Summer Leadership Camp: Girl’s Empowerment 2017

This summer, we added two new camps to our roster. These camps are empowerment camps aimed at inspiring the campers to be their best selves and reach their fullest potential. Last week, we hosted our first ever Girl’s Empowerment Camp and we couldn’t have been happier with how successful it was! Not only did we bond and share our stories of personal struggle but, we set goals and talked about issues that women face in today’s society.

Girls Empowerment campers chanting
“Having confidence is important. Don’t let others shoot you down. You define yourself.”15 Year Old Camper
Girl's Empowerment guest speaker ShanellGirl's Empowerment campers with guest speaker Shanell Robinson

We started off the week with a wonderful guest speaker, Shanell Robinson! Shanell had a rough childhood and home life but she was determined to change that. She worked her way through college at Sam Houston State. Since then, she has been successful working at Corpus Christi Animal Control and making a positive impact on the lives of local animals. She spoke to us about how she didn’t let her home life get her down and how she kept on pushing herself to do better. The girls (and staff) were really inspired by her testimony.

After Shanell spoke, we did an activity called the River of Life. We each drew a river that illustrated us and our past experiences that had helped to shape us into who we are. For example, a boulder in the river could represent an obstacle we had to overcome or a struggle we faced. Once everyone was done drawing, we presented our rivers to each other. This was an emotional time for most of us, but we were all proud of each other for opening up and sharing. This activity really helped us to bond and break down some walls we had built to protect ourselves. Now we were ready for the rest of the week to build ourselves back up, stronger than we were before.

The next day, we hit the ropes course to challenge ourselves, grow as a team and gain self confidence. During the low elements when we were working together we got to talk a lot about issues that women face in the work force and in society today. After some in-depth conversations and lunch, we started highs elements! The girl’s had such a blast on the two line bridge and the zip line. Some were a little fearful at first but everyone pushed themselves to accomplish more than they thought they could. The girls had earned themselves some down time, so we headed back to camp to decompress and enjoy dinner together.

Girl's Empowerment campers doing the spider's web at ropes course
“I learned that surrounding yourself with positive people allows you to be positive.”13 Year Old Camper
Girls Empowerment legacy activity

Our second guest speaker, Carolina Sizemore came to talk to us the following morning. She shared her passion with us, which is keeping young girls safe and empowering them to reach their goals. Carolina is a local Corpus Christi Life Coach and motivational speaker. She is also very involved in human trafficking awareness campaigns, and often speaks to law enforcement groups about how to help and identify young women in trouble. After Carolina motivated us to set goals and never stop working toward them, we started our Legacy Activity. Everyone got a wooden puzzle piece and drew their goals, aspirations and who they are/want to be on them. These girls had some big goals and we are proud of them for taking steps to achieve them!

On our last full day of camp, we took a break from all of our hard work and relaxed at Lake Corpus Christi. We had a good time playing games, swimming and grilling hot dogs for lunch! It was a beautiful day and the water was nice and cool. After getting back from the lake, we showered and relaxed around camp and just enjoyed each other’s company before building a campfire to make dinner.

Graduation was bittersweet. Everyone was pretty heavyhearted to have to say goodbye to their new friends. We had bonded so well as a group, it felt almost wrong to leave each other so soon. But nonetheless, we said our goodbyes, reflected on the week and of course exchanged phone numbers and Instagram accounts.

“I love that we talked about celebrating who we are as girls, because I definitely struggle with embracing who I am sometimes.”17 Year Old Camper

Looking Forward…

We had more than a couple of campers who were nervous about this camp. They were scared to open up to their peers about struggles they’ve faced and they didn’t know how to feel about getting introspective and learning about themselves. In the end, all of these girls did a phenomenal job at facing those fears. At the end of the week, we all noticed them holding their heads up a little higher. This camp was a total success! So successful in fact, not only are we planning on brining it back next summer, a winter empowerment retreat has been discussed. This will be a great way to revitalize our youth year round. Tomorrow, we kick off the counterpart to Girl’s Empowerment, OutdoorsMEN camp. We expect the boys to have a great time and gain the confidence they need to reach their goals.

Girl's Empowerment campers hand on a bandana

Youth Leader Spotlight: Donovan Ortega

Hello, I’m Donovan, a youth leader with Youth Odyssey and I love it! As a youth leader, I am able to go on any camping trip and ropes course that has space. Not only do I hope to graduate in the top 10% of my class, but Youth Odyssey has helped me find my passion and I plan to get a degree in recreational administration.

When I joined Youth Odyssey I was 11 years old. I was that one kid that really didn’t talk to anyone or have any friends until Youth Odyssey. The first meeting I went to was a little uncomfortable because I didn’t know anyone. Slowly, I started to open up. I kept going, and the third time I went there was an opportunity to go on a two-day camping trip. I jumped on it.

