I would like to preface this blog with some information about a place near and dear to my heart. In 2004, I took a job as a teacher at Camp E-Kel-Etu, a therapeutic wilderness camp located in The Ocala National Forest. EKE fell under the umbrella of Eckerd Youth Alternatives, a non-profit working to help “at-risk” kids. EKE took in boys aged 10-18 who were mostly committed by their judges to be there. We were a non-punitive program that believed in kids and worked with the philosophy that good kids make poor choices. It was our goal to teach them to make better choices. Along the road, we designed and built outdoor tents, planned and cooked meals outside, had experiential educational classes and went on hiking and river trips lasting up to 21 days. Some of us slept with snakes under pillows. Some of us learned how to make pizza on a stick. Some of us learned that bleaching fingernails does not turn them back to their normal color and some of us learned that peeing in the shower does not cure river trip jungle rot (athlete’s foot). We all, however, learned how to show love, care and support for each other.
1. The art of cooking isn’t really an art at all unless you can do it over an open fire. Sure, maybe you know how to whip up the best casserole in your neighborhood or maybe your family looks forward to your famous pepper steak recipe but, take it from those of us who lived in and/or worked in the woods, you ain’t got nothin’ on us! We can take that famous recipe of yours, improve upon it and cook it over an open fire in the middle of a thunderstorm while managing the construction of an outdoor tent.
2. Everything in life moves with much more ease when you set time goals. When managing a group of 10 boys, it’s imperative to set time goals to get everything accomplished, especially if you want to get to meals on time. Of course, anticipating problems is part of the trick of mastering time goals. When I set time goals with my daughter, I have to think about all distractibility variables before coming up with a feasible time goal. Once the equation has been figured: Gracie + 3.14/how many books need to get picked up and put away + slipping on the floor – Dora the Explorer/Mommy’s exhaustion level squared = The appropriate time goal.
3. Being a girlie girl doesn’t get you far in life. When you live in and/or work in the woods, you learn to become one with nature, whether you want to or not. Working at a wilderness camp in The Ocala National Forest, you can encounter black bears, venomous snakes, vermin and creepy crawlies of all types. Oh yeah – and alligators. On a rare occasion, you might even have an encounter with The Rainbow People, infamous throughout Ocala for their gypsy-like lifestyle and their manufacturing of crystal methamphetamine.
4. Back that thing up! When working in groups of 10 at a camp with 60 boys, you need vans to get places. What if you’re going on a canoe trip? You better make sure that you not only know how to properly attach a trailer but that you also know how to back that thing up. I’m proud, as a sophisticated and stylish woman, that I can hop in a van with a trailer hitch and park a trailer with 6 canoes on it.
5. William Glasser is the shizniz! Part of working at a level 6 program for adjudicated youth meant that you had to go through extensive training. Duh! What I loved about our training was that we learned about William Glasser’s Reality Therapy and Choice Theory. I can honestly say that I use Reality Therapy and Choice Theory every single day.
6. Be the map. A motto of Eckerd Youth Alternatives is “Be the Map.” Those three words are a wallop of a punch. Think about that for a second. Be the map. Those of us that work with kids have a responsibility to not only teach them but to lead them as well. Telling someone how to do something is so easy, isn’t it? Showing them, though? Walking them through an experiential learning process? That’s something entirely different.