Bon Voyage Brian

In 2012, I had finished working at an Outdoor Education Center in Alberta, Canada and was looking for a new job. I found an ad for a company in Texas and figured I would apply. What I was looking for was my next adventure, what I found was a place to help youth grow and find growth in myself.

When I first started at Youth Odyssey in January 2013, Becky and I would meet at a coffee shop once a week to have our staff meeting and then return to our home offices to carry out the week. We would e-mail and call each other when we needed input, but overall, we didn’t see each other too much. Since then, we have moved into an office where all of the staff can work together, which has greatly improved our productivity as well as help us to feel more like a team.

Brian
Brian at Blucher with Youth Leaders

Youth Odyssey has also grown by leaps and bounds by adding three full time facilitators, bringing up our staff number to five. We also hit our 20th year of operation, changed our branding, and began construction on a new ropes course building. Youth Odyssey is not the same organization that it was when I first joined all those years ago and I am very proud to have been a part of that journey.

Over the past five years, I have worked 76 programs, spent 960 hours at the ropes course, went on 13 kayak trips, spent 47 weekends camping at 18 different state parks, and went on 28 week long camping trips. Those have all been amazing adventures and times I will always remember. But, what will stick with me the most is the youth that I have worked with and the changes I have seen in them.

The youth we work with can be challenging at times but that is the point of the job. We take pride in working with tough kids and finding the diamond within that others tend to overlook; and I have seen growth in every single youth I have worked with.

The youth I am most proud of working with are our Youth Leaders. Most of these youth I have seen grow and change over the past five years. With these youth, I have trained them on how to run the ropes course, how to belay, how to canoe and, most importantly, how to work with other youth. I have no doubt that the youth I have worked with will go on to accomplish great things in their lives using the things they have learned at Youth Odyssey as a foundation.

Brian with Youth Leaders on Thanksgiving trip
Brian

Looking Forward

After so much excitement and growth, I have decided to leave Youth Odyssey for my next adventure. When I first arrived, I was more or less fresh out of University with a bunch of camp experience but Youth Odyssey helped me step outside my comfort zone and grow as a person, a facilitator, and as a director.

I am truly thankful to have to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Becky, Kayla, Naomi, Kelsie, Rick, Micaela, Gabby, and everyone else who has worked with Youth Odyssey. I know that wherever I go from here, I will carry the lessons I have learned with Youth Odyssey and the memories of the adventures I had.

Thanksgiving in Palo Duro Canyon

In 2012, I had finished working at an Outdoor Education Center in Alberta, Canada and was looking for a new job. I found an ad for a company in Texas and figured I would apply. What I was looking for was my next adventure, what I found was a place to help youth grow and find growth in myself.

When I first started at Youth Odyssey in January 2013, Becky and I would meet at a coffee shop once a week to have our staff meeting and then return to our home offices to carry out the week. We would e-mail and call each other when we needed input, but overall, we didn’t see each other too much. Since then, we have moved into an office where all of the staff can work together, which has greatly improved our productivity as well as help us to feel more like a team.

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Palo Duro is my favorite place to go camping. Hiking the Lighthouse trail the first day was great because it was thrilling to seeing the younger Youth Leaders reactions to the enormous rock figure.Youth Leader

Youth Odyssey has also grown by leaps and bounds by adding three full time facilitators, bringing up our staff number to five. We also hit our 20th year of operation, changed our branding, and began construction on a new ropes course building. Youth Odyssey is not the same organization that it was when I first joined all those years ago and I am very proud to have been a part of that journey.

Over the past five years, I have worked 76 programs, spent 960 hours at the ropes course, went on 13 kayak trips, spent 47 weekends camping at 18 different state parks, and went on 28 week long camping trips. Those have all been amazing adventures and times I will always remember. But, what will stick with me the most is the youth that I have worked with and the changes I have seen in them.

The youth we work with can be challenging at times but that is the point of the job. We take pride in working with tough kids and finding the diamond within that others tend to overlook; and I have seen growth in every single youth I have worked with.

The youth I am most proud of working with are our Youth Leaders. Most of these youth I have seen grow and change over the past five years. With these youth, I have trained them on how to run the ropes course, how to belay, how to canoe and, most importantly, how to work with other youth. I have no doubt that the youth I have worked with will go on to accomplish great things in their lives using the things they have learned at Youth Odyssey as a foundation.

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Hiking Essentials – Outside Scoop

Leeward AWT

Let’s Go on an Adventure

Hiking is one of the many great things Youth Odyssey does to experience the beauty of nature. The youth love to be on the trails, and be one with nature. Often we come across cool plants, wildlife, rock formations, and other awesome spectacles. It’s truly inspiring to watch the kids learn and come to love nature through outside play. To see their smiling faces when they know they accomplished a challenging hike, is truly rewarding.

Hiking
“I have gone backpacking 3 times with Youth Odyssey. I continue to go again year after year because I want to use my knowledge to help others, and because I love the Hit the Trail Camp.”16 year-old camper

Before we take youth hiking on a camping trip, we must first teach them important hiking essentials to ensure we are all prepared for the great adventure. The better prepared we all are, the more fun we have! We provide most of the equipment for the kids, but there are some items we recommend them to get if possible. Some of our more enthusiastic kiddos do go out and purchase their own gear. This is a proud moment for us because the interest they grew of the outdoors through our programs.