Youth Leader Donovan taking a picture of himself
Youth Leader Donovan's First Camping Trip

The camping trip was to Government Canyon, just a little outside of San Antonio. I had never been camping before and I have to admit, I was really nervous. I didn’t know what was going to happen or how I was going to react. Overall it went very well. I mean, I had my moments but who doesn’t.

After that trip, summer was only a month away and Youth Odyssey came to my school with summer camp flyers. These camps were a week long, and I was a little hesitant because I was scared of getting home sick. I had never been away from home that long. It took some thinking, but I really wanted to do this so I signed up.

“I became a… Youth Leader during the same summer camp. It felt so so good! I thought I could take on the world! My self confidence went through the roof.”Donovan Ortega

Summer came around and I had about 3 weeks till camp. The closer the camp got, the more nervous I became. I tried to distract myself with other things, but I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Those 3 weeks flew by and suddenly it was time for camp. I honestly didn’t want to leave the house. My mom came to get me and we got in the car. The ride over there was silent because I was too scared to talk. When we finally got to the place where Youth Odyssey was picking everyone up I started to cry. My mom assured me everything was going to be ok. I believed her, so I got into the van and we left. It was such a long drive the fear came back and it stayed.

All week long I was home sick, which was exactly what I was scared of. It was horrible and I had the biggest attitude problem. During the day, things weren’t so bad, but at night I was like a monster. I didn’t want to be bothered at all. Until the last night when something changed. I was totally fine as if nothing ever happened. I guess I had finally settled in and gotten comfortable with being away from home.

Youth Leader Donovan at first ever Canoe Camp
Youth Leader Donovan doing the splits at Backpacking camp 2017

After summer camp, I just wanted to relax, stay home and do nothing. That’s exactly what I did until the next year when Youth Odyssey started up again. I wanted to do better this year and I did. I pushed myself and that year I went on two weekend camps and another summer camp the following summer. Youth Odyssey even asked me if I wanted to be a Youth Leader in Training. Of course I said “yes”.

I think that really helped me with my homesickness. After that I just kept going on summer camps. In fact, I became an actual Youth Leader during the same summer camp. It felt so so good! I thought I could take on the world! My self confidence went through the roof.

“If it wasn’t for Youth Odyssey, I think I would be a totally different person, in so many ways.”Donovan Ortega

Changed For The Better

Camping and Ropes Courses are a fun way to reach out and teach different life skills while keeping the participants engaged in the process. I’ve been on countless camping trips and ropes courses with Youth Odyssey. Youth Leaders also help to keep Blucher Park clean. Recently, we got awarded the Action Hero Award by Corpus Christi Parks & Recreation.

I am now 15 and Youth Odyssey has truly changed me for the better. Over the years, I have become more social and have more friends. Youth Odyssey has given me the chance and the courage to appear on the local news to talk about this organization and what they have taught me. I strongly recommend Youth Odyssey to all youth because it really helps a person grow; and find out who they are. If it wasn’t for Youth Odyssey, I think I would be a totally different person, in so many ways. Before Youth Odyssey my attitude wasn’t always the best and it just kind of ran wild sometimes. Now 4 years later, you wouldn’t even know that I struggled with having a bad attitude before.

Youth Leader Donovan at Canoe Camp 2017

Knot To Worry

Youth Odyssey is over halfway through summer, and we have learned some cool things! In this post, I am going to talk about a few fun knots the kids have learned during the summer. You will also get to see some of the youth leader’s smiling faces while they were tying the knots. Many of these knots are very useful in a variety of different situations. They can be used for boating, camping, and even rock climbing.

Knots: Youth Learning how to tie Bowline on a Bight
Knots: Picture of a Reef Knot

Rope Joining Knots

The First knot we talked about is the Square Knot or Reef Knot. This knot involves tying each end of a rope to itself, around an object, or another rope. Typically this knot is used with rope of the same diameter or size. Another use for this knot, if one of our kids ever forgets a belt on trip, knot to worry, we can use this knot with some simple para-cord or rope to make a belt! In summary this knot is fairly versatile. Although, the best knots is the one you get to work!     

The Second knot we talked about is the Sheet Bend Knot. This knot is excellent for tying two pieces of rope together much like the Reef Knot. One difference is this knot is best when used with different rope diameters and sizes. This was really handy when we were putting up our shelters on our Canoe, Living Local, and Backpacking Camps because some of our rope was not long enough to get from tree to tree.

Knots: Picture of a Sheet Bend Knot

Rock Climbing Knots

The Third knot and most important knot used at our ropes course is the Bowline on a Bight. This knot, unlike the figure 8, creates two secured loops. The two loops help give the knot more rigidity and shear reduction as it is hooked into a carabiner. Participants who are going through a high ropes obstacle at our ropes course are hooked into this knot with a carabiner. We also encourage our Youth Leaders to master this knot in the event they are needed at the ropes course. Any extra knots they learn are a bonus!

Knots: Picture of Bowline on a Bight
Knots: Picture of a Figure 8 Knot

The Fourth knot we talked about is the Figure 8. The Figure 8 can be achieved in a few ways. The most common Figure 8’s knots are (1) Figure 8 on a Bight (2) Figure 8 Follow-Through.

