While cruising around on facebook, former Iraqi Veteran Aaron Stahly found Outward Bound. “I’ve always been kind of out-doors-y” he said. Aaron has been an advocate for Veteran groups for some time after serving in 2006. At first glance, the organization seemed too good to be true. As he researched more and more he contacted them and eventually scheduled a rafting trip to Utah. “I’m a busy college student,” but they worked around that and got him scheduled “on a trip that was already fully booked… Chad Spangler was the coolest! He even stayed on the phone with me and helped me pick out all my gear, that’s how involved they were.”
Of course, the real question here is how do organizations like Outward Bound help Veterans? To Aaron Stahly the answer seemed quite simple. He said mainly it was nice just to be around other people who he had something in common with. “It was really nice to get away and do my own thing”. With all the day-to-day stresses in life that in a sense you don’t have to think about while on active duty, Aaron said “It was really nice to just worry about the bare necessities again”.
The experience had such a profound influence on him that, as Vice President of the Veteran’s Club at Northern Illinois University, he coupled up with Christine Lagattolla who runs the outdoors center at NIU and together they are planning on putting together a few trips of their own for the Vets on campus.
The Sierra Club donated 3 million dollars to Outward Bound all designated to classes focusing on Veterans. In Aaron’s group there were 15 vets and through the years thousands have been served. We spoke with Kate Borgelt and Meg Ryan from Outward Bound to find out a little more about this great organization.
What is the mission of Outward Bound?
“To inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world.”
How long has Outward Bound been around?
The history of Outward Bound in the United States began in the early 1950′s when Josh Miner, an American who taught under Hahn at the Gordonstoun School in Scotland, was inspired by Hahn’s philosophy and teaching model. Over the ensuing decade, and with the support of other inspired individuals, Miner founded the Outward Bound movement in the United States based upon the principles of hands-on learning through outdoor adventure by creating the a US-based Outward Bound School in 1961. Outward Bound gave rise to an entire outdoor education industry in the U.S. Today, with its nationwide system of wilderness courses, special programming for at-risk youth, professional and group programs, and community-centric programming such as Urban Centers and Expeditionary Learning schools, Outward Bound is dedicated to helping people learn through challenging experiences so that they can grow individually and in the process become more active in the communities where they live and work.
What sparked the idea for Outward Bound Veterans courses?
In 1975, Outward Bound, in collaboration with the Dartmouth Medical School, launched a small experimental mental health project; wherein mental health patients participated in traditional Outward Bound activities. This program, although small and experimental in scope, proved successful for these mental health patients. The Director of this program was Tom Stich, a Vietnam War Veteran. Tom’s program grew and patients, in different clinical settings, were involved. One new group was from a Veterans Administration Hospital, where a Vietnam Veteran named Willie R attended. When Willie was later admitted to the PTSD unit at the North Hampton Massachusetts facility, he was still excited about Outward Bound and talked about it to Dick Sette, the Unit Director. Dick Sette had a long history of working with vets, and had started the PTSD unit. Sette contracted with Tom Stich, who contacted Col Bob Rheault, who served as commander of the U.S. 5th Special Forces in Vietnam; and together the 3 of them created the Outward Bound Program for Vietnam Veterans in early 1983. Through on-going fundraising efforts for scholarships and with the fact that the VA was convinced that this project was worth funding and that this program should become a regular part of the VA’s treatment process. The first group of Vietnam Veterans – all patients from the North Hampton PTSD Unit participated on the very first “official” course in May of 1983.
Where does the funding come from?
Today the funding comes from The Sierra Club Foundation, Anschutz Family Foundation, The Disabled American Veterans Charitable Service Trust and other private funders.
How have you helped veterans and their families?
Quotes and testimonials that we receive help best describe the many ways in which the Outward Bound Veterans program has benefited them. But three pertinent themes stand out in all the feedback we continue to receive: camaraderie, trust and appreciation for the natural world (void of the day to day distractions). Through the program, veterans take part in wilderness expeditions that are physically, mentally and emotionally challenging in order to build the self-confidence, pride, trust and communication skills necessary to successfully return to their families and communities following wartime service. The course curriculum sequences activities within the program to develop self-responsibility, commitment, teamwork, pride in accomplishment and camaraderie among participants.
