Teen wilderness camp teaches teamwork | VailDaily.com

Teen wilderness camp teaches teamwork

Dawn Witlin
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the DailyA teen from the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago group home reaches for an object with the help of his housemates during an exercise designed to teach cooperation in Minturn's Maloit Park. The group of will spendi a week in the woods outside Minturn with Meet the Wilderness.

MINTURN, Colorado ” The teens on the Shield team strained and yelled at one another as they attempted to keep from falling over.

“Please don’t fall on top of me!” shouted one young man as he stretched out for an object outside the circled confines of his group.

“Go slowly, go slowly!” his teammates hollered as they lowered one teammate, who then fell flat on his side.

Penned in by a purple strap at their feet, they slowly processed the task: Use each other for support while grabbing the object outside the circle without touching the ground.

The objects each team member reached for represented a goal, said Alton Vogt, a wilderness guide for a young adult camp called Meet the Wilderness.

“Only you can reach for your goals.” Vogt said to the teens. “The only resources you have are everybody else within that circle.”

The task is dubbed the Family Jewels and designed to be a metaphor for achievement with the help of others, Vogt said from the sidelines.

“Kind of like life, we set our own goals and only we ourselves can achieve those goals,” said Vogt. “But, often times we need the help of others to achieve those goals.”

Meet the Wilderness camps, based in Edwards, also equip youth and adults with survival skills in the wild.

Eugene, who’s last name has been omitted to protect his privacy, has spent the past four years at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago, a home for underprivileged kids aged 11 to 21.

When prompted to pick an object close to him to represent his goals, Eugene held out the small cap from his bottle of OFF! insect repellent.

“My goal is to try and keep everything together and everyone peaceful and copasetic,” said Eugene. “I don’t think it’d be too hard because of the group home, I’ve been there a while, so I don’t think it’d be too hard to calm the guys down because they look up to me.”

Eugene was having trouble staying in school and getting into a lot of arguments with his family at home before coming to Mercy House.

With the help of Mercy Home, Eugene said he’s attending college and wants to earn a degree in psychology.

During their visit with Meet the Wilderness, the teens will spend a week in the White River National Forest, away from the big city.

“I’ve never been hiking in the mountains,” said Eugene. It’s kind of exciting and scary at the same time. I just want to learn basic survival skills in the woods just in case I ever get lost in it. I’d be scared of a chipmunk. I’ve never seen a chipmunk.”

“We’re a solution for kids in crisis,” said Mark Schmeltzer, spokesman for Mercy Home.

With the group home as the core of the program, Mercy Home also helps kids catch up in school, and provides therapy and mentor programs where volunteers are matched up with those in need of guidance.

Father James Close, president of Mercy Home from 1973 to 2006, worked tirelessly to raise funds for trips with programs like Meet the Wilderness.

His successor, Father Scott Donahue, has continued those efforts, said Schmeltzer.

“The basic idea is it gets kids out of their regular environment to experience the outdoors and they have challenges they go through which gives them self esteem,” said Schmeltzer. “Something like Meet the Wilderness would be a apart of that something we do to show them they if the keep working on their goals they will achieve them.”

Mike Beltracci, executive director of Meet the Wilderness, said the adventurous program is designed to teach kids life skills, leadership and teamwork.

“Hopefully, it’s a life changing experience for them to learn and broaden their horizons in a positive environment,” said Beltracci. “This will hopefully help them not only in their home life, but in work, school and society.”

In another challenge, the Shield team was tested both by the level of difficulty and the weather.

With some team members blindfolded, others bound at their hands with bandanas and still others instructed not to speak, the teens attempted to guide each other across two planks of wood to either side of short platforms.

The two unsecured planks had to be balanced atop one another, leveraged by the weight of teammates on either side, without touching the ground.

A few were able to stumble across the unsteady planks, while others plopped to the ground before hustling to line up and try again.

Then, it started raining.

“Can we go now?” one frustrated teen shouted. “For Chicago this is rain.”

“For Colorado, this isn’t rain,” said Vogt, who urged them on.

After a few more falls, the rain worsened and Vogt stopped the activity.

The group gathered to reflect upon their challenge.

“If some of us get frustrated at one point we’re just gonna have to stick together no matter what’s gonna happen,” said Brian, a teammate determined to figure out what went wrong. “I got pissed off too, but we can take our anger out like that we’ve just gotta keep going.

“It’s not about finishing the assignment, it’s what you learn,” said Vogt. “These are tiny, tiny, challenges compared to what your going to see this week, and this week is nothing compared to what you’re going to see in life.”

Staff Writer Dawn Witlin can be reached at 970-748-2931 or dwitlin@vaildaily.com

Support Local Journalism