The Figure 8 on a Bight is used with a carabiner. The term “Bight” is when you curve a piece of rope in a “U” shape. Note: You must have the proper equipment & rope to climb. After we made the knots we began to check the knots, and we wanted to notice our knots to develop a 2,2,2 pattern. Since we saw this, our knots were accomplished and ready. Once the knots were checked and completed, we could insert our carabiner through the loop, and we would be all set-up for climbing!

The Figure 8 Follow-Through is used when there is not a carabiner accessible. This knot can be tied through the belay loop on a harness. The drawback is the knot has to be undone each time to connect a new climber. This is why carabiners are typically used along with the Figure 8 on a Bight. The Figure 8 on a Bight & the Figure 8 Follow-Through knots will have the same look and result once finished.

Knots: Youth Leader showing his Figure 8 Knot
Knots: Picture of a Taut Line Hitch

Hitch Knots

The Fifth knot we talked about is the Taut Line Hitch. This hitch is easy and fantastic to use for many situations. You can use this knot to tie up your boat and among other things. We used this one to tie up our tarp shelters and clothes lines on our camping trips!

Hitch knots gives us the ability to tighten down or loosen rope quickly, but it also holds objects securely. Hitch knots are great when you need to tie a boat up.

The Sixth knot we talked about is the Round Turn with Two Half Hitches. This knot is very useful in the same ways as the Taut Line Hitch. It is simple to make and use as well. As mentioned before, hitch knots are useful when you need to tie up your boat, make a clothes line, or to simply tie up anything.

Knots: Youth Leader showing his Round Turn with Two Half Hitches
Knots: Picture of Thief Knot

The Seventh knot I will be talking about is a knot we call the Highwayman’s Knot. This is a kid favorite among knots because it is easy, and fun! The Highwayman’s knot has been said to be used back in the western times for riders to escape on or retrieve their horses quickly. I would knot recommend using this knot to tie up a very expensive asset such as a boat, but it could be done.

Load Bearing Knots

The Last knot we talked about is the Butterfly Knot. We use this all the time at our ropes course. At the ropes course we often times lower or raise equipment using this knot, and the retriever is able to efficiently obtain all the equipment they need quickly. A great feature about this knot, once you are done with it you can undo it in seconds. Another great feature about this knot is you can use this as a stopper knot. Stopper knots are essentially backup knots.

Knots: Picture of Butterfly Knot
Knots: Picture of Youth having fun

Practice makes Perfect!

The kids really loved learning the knots, and I think with a bit more practice they will be masters! We love teaching the kids these useful little tools in our programs because it can help them in a variety of situations, and they can show off what they have learned to their friends and family!

Summer Leadership Camp: Canoe Camp

Our Summer Leadership Camp: On the Water was a success, and full of firsts for Youth Odyssey and the campers. Everyone had a fantastic time learning new skills and going on some pretty epic canoe adventures. We were in/on the water every day last week earning a well deserved good nights sleep.  We could not have done it without our fantastic sponsors this summer, thank you!

Day 1

On Tuesday we left for Martin Dies Jr. State Park. Our view was nothing but spectacular. We camped on a point right on the lake. The first thing we did was set up our camp, and started prepping for the evening. After dinner, we did group time. Group consists of all of us sitting together, and the staff asks the kids a variety of questions to stimulate their thinking. One of our questions to give you an example: “What is one goal you would like to set for yourself this week?” One camper had a goal to: “Be a good role model, motivator, and help teach other campers what I have learned the past 4 years I have been coming to Canoe Camp.” All of our other campers had great goals as well. After group we we had lights out for the evening.

Boys cooking breakfast at our summer leadership camp

Day 2

Girls carrying a canoe at our summer leadership camp

Wednesday, we started our first day of canoe training. The campers learned a variety of strokes, commands, and parts of the paddles and canoes. Afterwards we played a game, because it’s what you do in Youth Odyssey right!? Brian, our program director, taught us the paddle game! We played two different versions: regular and advanced. We mainly played advanced because the campers were super talented! Afterwards, we stopped for lunch before we began our next phase of training, which was on the water! Once we got in the water we began practicing strokes and rescue maneuvers. We had a great time out on the lake, the breeze and sunshine were amazing. After our training we came back on shore, and prepared for the evening. We talked about the day, played games, had group, and made dinner. Some of the games we played were Kan-Jam and a camp favorite, Werewolves!

Day 3:

Thursday, we put our skills to the test. We paddled around the small island on the other side of the lake. It was about a 4-mile stretch we had to conquer. Towards the end, some of the campers were pretty exhausted, but they always kept a smile and persevered! When we returned to camp the fun didn’t stop, we got back in the water for a swim! The campers taught us a new tag game in the water called hair tag. The object of the game is the same as normal tag, but you have to tag them on their head where hair grows. We also might have played keep away a few times with someone’s hat we labeled as a “crown.” Yes, we fought for the “crown”! We later returned back to camp for games, dinner, and group. At the conclusion of our activities we had lights out.

