Youth Odyssey was founded in 1997 and has been inspiring youth and changing lives ever since. We recently came across a Youth Odyssey member who was active in the program 17 years ago. As one can imagine, this is pretty exciting news for us, so we asked if we could interview him for our blog. Just to make things more interesting, we also asked the founder of Youth Odyssey (and mentor to the young man), Kim Cox, to join us (to share some fun tales of the good old days). They both said yes and a pretty awesome reunion ensued.
Before I even had a chance to ask a question, Chad, our former Youth Odyssey member, started talking about the first trip he went on with Kim and Youth Odyssey where they went to Kim’s ranch for Thanksgiving break. Chad mentioned how “it was the first time he had ever spent a holiday away from his family.” When they got there, someone had caught a wild boar in a trap and they ended up having it for dinner. According to Chad, “to this day, that is the best set of ribs [he’d] ever eaten.” Both Chad and Kim reflected on the experience and brought up another player in the Youth Odyssey scene back then, Amiel, who was, apparently, the best camp chef and could make anything taste amazing. That being said, Kim and Chad noted that “everything tastes better in the woods while sitting around a fire.” (I’m inclined to agree).
Obviously, over the span of 20 years things are bound to change and I was curious as to the differences between the modern day Youth Odyssey versus the original Youth Odyssey. Immediately Kim notes that “it’s much bigger now and we didn’t have the [school and recreation center] programs.” Since kids are refereed by schools and recreation centers now, I wanted to know how they used to recruit participants. Kim looks at Chad and simply asks, “how did we get you guys to participate?” After thinking for a second, and trying to remember as well, Chad recalls he was part of a summer youth work program helping out coaches and a representative came to the rec.center. He was asked by the coaches if he wanted to be a part of the Youth Odyssey program. At the time of the invite they “were recruiting for a Big Bend trip to help inner city kids.” Chad said he was interested, his mother okayed it and 2-3 weeks later everyone met up at the old Tinsletown (Starplex Movie Theater) parking lot at 5 am. From there, everyone packed up the van and they were on their way. On that trip there were 10 kids and 5 adults (which isn’t very different from the numbers we have today for trips). Chad remembers how, on the Big Bend trip, they were located on the canyon floor in between two huge cliffs in the Chisos Basin where it would get “cold very quickly at night and heat up a ton during the day.” Chad still has vivid memories of the backpacking hikes they took there that were “brutal and sweaty but still really cool because of everything they got to see and do”. Clearly, the trip didn’t deter him from continuing with Youth Odyssey since he stayed with it for three more years.
During those three years they had quite a few adventures. Chad and Kim recalled trips to Enchanted Rock/Ladybird Johnson State Park, Kim’s ranch and trips to Goliad. They would actually assist in archaeological digs at Goliad! At the time, Kim was an archaeologist who was working on a few sites in Goliad and asked the other archaeologists if they could use some extra help. Chad mentioned how they had areas blocked off and he and the other participants would sift through the sand and find arrowheads and beads and pieces of pottery. Kim was and is still active with a few archaeological digs in Belize and he opened the opportunity up to Youth Odyssey participants. Unfortunately, Chad didn’t receive his passport until the day they were all scheduled to leave for Belize and he had to sit that one out (Chad is still really annoyed that he missed it). Youth Odyssey, as an organization, hasn’t had any out-of-country travel opportunities in a while because we have chosen to focus on the Coastal Bend area and servicing more youth. As we continue to grow, these are opportunities that may reemerge and be open to our youth and mentors.
Just a small side note, the main reason for the changes in how Youth Odyssey works now versus then is that, the ways to reach kids has changed. 20 years ago we could find just any kid who was interested in Youth Odyssey and a week later they could be heading with us for a week long trip. Nowadays, parents are less likely to be okay with that. We focus more on creating relationships, not only with the youth, but with their families as well. Now that we have a chance to work with the kids on a consistent basis it allows us to gauge our approach and see how our programs are effecting them. Because we focus more on the Coastal Bend area, we have cultivated relationships with other organizations and businesses that have given us the means to expand our reach. The more youth we can engage, the more lives we are able to change.
Though many things have changed since the beginning, one aspect of Youth Odyssey that hasn’t changed is our participation in ropes courses. Youth Odyssey has it’s own ropes course that we use for our programs as well as for private groups and companies who are interested in working on teamwork, communication, trust and problem solving. Chad was thinking back on how he used to enjoy going out to the ropes course but there was one obstacle that scared him the most, the Pamper Pole. The Pamper Pole is one of the high elements at the ropes course where you have to climb to the top of a telephone pole, stand on top of it and jump off onto a trapeze-like hanging structure. Kim, on the other hand, talked about an element that we no longer use that he called the Death Drop (it’s also called Big Swing) where an individual is harnessed in the back and pulled upwards into the air by their team and an instructor who would also have a rip cord that would be pulled, at which point the participant free falls and swings until slowing enough to be stopped and taken off the harness. Looking back on his ropes course experience, Chad mentioned how it probably helped him with his electrician job since he’d have to be up in the “cherry pickers and up poles all the time.”
Another aspect we still use is Kim’s ranch. We mostly use it with our Juvenile Justice Boot Camps but also use it for other programs. Once we started talking about the ranch a whole bunch of stories came out of the wood work. Chad talked about rappelling down cliff faces and cave entrances, making sure to note that the hardest part was getting over the edge. He recalls rappelling backwards, which is the traditional way where you are lowering yourself down in a seated position, and forwards, which is also called the Australian rappel where you are facing the ground as you are lowering yourself down. They would also go spelunking, cave exploring, in the multiple old mines on the ranch. Kim mentioned another climbing spot on the ranch where the kids could try doing stem moves, where you have your hands and feet pressing outward on either side of you as you push against a rock face and use that resistance to climb up a narrow opening. (Kim is also and experienced rock and mountain climber).
Speaking of rock climbing, I’m going to leave you with a bit of a cliff hanger. This reunion was so full of stories and fun times that I can’t fit them all into one blog. This is Part 1 of 2, to an even more interesting history lesson and funny quips of the way things were run 17 years ago. Including more crazy stories of the goings on at Kim’s ranch.
Stay tuned because the second and final half of this interview will be posted this coming Tuesday, April 26th!