The vision for the new Aides Experience began to take shape when Camp Dudley purchased three yurts to replace cabins for the 2011 summer. This was the silver lining of the clouds that produced enough rain to cause serious lakeshore landslides and damage to several Camp cabins. It was the perfect opportunity for Outdoors Program Director Scott Steen to fill a need in our outdoor program, to create an off-campus wilderness leadership school. Through the hard work and vision of Scott, Head of Leadership Mark Davenport, and several other Dudley employees, this disaster has indirectly created the yurt village that supports the new 10-day Aides Experience and leadership orientation.
“The Aides Experience program is bringing more intentional conversation to skills and principles of effective leadership. The use of the outdoors allows for more focus and reflection than would be likely on a bustling campus. The use of challenge in the woods, the natural consequences of the environment, and the opportunity to lead one’s peers and receive feedback are all optimal factors for an introductory leadership program. These factors allow for focus, stress accountability, and reveal the challenges and hard work required of being a good leader.” –Mollie Farnham- Head of Aides Experience
The sixty boys who participated in the program this summer worked hard and played hard. The experience consisted of 4 days living at the Yurt Village, Opening Day at Dudley, and 5 days on a wilderness expedition in the Adirondacks. The Aides kept busy at the yurt village learning wilderness and leadership skills in the form of games, scenarios, challenge course work, free time, council rings, vespers, rock climbing and even a Tyrolean Traverse across Stacy Brook. From building amateur carpentry projects, constructing dams in the brook, to old fashion exploring, the Aides made the most of the freedom of a forest playground. This was also an opportunity for the boys to get to know their fellow Aides, and to form lasting friendships. When it was all said and done, the 2012 Aides felt well prepared to enter the cabin leadership team, better situated to lead future Dudley hikes, and that the experience was well worth the effort.
“I got the chance to form powerful ties with people that I’d never met before as well as strengthen bonds with my friends. We had moments together that fewer and fewer people get these days; brotherhood. I learned valuable lessons about outdoor leadership that could not have been gained without the appropriate level of adversity that goes along with the Aides Experience…I loved the whole ordeal and would gladly do it again.” Trey Collins- 2012 Aide
One of the key players, and keepers of the vision of the yurt village was Jeff Schwoebel. Jeff is Camp Dudley’s Foreman of Facilities, and can probably tell you more about the yurts than anyone around. Jeff and his team spent countless hours deconstructing the yurts, moving them to Stacy Brook Wilderness, hauling them over hills, creeks, and forests to their new sites, and reconstructing them. The effort was amazing. An avid and accomplished outdoorsman, Jeff took on this project with an ingrained understanding of the full potential of a backcountry classroom for our young leaders. Through Jeff and team’s unrelenting work ethic, a work project involving the local inmates from Moriah, and help from all 40 leaders in pre-season, they finalized construction just a few days before summer staff arrived.
An important component of realizing the vision was obtaining ‘buy in’ from the year-round Dudley staff. Camp Director Matt Storey, Head of Leadership Mark Davenport, Head of facilities Steve Denton, and Jeff Shwoebel took a trip to see an existing yurt village to gain a sense of the final product, brew up some good ideas, see the scope of the work, and to get excited. Who better than Camp Dudley Alumnus, and founder and recently retired president and CEO of Expeditionary Learning Schools, a division of Outward Bound, Greg Farrell to show us how its done. Greg Farrell owns an inspiring piece of property in the Adirondacks, home of beautifully constructed wooden yurts, lean-tos, and house. He was good enough to take this Dudley team on a tour of the facility last spring, and to answer questions about his yurts. It was just the inspiration we needed to build our own.
While the yurt construction was underway, the curriculum for the 10-day experience was also being formulated. Outdoor Program Director Scott Steen first laid this challenge down to our staff at a two-day planning retreat last January. A team of very experienced outdoor education pulled together to create a curriculum and itinerary for the 10-day orientation, based on Camp’s mission, core values, and Leadership Development Program. Head of Leadership Mark Davenport, Mollie Farham, and alumni experts created the evaluation process for each Aide, as it related to both the 10-day orientation, and the following 20 days of regular Camp programing. During the summer, Leaders were brought on board with the new process, and could use each Aides’ self-and staff evaluation tool throughout the season to track progress and maintain consistency.
The Aides Experience began, with the arrival of the Aides a few days before Opening Day each camp session. Camp Dudley staff, Mollie Farnham was instrumental in managing the 60 boys, several Staff, and “Aides Leaders” (4 younger leaders, who lead each yurt group while at Yurt Village) this summer. She took on a huge project in helping launch this new program, and the Outdoors Department relied heavily on her professional experience, understanding of outdoor leadership, and her fresh perspective. With Mollie at the helm, the 2012 Aides Experience was a huge success, and became a program that we all look forward to repeating for many summers to come.
The boys who were subject to the new Aides summer had, as expected, mixed feelings about the idea. Many of the boys ended up thoroughly enjoying themselves, and all would agree that the experience was a good one. Instead of putting words into their mouths, here are some of the reactions.
“One of the high points of my Aides Experience was being leader of the day. I really felt like my skills were tested and improved, and it was incredibly fun. I honestly felt like a leader, and that my peers could have been a bunch of Plebes.” –Will Christian- Aide 2012
“Over the course of my Aides Expereince, I realized what exactly I needed to put in, so in return I could get the most leadership development possible from the program. First, fully invest yourself in the people around you, they are some of the best friends you will ever make. Second, you should be both self-aware and aware of others.” –Teddy Corrigan- Aide 2012
The stories from the perspectives of the trip leaders also tell a tale worth sharing. They enjoyed the experience and further developed their own leadership skills, many of which were tested after 10 intense days with up to eight 15 year-old boys in the woods.
Continuing to talk with the Aide’s as the summer progressed, we knew that the wilderness expeditions had been a success. Just like they implemented new skills learned to overcome each subsequent wilderness challenge, the Aide’s continued to use their outdoor skills when they were back at Dudley. Though it was certainly an aspect of the trip, we weren’t in the Adirondack wilderness to teach backcountry skills. We were there to teach leadership skills that could be used in the context of a Camp Dudley leadership team and, ultimately, the rest of our young leaders’ lives. –Will Kearny, Leader, Hike Hut Staff-
We hiked in pouring rain for most of the second day, going up from Lillian brook to the campsite between Hough and S. Dix. We hit the steep part and it seemed like it would never end. Reaching the campsite at 4000 feet was incredibly rewarding, and it was cool to be camping in the middle of a cloud. Even better, Matt Langston and I offered everyone a chance to climb the short distance up to Hough. Ben was the only one who took up the offer, but reaching the top felt like we were at the top of the world. The next morning we got a great view from south Dix looking back down into the valley. That day my favorite part was seeing two aides who seemed polar opposites in their personality lead together and do a phenomenal job. That day was long, and we were expecting the leaders to struggle a bit, but they turned out to be the best ones of the trip. –Tom Dils- Aides Leader