Youth having fun in a canoe at our summer leadership camp

Day 4:

Ropes Swing at our summer leadership camp

Friday was the big day! We woke up at 6:30 AM, had a quick breakfast and drove out to our boat launch on the Angelina River. Our mission was to paddle all the way back to the Park via the Angelina and Neches rivers. We started off strong and played some canoe tag! We were flying through those waters trying to avoid being tagged! The down side was that we got tired pretty quickly so we rafted up for lunch. After gaining some energy, we continued until we came upon a campsite. This campsite had a rope swing hanging out over the water. We of course, had to take advantage of it and all took turns swinging!

After our fun, we loaded back into our canoes. We all were getting tired but paddled on. Eventually, we made it back to Martin Dies Jr., but we came out of the marshes a little further than anticipated. We could see our campsite under a bridge a ways off in the distance. The group made the decision to go for the gold and just paddle the rest of the way to the boat launch next to camp (a first for Canoe Camp). Being able to see the finish line lit a fire under us to finish strong. In total, we paddled close to 13 miles, the longest trip in Canoe Camp history! Everyone was pleased to be back at camp to relax. We played some games, had group and went to bed early.

Day 5:

Saturday was our free day and we slept in until about 8:30. Once everyone woke up, we played card games for 2 hours. When we were done with games and breakfast, we went swimming, because what’s a summer leadership camp without a free day of swimming. We had lots of fun playing Ultimate Frisbee in the water. You wouldn’t believe some of the catches the kids were making, very impressive!

After swimming, Youth Odyssey led a brand new activity, fishing. We had a blast! There was a cool breeze and we had a great view overlooking the lake. Unfortunately we didn’t catch anything, but we had some great conversations and got to enjoy the lake! The kids were awesome casters! They were throwing their lines way out from the shore like it was nothing! After fishing, we headed back to camp to have dinner, group, and pack up for the next day. Many of the kids were not ready to leave, and were sad that camp was almost over. We packed up what we could, and then had lights out.

girl fishing at our summer leadership camp

Day 6:

A great group of canoers at our summer leadership camp

Sunday was bittersweet. We were sad to leave after having such a fun week, but were happy to see family again. After getting up, we packed-up camp, took a group photo, and had our final group time. That morning we got up at 6. Everyone was able to see the sunrise over the lake, smell the forest, and hear the birds one last time. And actually, during our group we had a question: “Name your favorite of the 5 senses you experienced this week.” Many of the kids loved the sight of the campfire, smell of the forest, sound of the birds, touch of a canoe paddle, and taste of the food. We were so happy to hear about how they really seemed to love so much of nature and the outdoors! Shortly after, we hopped in the van and waved goodbye to Martin Dies Jr. for another year.

Consistency is Key – Parenting Corner

Why Are We Doing This?

We at Youth Odyssey believe youth need guidance and consistency throughout all aspects of life. We provide it through our programs, teaching them life skills, but a few weeks with us is not enough for them to retain it all! That’s where the parents and guardians come in. Thus the idea of the “Parenting Corner” was born! That being said, welcome back to Youth Odyssey’s Parenting Corner! We are so glad to start this program back up and talk about real issues with our kids and how to handle them! Our goal is to arm parents and guardians with the tools necessary to deal with youth in their hardest developmental stages! This will be a monthly blog covering topics from the root of poor behavior to positive parenting and consistency! (Who really enjoys yelling 24/7 anyways?) So buckle your seatbelts, we’re about to embark on an exciting journey!

“Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals.” Jim Rohn

The Power of Consistency

The number one question parents ask themselves is, “Why won’t my kid(s) behave?” When a child is young and can’t communicate well, they use crying and flailing around to draw attention to themselves. Remember those good ol’ days? They do that so you as the parent/caregiver will figure out what they need. Upon the child throwing the fit or crying, we as caretakers rush to their aid to put an end to their supposed discomfort. No matter the time of day we seem to rush to them with zero regard for anything else. Later in life there are some similar reasons for bad behavior, but it gets a bit more complex. There can be a myriad of reasons that drives a child to misbehave and the hard part is figuring out which one/ones are the root cause for this specific incident.

Consistently supporting one another through scenarios we at youth odyssey put them through, teaches them the basics. However they learn the most when they are at home with their caretakers.
The consistent support that they receive from their friends and family is what keeps them going through life.

The most common reason for misbehaving is the child doesn’t feel loved and accepted by their parents/guardians. With that said, every parent wants their kids to be successful in life. In order to have success they have to have dreams. In order to have dreams, they have to have hope. In order to have hope, they have to feel safe. In order to feel safe they have to feel loved. How do you demonstrate love to a child? Consistency. Here is a short video about the power of consistency, because nobody can explain things better than Denzel Washington and Will Smith!