Some anonymous quotes to give you a feel for what our veterans have said about their course:
I could relate all the course challenges with parallel challenges in my life, and I know if I can do this and be successful, I can do the same when I return home.
Realizing what life has and what I make it, gives me the ability to hike my way to success regardless of how big the wall is in front of me.
Your course soothes the inner mind and dregs of combat and replaces it with things of beauty. That is not an easy thing to accomplish, but the right organization—evolved the right way—can do it.
The whole package of connecting, discussing vet issues in a setting like this was outstanding as well as therapeutic. I truly believe a course like this will help vets to stay on the better path, which will impact their families as well as society as a whole.
What challenges do you face when trying to help veterans and their families?
We find that we struggle with last minute cancellations, which we are working harder on ensuring this doesn’t happen. This is due, in part, to the fact that the courses are “free” and there is not a financial investment on the part of the Veteran and also that others are redeployed.
How many people do you reach?
1500 veterans and service members have been served since 2008, and we expect that number to grow to 3000 by Spring of 2011.
What are the biggest obstacles you face when trying to reach people?
Deployment issues. i.e. many have to go back to Iraq and/or Afghanistan and cannot take advantage of the program.
How can our readers get involved?
The best and first thing an interested veteran or service member should do is go to our website at www.outwardbound.org/veterans or give us a call at 1-866-669-2362 to learn more and if they are eligible – sign up!
Who is Eligible?
Under this program, all Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans, who were deployed to these countries, including current and former members of the Active and Reserve Components of the United States military. It doesn’t matter what your current military status is (active, inactive, discharged, retired) as long as you deployed in support of OEF or OIF combat operations while in the military. Military family members are not eligible to participate in this OEF/OIF program. However, please see, www.sierraclub.org/military for other programs for military family members funded by the Sierra Club.
Enrollment Options: There are two types of courses available, each offering wilderness expeditions year-round.
Open Enrollment Courses: Outward Bound has scheduled expeditions where individual war Veterans sign up for the course of their choosing, attend on an individual basis, and meet other war veterans from around the nation. Each course will have 7 to 12 participants. We have several hundred slots available for our OEF/OIF veterans every year. Click here to see all available open enrollment courses for veterans. To apply for the course you want to go on, simply click the apply link and fill out/submit the form to us.
Custom Courses: We will schedule customized expeditions upon request for groups of war veterans; these customized expeditions can be tailored to specific needs. These courses are for organizationally established groups of veterans along with their counselor or therapist (mental health worker, outreach specialist); and/or Unit Leader. In order to run a custom course with Outward Bound, in most cases a minimum of 9 participants is needed. These courses can be scheduled at any time of year and at nearly any location where Outward Bound operates. The course activities can be customized to a variety of ability levels. If you are a counselor, therapist, or Unit Leader, who wants to schedule a Custom Course, please contact one of our Veterans Program Course Advisors at email@example.com, or call 866-669-2362 ext. 8387. They will refer you to an account executive.
Cost: Free-of-charge. All costs, including round-trip stateside travel between home and expedition location; lodging en route; and food, lodging, equipment, and instruction while on the course, are fully paid by the Military Family Outdoor Initiative Project.
What message would you like to communicate to our readers?
We would love for your readers to know that is program is available, help spread the word, and help steer interested candidates to learn more and go to our website www.outwardbound.org/veterans or call us at 1-866-669-2362.
Outward Bound is a non-profit educational organization that serves people of all ages and backgrounds through active learning expeditions that inspire character development, self-discovery and service both in and out of the classroom. Outward Bound delivers programs using unfamiliar settings as a way for participants across the country to experience adventure and challenge in a way that helps students realize they can do more than they thought possible. Customized courses provide curricula developed for struggling teens, groups with specific health, social or educational needs and business and professional organizations. Expeditionary Learning Schools Outward Bound offers a whole school reform model to more than 150 elementary and secondary schools throughout the country.
We help individuals and teams achieve their potential and develop the leadership skills needed to serve others and care for the world around them. Today Outward Bound serves 70,000 students and teachers annually.
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