A Moab student had the chance to take part in a Colorado River rafting and educational training trip this summer. The southwest program of Outward Bound in Moab awarded a scholarship to Mikayla Williams, a sophomore at Grand County High School. Williams and 13 other high school students from across the country took part in an eight-day trip on Cataract Canyon, said Chris Benson, program director for Outward Bound in Moab.
“One of our main focuses is to do more outreach in the local community. We have a strong service component in our programs, and one of the ways we are walking our walk with that is to increase opportunities for local residents and students to participate in our programs,” Benson said.
For the past four years, OB has held an in-house auction to raise money for the scholarship intended for students in the Grand County School District, according to Benson. Usually, the auction yields a moderate amount of money, but this year, for the first time, area businesses donated items, and the staff raised $1,200 for the scholarship, Benson said.
“We were overwhelmed by the response and generosity from area businesses. Our scholarships are a major part of what we do and help give people who may not come from certain socioeconomic backgrounds and may not be able to enjoy all of the activities our landscape has to offer that chance,” Benson said.
Jenn Oestreich, former Outward Bound employee and now the coordinator for the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) in Grand County, said the scholarship program helps local youth gain awareness and appreciation for the Four Corners region and also provides opportunities for service-based learning and career and education planning.
“So many times we hear that the local youth have not experienced the activities so many people travel here to participate in. I don’t think there is a huge appreciation for this area or the issues involving it,” Oestriech said. “We want students to have more awareness of what is available to them not only in their communities, but also after they graduate and look at ways to be involved.”
Williams, 15, said the experience was eye-opening and helped her better understand herself and her abilities.
“I thought I would be an outcast with all the different kinds of people that were on the trip, but everyone was really open and fun. It was interesting to hear different points of view from other people my age, and it turns out they all had a lot of common interests with me,” Williams said. “I’m not usually an open person, but it was easy to open up once we all got together and got to know each other.”
Williams said the activities and lessons allowed her to further understand her role as a leader and to identify her strengths and weaknesses in that role. She said the lessons helped her feel more prepared for the beginning of her school year.
“I found that I improved on my listening skills a lot. The counselor said I was good at having a strong voice and opinions but that it was also important to tune those back sometimes and listen to others’ opinions,” Williams said. “I learned the importance of thinking before you speak, and it made me feel better and more prepared for presenting in front of a class, which is something I was always nervous about.”
As part of the rafting trip, each student was given the chance to captain his or her own raft, according to Benson. Being put in that position helps students build confidence and learn how to build teamwork to get through a tough situation, he said.
“We teach through the wilderness and not just for the wilderness. We want to inspire development and give life skills for the students to be successful in their lives,” Benson said. “The physical and emotional challenges can transfer into their future.”
Williams said one of the biggest lessons of working with a community of people toward a common goal came after one of the students was injured on the second day of the trip.
“We helped split up her stuff equally among all of us so there wasn’t one person taking on the extra weight,” Williams said. “These experiences helped me see that the world is more dangerous and bigger than I thought it was. Even though you are small compared to the world, you play a vital role with your family, friends, and community.”
More fundraising events will be held next spring to try to increase the scholarship and be able to offer trips to more local students in the future. Benson said the challenge is finding the students.
“We want to work with other organizations, teachers, counselors, and anyone else who might have contact with students and find those who are interested in participating,” Benson said. “It would be great to be able to send three or four students next time. People don’t know much about our organization in the community, and we want to have more of a presence and give back what we can.”