Consistency is an all too familiar word that is great in theory but difficult to achieve. The reality is that society has painted a picture that giving people material things is how you let them know you love them. Time and time again this theory of showing love has failed. Consistency in all aspects of parenting (i.e. sticking to rules and punishments, showing up for ceremonies/games/ performances, etc) is what demonstrates love. To a child, though often times they don’t realize it, proves to them that you are willing to take the time to be there even when you don’t have the energy or desire. The fact that you do it anyway is what shows you care.

“Consistency is the true foundation of trust. Either keep your promises or do not make them.” Roy T. Bennett

This Month’s Action Step:

Instead of blaming your child’s negative behavior for the tension within your home (as hard as it is to not do because our kids know how to get under our skin!), think to yourself, “how am I demonstrating love to my kid(s)?” I challenge parents across the nation to pick themselves up by their bootstraps and start practicing consistency! It is the key to success in not only parenting, but all aspects of your life!

Consistency demonstrates to kids the love you have for them. They mirror your actions as their caretaker.

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Summer Leadership Camp: Backpacking

Our annual summer Backpacking Camp was a success! This year we switched it up and went to the Sam Houston Nation Forest instead of our usual go-to spot in Sabine. Everyone had a blast, learned new things and made friends along the way. It was a tough journey but it lead to lots of growth not only in our kids but in the staff as well. Thank you to camp sponsors who made this all possible once again this year.

Backpacking Trail Day 1:

We drove out on Monday and arrived at base camp set up; and on Tuesday we started our big adventure! After a great breakfast, we loaded our packs with all of our gear. We started the Lone Star Hiking Trail (Trailhead of FM 149) around 1 pm. At first it was surreal. The forest looked and felt like something right out of Lord Of The Rings. It had a very mysterious feel to it, and it did not let us down. After only being on the trail for maybe ten minutes we saw a snake! Fortunately, not many of the kids saw it.

Backpacking Sam Houston National Forest Trees
Backpacking acrossi a bridge on the trail

On the first day we hiked 6.5 miles. It was a good distance with a lot of weight on our backs, but the kids were amazing! They were full of energy, laughter. Spirits were high, talking non-stop, which is probably why things went smoothly! The most impressive thing we noticed about the kids was their toughness. We had to barrel through thorn bushes along the trail, but the kids were resilient and pushed through it. The most we heard was a soft “ouch.” They were also great teammates. Never once was anyone left behind, and they were always helping each other through obstacles. When we finally made it to our campsite at Kelly’s Pond we were ecstatic. It only took us 5 hours to go almost 7 miles on our first day!

We took shelter as soon as we got to Kelly’s Pond because rain rolled through. Once it passed, we set-up quickly, made Chicken Mac n’Cheese for dinner, and hit the hay (we were straight up worn out!)

Backpacking Trail Day 2:

The next morning our bodies were a bit sore, but everyone was doing great. We had a quick breakfast, and hit the trail! We had to hike just about the same distance as the first day, but we moved even faster! We’re really not sure how that happened, but these kids had persistence like no other! They were chattering about how they were a little exhausted, but it wasn’t showing. We were focused and determined. Several of the kids made goals on the first night at base camp. Many of them had goals such as, “make it all the way to the end, and not give up.” Some of our veteran backpackers set goals such as, “use my experience to help others.” Nobody fell short of their goals. Everybody watched out for one another, and we just kept it moving.

Backpacking around Lake Conroe
Having lunch at the lake while backpacking

Halfway through our trek we ran into a beautiful spot to have lunch right next to Lake Conroe! After that, we made it to our second camping spot, Stubblefield Recreation Area, in great time. It only took us a little over 4 hours! We arrived around 2 o’clock, so we had most of the day left to relax! We rolled out a tarp and the kids all sprawled out on it to play games and rest. On the menu for dinner was mediterranean ramen with jerky and grilled cinnamon apples for dessert. After dessert, we all went down to the water and skipped rocks while watching the sunset! During the night, we had an epic battle against a raccoon family who took interest in our camp site! Talk about a night! The kids learned a valuable lesson in proper food storage whilst camping.

Backpacking Trail Day 3:

The third day was the most grueling day, by far. The kids woke up a little tired and more sore than the day before but still motivated to get hiking! And we were bookin’ it! We were extremely focused on accomplishing our goal and finishing the hike strong. Along the way, we took some short breaks, stayed hydrated and powered through those last six miles! We finished around 2 o’clock! Talk about fast! Micaela met us at the end of the trail with Rocket Pops and Dr. Peppers as treats to celebrate our accomplishments. We were so tired on the ride back to base camp, we just soaked in the realization of completing our goal. Eighteen miles is a long way!

