Youth Odyssey is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit based in Corpus Christi, TX. Our mission is to provide at-risk youth, ages 10-17, with positive youth development through adventure programming. Program Facilitator, Naomi Tice sat down recently and interviewed our Co-Founder and President Kim Cox about his role in our organization.
Sitting across from Kim Cox, the first thing I notice is the way his eyes light up when he talks about Youth Odyssey, the organization he founded in 1997. In his early 60s, Cox is very much the firecracker, filling the interview with wild stories, amazing and true. An attorney to “fund his outdoor habit,” Cox’s love seems to be split three ways, archeology, at-risks kids, and a family he can’t stop bragging on. As a young attorney, Cox was confronted with Corpus Christi’s at-risk population, “early on, working as an attorney, I got to represent a lot of kids, because that’s what young attorneys do.” An avid outdoorsman, Cox quickly realized “kids just need to broaden their horizons. They don’t do all this crap if they have something else to do. They just need something else to do as an outlet.” So Cox went to work and started the only adventure wilderness program in South Texas.
Youth Odyssey started out as a purely recreational organization, Cox and a partner would take the kids out rock climbing and camping on the weekends. It was out there, with the youth in a completely new environment, hanging by a rope, that trust was built. Cox would tell the kids, “you listen to me and what I tell you, because at this point it’s a matter of life and death… listen to me I’m not steering you wrong. And then they do and they get through it! That’s how you inspire confidence!”
The ropes course off of I-37 was built to furnish that new environment a little closer to home, “that first step (off the zipline) is a doozer, to talk someone off of there into taking that first step, finally they take the leap, and it’s just a screamer. At that point, if you’re the one who’s talked them off there, you’ve built that trust, when you tell them something later on, they’ll do it.” That trust is built because someone believed in them, and it helps the youth have faith to trust others who inspire or believe in them as well.
Cox argues, building trust is just a matter of taking charge and being a decisive leader, “once you go do something like that, they’re believers. You have done it, you have taken them to do something utterly magnificent, you’re the man!” Positive memories of adventure can build bridges over years of mistrust and anger.
The next, obvious question is, how do you make the lesson stick, “you’ll find that all of the articles written on that kind of thing, you have to have effective follow up. It can’t just be a one time thing.” To fit that need for follow up, Youth Odyssey morphed from purely recreational to youth development focused on life skills, and in-school programing was introduced, “they’re going through the in-school program, and they know at the end of them, they’re going to go take a trip…this ain’t no pansy activity…you gotta give them the danger… but I’ll get them through it.” The in-school aspect teaches the skills need to safely enjoy adrenaline pumping activities. Having that exciting activity in the middle and end of the programming also provides facilitators a way to track youth development and maturity.
Many youth come from broken homes with absent parents. Youth Odyssey’s volunteers and facilitators serve as role models “a lot of them are actually looking for that kind of thing, so when you step in, you’re stepping into a void”.
Fourteen years later, Youth Odyssey is still focused on filling that void. The program has expanded since Cox first founded it in 1997, we now service multiple middle schools around the city, as well as recreation centers, homeschool students, the juvenile justice center, and anyone else who reaches out to us for help. Yet in the midst of all that growth and expansion, Cox’s mission stays focal, to give every child we service a magnificent experience that helps them rise above their circumstances, and avoid the negative influences they encounter everyday.