Empowering Eagle County girls through the outdoors | VailDaily.com

Empowering Eagle County girls through the outdoors

Caramie Schnell
VAIL CO, Colorado
Special to the Daily

Raising four daughters in Eagle County, Susie Kincade witnessed first-hand what young girls experience during the oft-time tumultuous teenage years.

“I saw over and over again what young girls go through in terms of losing their identity, their confidence and their voice in the realm of peer pressure and the pressure our culture puts on them – pressure to be objects, to be quiet, to conform, to meet someone else’s expectation of who they should be and how they should act,” Kincade said, acknowledging that’s just part of the teenage story and happens everywhere.

But Kincade, an Eagle resident, also saw what happened when her girls were outside, connecting with nature.

“When they were out being accomplished in the natural world, whether hiking a mountain, or crossing a creek with high water or learning how to navigate a river, they felt much stronger and became stronger women,” she said. “We have these special opportunities that many other communities don’t have.”

That’s why Kincade started the Chrysalis Project. Now in its third year, the empowerment program for girls in 6th through 12th grade helps girls “connect to their mind, body and spirit through nature,” Kincade said. She’s also created a similar program for younger girls, age 7-10 called the Caterpillar program, which will take place July 31-Aug. 4 this year. She also helped create the Women’s Empowerment Workshop, set for Sept. 15-18 in Vail.

Kincade is 30-year local and a former teacher and swimming coach. She has mentored many young women in the community and served on the board for the Eagle River Youth Coalition.

“I saw many of the struggles that teens have in this community – depression, drug use, teen pregnancy, suicide,” all reasons she decided to start the program, she said. Kincade co-teaches the girls’ programs at her ranch up Eby Creek near Eagle along with Narda Reigel, a life skills teacher at Berry Creek Middle School and a certified addictions counselor.

During a typical day, the girls meet, check in with each other, do a little yoga, and maybe some breathing and meditation exercises, before they head outside.

“We might go hiking, rafting, rock climbing or investigate animal tracks or do a five senses walk, exploring nature using all of our senses,” Kincade said.

Nature becomes a metaphor for life during the program. One day, with the help of Timberline Tours, the girls get to explore the river.

“They paddle upstream and we ask them ‘when do you do that in your life? And how sustainable is that?'” Kincade said. “And then they’ll turn around and go with the flow. We teach them to scout for rapids – obstacles. What obstacles will they encounter? For some it’s peer pressure, for others it’s dating. We use the river as a metaphor for problem solving in their own lives.”

After lunch, it’s time for the more introspective work – journaling in nature, or learning and practicing a communication tool like listening or communicating with yourself.

“And then we deal with whatever comes up,” Kincade said. “Part of the idea is to set a space and place that is comfortable for girls to communicate with each other in and just unfold and open up. We’ll talk about issues going on in their lives, or that they want encouragement or support for.”

There’s just one rule: what goes on in Chrysalis, stays in Chrysalis.

“We don’t talk to their mothers, but we do encourage the girls to share with their moms what they’re learning,” Kincade said. “And more and more the girls open up with mom and have bigger, deeper conversations.”

Eagle-Vail resident Mia Vlaar said her daughter Tessa, now 17, was one of the first girls to take part in the program.

“Chrysalis is the perfect name for the program because it allows the girls to unfold in a safe environment,” Vlaar said. “They get to know themselves better and understand the transition of going from a girl to a woman. It’s very empowering and grounding because of the tie with nature.”

Vlaar was so happy with the program, she sent her younger daughter Julia to do it last summer.

“I thought it really did a great job of addressing issues unique to young women, like no other program has done,” she said.

Both of her girls walked away with more self confidence and improved coping skills.

“There was a difference in the way they handled themselves when things did get tough,” she said.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 748-2984 or cschnell@vaildaily.com.

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