Lone Star Backpacking Trail Map
Backpacking Camp Swimming at the lake

Back At Base-camp…

On our final day at camp, the kids had a free day at Huntsville State Park. They chose to spend the whole day in the water! We swam all day and jumped off the dock a million times! We played swimming games such as sharks and minnows and categories. There were even some other kids who joined our games at the lake! For dinner we made hobo dinners that night which consisted of beef, potatoes, and vegetables cooked in the campfire. After our supper, a few of the kids wanted to go see the alligators who lived near the fishing dock. Let me tell you, they were huge! We finished our jam packed week off with bedtime stories around the campfire.

Youth Leader Spotlight: Raina Flores

Our Youth Leadership Program is a very important part of Youth Odyssey. We love seeing familiar faces in our programs year after year! Many of those familiar faces grow and mature a lot and we like to challenge these individuals even more. We ask them to step up, help us lead, and be an example by becoming a Youth Leader. They are a fantastic group of kids and we are always proud of them!

So this week, we wanted to highlight one of our Youth Leaders and let you get to know her better!

Raina has been a youth leader for about a year. In the fall she’ll start the 8th grade at Hamlin Middle School. Besides Youth Odyssey, Rania is also involved in National Junior Honor Society, Volleyball, Basketball and the Art Club. She obviously likes to stay busy. She loves volleyball and art so much she’s considering going to college and continuing down one of those paths. When Raina isn’t busy with school or extra-circulars she’s involved in, she likes to read and listen to music. She also likes to play volleyball with her mom and watch Netflix with her family! When she’s not doing that, she can probably be found re-arranging her room or dancing like no one is watching!

This week, I sat down with Raina (virtually) to ask her those burning questions we all have about Youth Odyssey.

Youth Leader Raina dressed up for a dance

Q&A with Youth Leader Raina

Why did you first start attending Youth Odyssey programs?

I first starting to go to Youth Odyssey when my friend and I were walking by and we saw a group of people standing and making shapes with a rope. I got curious so we went to check it out.

What was it like to become a Youth Leader and why do you think you were asked to step up into that role?

Becoming a Youth Leader was a dream come true for me. I had wanted to become one since I had met a few Youth Leaders and I thought to myself sometimes, I could be a Youth Leader. I think I was asked if I wanted to become a Youth Leader because I showed initiative at the program and was very mature and responsible.

What role does Youth Odyssey play in your life?

Youth Odyssey plays a big role in my life. It’s what I look forward to every Thursday during school. Youth Odyssey has helped me grow and become more and more responsible and I would like to give back.

What’s been your favorite part about being involved with Youth Odyssey?

My favorite part would have to be watching and helping kids grow each Thursday at the program.

What kind of things have you gained from Youth Odyssey that you see being useful in the future?

I’ve gotten a lot out of being in Youth Odyssey. I’ve learned more about leadership, teamwork, communication, goal-setting, problem solving and trust and all of those skills will definitely be useful later in life. On top of all that, I’ve gained a lot of camping experience and now I can put up a tent like that (snaps fingers). Me and my mom go camping sometimes and so my Youth Odyssey skills kick in.

What would you say to people out there who aren’t sure if Youth Odyssey methods work to teach kids life skills?

I would say that they do because I’ve seen kids grow with the help of Youth Leaders and staff at Youth Odyssey in just a weekend. I see kids in the hallway that go to Youth Odyssey and I can just see how much they have grown. And I know I have grown too.

What keeps you coming back to Youth Odyssey programs?

First off, Brian because he’s hilarious! But I keep going back because I just LOVE IT! I get to help kids mature and I get to see the progress with them mentally and physically. But also because it’s a place where everybody knows your name and you get to meet new people each week. It helped me have a more open mind and has helped get me out of my comfort zone, especially at the ropes course.

Anything else you want the world to know?

I want the world to know that if you are a parent and you have access to a Youth Odyssey program to put your kid in the program because you and your child will never regret that decision. I never will. Youth Odyssey is a wonderful program that is the highlight of my week during the school year. I just love Youth Odyssey!

Youth Leader Raina and her mom Youth Leader Raina with several other Youth leaders on our most recent spring break tripYouth Leader Raina and Sierra in ArkansasYouth Leader Raina with our Lexington and La Armada Programs at Government Canyon

Summer Leadership Camps: Living Local Camp 2017!

Youth Odyssey recently completed its’ 3rd Living Local Camp! The campers spent time on the beach and did a boatload of fun activities with our Coastal Bend partners . They learned a variety of new skills and gained new experiences in addition to the basic life skills our programs teach. The youth learned how to work as a team when they rode horses and went fishing. They also worked on leadership and communication while they cooked yummy meals, played with farm animals, learned how to compost, harvest crops, and helped local farmers at the Downtown Farmers Market.

The weather was perfect for camping on the beach at Mustang Island State Park. The campers were excited to be out near the water; and wanted to be in or near the water every chance they had. During the week it was great to see the different interactions in the group. Some of the campers attended Delta Camp the previous week, and already developed friendships. However, it did not take long for the Living Local group to bond as well. The campers continuously were helping each other, laughing and having fun together, and creating memories! Their teamwork really blossomed when they cooked together and helped with camp chores (so we could have more time for activities). The campers also showed us how to play a fun game called ‘The Floor is Lava!”; we played it just about anywhere we went!

