled by the Weeks family, the first white settlers after the Calusa. The Brown family then utilized the area for farming such as sugarcane. We purchased it from the Brown family, operating from that spot since 1986/87. But we have been operating courses in the Everglades since the early ’80’s,” explains Haitz.
Another primary function of the Everglades City OB post is the Veterans Program. “We have done eleven crews (crew size = 10) of veterans that we’ve been working with. Folks who are veterans from all wars, but mostly recent deployments, OEF and OIF. We offer a free, seven-day canoe expedition into the Everglades. It’s an opportunity for them to reintroduce themselves to their own physical fitness and bonding with other vets.We are creating and providing them a level of adventure, helping them transition into civilian life. It’s really been a positive experience for us to have these folks down in the Everglades.”
Randy Wayne White, famous Florida-based author of books such as “Ten Thousand Islands,” “The Mangrove Coast,” and “Everglades” has “been been quite a champion for Outward Bound and for working with veterans,” adds Haitz. At a recent book signing at Sunshine Book Sellers on Marco Island, Randy Wayne White discussed the “magic” that is Outward Bound. At one point, a question was posed as to whether White had ever seen the elusive “green flash.” “I have seen it twice,” he said. “And I have looked for it for years and years and years. It so seldom occurs that we begin to believe that it does not exist. The first time I saw the green flash was in the Ten Thousand Islands, maybe fifteen years ago. Outward Bound put on a ten-day, Ten Thousand Islands trip for a group of Vietnam vets. And I went down there… We get out to Panther Key and we set up camp and I’m telling these wonderful vets about the green flash. How I’ve looked for it for years and conditions have to be perfect and I really can’t describe it to you, but when you see it, you will know it. The sun sets and there’s this microburst of green explosion! And I said, “That was it!”