Living Local girl making a silly face
“I want to thank you (my sponsor) for helping me come to this fun camp. This is my third year here, and I love helping the others learn new experiences. This camp gets better every year. I love how this camp is so close to the water, how we get to play with animals, and learn about healthy cooking.”14 year old female
Living Local campers on horseback holding flags

To begin the week, we headed to River Ranch for the first set of activities. There we rode horses, and super fun barn games with Independence Equine. Some of us even braided the horse’s hair! Later in the day, we went fishing at the ponds located in River Ranch owned by James, of Gourley Contracting. There the group caught large catfish; and for some, it was their first fish catch ever! It was so awesome to be there for their first catch! We took pictures with the fish so we could save those memories

The next day was jam-packed full of fun! We spent the day at the Grow Local Learning Garden. We got our hands dirty by harvested crops and prepping crops for the Corpus Christi Downtown Farmers Market. Our favorite crop was moringa because of its’ flavor, versatility, nutritional value, and of course its’ awesomeness. After the Learning Garden, we prepped our own meal at the Corpus Christi Food Bank. We made delicious baked flaked chicken along with northwest apple salad. We enjoyed making it, but enjoyed eating even more! To end the day, we spent a few hours helping different distributors at the Farmers Market. The youth met some awesome local farmers, and did some really cool things such as making freshly squeezed lemonades!

The following day we spent several hours at Freedom Harvest Farms. At the farm we learned about owning a small farm. We were able to pet and feed donkeys, chickens, and pigs! The pigs would eat literally anything! We fed two pigs about twenty small pears each, and they still wanted more! To finish the last day of activities, we had to spend a whole day at the beach! We buried each other in the sand, made sand castles, ate snow cones, and of course rode the waves!

“The hobby farm was so interesting, we ate homemade ice cream and it was completely organic. Wow, I just had so much fun this week.”13 year old female
Living Local campers harvesting at the learning garden

To conclude camp, we held a graduation where campers received completion certificates and honorary camp name awards. We felt the awards were not enough so we also had a cookout! We ate burgers, and we performed a grand skit for the parents talking about the fun week! Graduation was full of memories, laughter, and good times! “It was such an awesome week. I went horseback riding, fishing, helped at the farmers market, and ate homemade ice cream. I really enjoyed this camp, and will come again.” – 12 year old female

Living Local: the Tradition Continues:

Every year Youth Odyssey strives to make a difference in the lives of youth through this camp. The impact is seen by the interactions between the youth, the community, and their desire to be apart of our camps! The goal of this Living Local Camp is to help youth learn vital skills for living a healthier life within their communities. Many of our partners helped teach and educate the youth on the impact of supporting local organizations and businesses, and how this helps grow the local economy. Our community provides opportunities for campers that their families are not able to do so themselves.

Without the help from our community through sponsorships, our youth will not have these great experiences. The continued support from our community and sponsors helps us make a bigger and more lasting impact on youth in the Coastal Bend!

Living Local tiny girl with large catfish

Summer Leadership Camps: Nueces Delta

Last week, we had our first of six Summer Leadership Camps of the 2017 season, thanks to our sponsors! Our Nueces Delta Adventure Camp was a total success! We did a lot of really cool things and made new friends along the way. Our motto is “Opening Minds and Expanding Horizons”, which means on any given adventure, there is bound to be growth; this camp was no different. They learned teambuilding, leadership, problem-solving, and so many other skills that we know that having this experience has changed our campers for the better.

Day 1: Orientation

On Sunday, campers and parents arrived at noon so we could get to know our team for this week long adventure! After going over what to expect for the week, rules and expectations, parents and campers said their goodbyes. Brian and myself (Micaela), wanted to get to know our campers better so we played teambuilding games and then proceeded to set up camp. After our tents were beautifully placed and secured and all our personal belongings inside, we got started on dinner. We ate so much pasta all we could do afterwards was enjoy a nice campfire and some s’mores.

Summer leaderships camps setting up tents
Summer leaderships camps girls getting ready to zipline

Day 2: Ropes Course

We rose bright and early on Monday morning to get ready for our ropes course day. It’s important to build trust and communication when embarking on an adventure. We started with low elements: we traveled on the Texas Skis, balance on a log while trading places with each other, and played human skeeball! As you can imagine, we worked up a appetite with all that playing so we stopped for a lunch break. Once we regained our energy, we harnessed up to climb the two line bridge, zip line and the rock wall. Our team meshed like never before; pushing themselves outside their comfort zone and encouraging each other! When we got back to camp we played a game called werewolves and had dinner! Afterwards we journalled and reflected on our day, the new experiences we had, and what we were looking forward to the next day!

Day 3: SCUBA/Mustang Island State Park

Tuesday came quickly and we hopped out of bed, ate breakfast, and headed to SCUBA at the Aransas Pass Aquatic Center! After a video/equipment tutorial, the kiddos got in the pool to try out the SCUBA gear with James Gourley (a fantastic board member)! They quickly got the hang of it and were down in the deep end of the pool in no time. Some of the kids even got to play with an underwater scooter (see picture to the right). Around noon they got out and dried off and thanked our SCUBA instructor then got back in the van bound for Mustang Island State Park to enjoy the beach. It was a blast playing in the waves and the sand! We even made friends with a beach rat! We headed back to camp for dinner around 4:30 and then after some journal time, got some much deserved sleep.

Summer leaderships camps young man scuba diving

Day 4: Kayaking

Summer leaderships camps youth kayaking on the nueces river

On Wednesday, we set out to kayak down the Nueces River. We went over the equipment, safety rules and set off on our adventure. There were lots of wildlife along the way like jumping fish, hawks, pelicans, cranes and even an owl! We eventually came to a spot that was good for resting point, so we stopped for lunch. Afterwards, we went for a swim before heading back. On our way back to the boat launch, our competitive sides emerged, thus a game of kayak basketball ensued! I think we may have had a few future kayak basketball professionals in our midst because things got real. It was lots of fun but by the time we got back to camp we were all ready to relax and enjoy dinner. After dinner, we had more journal time and then we hit the hay!

Day 5: CPR & First Aid Training

Thursday morning we slowed down our pace a bit. We had been constantly busy all week and we thought that the kids deserved to sleep in and relax. After we got up we ate, played games, and then headed to Mr. James Gourley’s for some CPR and first aid training. The kids enjoyed learning a new skill that we all agreed was very useful. We laughed a lot at the silly moments that arose in the process! The campers all passed their certification test and we traveled back to camp for our last dinner and journal time together. Things may have gotten a little cheesy and emotional because we had a fantastic week together and we weren’t quite ready for it to be over.

Summer leaderships camps young girl learning CPR

Day 6: Graduation

Summer leaderships camps laughing campers eating smores

Friday morning was all business! We packed up camp and worked on a few skits for graduation before the parents arrived. Once parents arrived they put on a great performance and ended it with the “Campfire Song Song” made popular by SpongeBob SquarePants of course. Then, Brian and I handed out all the certifications and awards the campers had earned over the course of camp and we all enjoyed an amazing lunch of hot dogs and hamburgers grilled by our one and only Executive Director, Becky! It was a great day but a sad one too! We had a such a great week together and we didn’t want it to end. But nonetheless, good-byes were said, hugs were given and the ultimate question was asked “I’ll see you at camp again, right?” What a great way to end our first of six, Summer Leadership Camps!

School’s Out & The Numbers Are In

Summer’s here, school’s out and the reports are in. Youth Odyssey had another very successful school year with Corpus Christi Independent School District (CCISD). This year we had programs at Baker, Cunningham, Haas, Hamlin, Martin, and South Park middle schools. Not only did our youth prove that they had gained new skills this year, we all had a lot of fun along the way.

Our youth’s biggest improvement was in self-confidence. From all the kids we see, 86% of them said that they gained more self-confidence by participating in our program! This outcome makes us so thrilled because after youth gain self-confidence, it makes it so much easier for them to pick up the other life skills we teach! Confidence bleeds into every other aspect of life and Youth Odyssey believes that it is a highly important characteristic to have and to instill in our youth.

“I like Youth Odyssey because through games and fun exercises, I learn teamwork, trust, leadership, and other important life skills. And in addition to learning about the skills, we go to the ropes course and on camping trips so we have a chance to use and practice these skills in a real-world setting.”15 year old girl

Teamwork skills and trust came tied in second at 85% improvement. Teamwork and trust go hand in hand. To have great teamwork, you must also have a good amount of trust in your teammates. In order to build trust, you must show an effort to work together. When we take our youth to the ropes course, this is the perfect setting for them to polish their collaboration skills and build trust amongst each other. At the ropes course, they fail and succeed together and watch each other struggle and overcome. This type of bonding creates a special level of intimacy and trust among participants. As program facilitators, it’s an amazing thing to watch and experience with them!

Problem solving, communication and leadership skills all showed improvements above 80%, which is fantastic and well above our goal of 75%. When kids can learn these skills and use them in tandem they can be more successful in school and resilient in all aspects of life.

Youth Odyssey has been partnered with CCISD since 2002. We have always seen positive outcomes from our programs at the schools. So much so, that in 2010 when CCISD had to make program budget cuts, we were the only after school program they kept. CCISD reports show that kids who participate in our programs have lower drop out rates and disciplinary problems, and increased grades, attendance and standardized test scores! It’s clear that Youth Odyssey programs make an impact in our community. While summer is great, we are ready for fall so we can go back to school and continue to make a difference!

Thank you for helping us make a HUGE impact this past school year! To find out how you can help us make an even BIGGER impact, please call 361-946-6016 and tell us “I want to help make a bigger difference!”Becky Meyer, Executive Director