Essential 1: Take a Buddy

Nature can be a place of peace, and give us a sense of freedom. It allows us to step away from everyday life, and breathe in the fresh air. In Youth Odyssey, each of the kids have a buddy of the same gender with them anywhere they go for safety. Outside of Youth Odyssey we encourage anyone new to hiking to take a buddy with them. In the event something happens, you will have a buddy there for help. Once you have hiking experience it becomes safer to hike alone, and hiking alone can be very emotionally rewarding.

Buddy system
Filling water bottles

Essential 2: Hydration

Hydration is the key with anything, our bodies need fluids. We always have the youth carry water bottles, and we like to call them our “best friends”. Without your best friends, it won’t be a very good day right? Beyond our water bottles we carry extra water bladders full of water to refill our bottles. We never want to run out of water on the trail, so we plan ahead by having extra water on hand! Often, we travel miles on a trail, and in Texas it gets H.O.T.! Some of our youth purchase their own water bladders like the Camelbacks. Any brand should be sufficient, just find the right one for you.

“If you wait till you’re thirsty to drink water, then you’re already dehydrated.” Micaela Kidd

Essential 3: Nutrition

This is the kids favorite part, food! Nutrition is very important when it comes to hiking, it provides us with the energy we need to make it through our trek. The important thing to remember is to always pack a little extra just to be prepared. Just about every hiking trip we are on, we make sandwiches for our lunches. We typically use the flat round bread because we don’t have to worry if it becomes somewhat squished in our packs. Other food we bring with us: jerky, granola bars, and oranges. Jerky and granola provide us with solid proteins, and oranges give us healthy vitamins and sugars. All of these combined give us all the energy we need to have an awesome hike!

Food
First Aid Kit

Essential 4: First Aid

Accidents happen, which is why a first aid kit is a must! Hiking is extremely fun, but quite often we can find ourselves wrapped up in barbed plants and among other things. In the event this happens, several minor cuts or scrapes could happen making a first aid kit quite handy. We always have a first aid kid in our pack full of all the essential medical supplies.

“I learned sometimes it’s good to push yourself through tough situations like going through the barbed plants on hikes.”15 year-old camper

Essential 5: Repellers

Any time we are outside you can expect to find us with some bug spray, sunscreen, and all the other potions! Our trip experiences can very well depend on these items. Mosquitoes are mean little creatures with no mercy, but that’s okay because we have a special surprise for them! Bug Spray! Bug Spray consists of a chemical repellent known as DEET, and the mosquitos don’t take a liking to it! Depending on how long we will be outside at a time will help determine how much DEET we should look for in acquiring bug spray. The more the DEET, the longer the spray lasts. Also Texas can have have brutal heat, so sunblock is a must! Once we have all our potions lathered on, we are then good to go!

Bug Spray
Maps

Essential 6: Navigation

Before we start our journey on the trail, we map out where we are going. Each state park we go to typically has a park map showing all the different trails, and other locations. This map is usually the only thing we ever need, but in rare cases we might use a GPS. If we were going on a hike outside of a state park such as hiking a mountain in Colorado, then we would need to do more extensive research via the internet. Checking the weather, trail exposure, trail conditions, and trail length or difficulty is crucial before a big hike such as a mountain hike. Knowledge of these conditions will help us to navigate through the safest and best routes, hopefully ensuring us a better hiking experience.

Essential 7: Illumination

Sunsets are beautiful, but I hope you packed a flashlight! We always carry a flashlight, lantern, or headlamp with us. If you can’t see, get ready for a tough night getting ready for bed! However, we don’t always need lighting for when it’s just night time, sometimes we need lighting to explore caves! At several parks throughout Texas we find a variety of different caves, big and small, and it is very handy to have a headlamp. A headlamp allows us to use both of our hands as we trek through the cave, because there can be slippery spots.

Cave
Trail

Essential 8: Emergency Shelter

In a very dire situation having an emergency shelter could be lifesaving. We never truly know what could happen while out on a trail, but it is always good to be prepared. On our short day hikes we don’t typically have an emergency shelter, but anything longer we pack at least a tarp with us. A tarp provides us with a quick shelter protecting us from rain and sun. Emergency blankets can be very useful to have because it can provide emergency warmth, but also can act as a tarp. They are small and compact as well, making it easy to pack.

Essential 9: Repair Kits

Weather in Texas is always a surprise, we never know what we will get! Wind here in the Lone Star State is either a pleasant cool breeze or a tent destroyer. In the unfortunate event we meet the tent destroyer, we always have some tent repair kits with us. Tent poles can break and tents can also get rips or tears, but with a repair kits handy it makes life much easier. Rarely do we experience issues with tents because we take proper care of our equipment, but we like to have piece of mind knowing we have some repair kits nearby.

Repair Kit
Matches

Essential 10: Fire Supplies

Having a fire is arguably one of the most important things in survival, it supplies: light, warmth, boosts morale, heats up our tasty s’mores, and much more! On our backpacking trip we always carry at least some matches with us, everything else to make a fire we find in the woods. Some hikers often will pack kerosene soaked wood chips, which a fantastic tinder source to helps get things going quickly. When we are looking for more fuel, we only grab dead wood on the ground. We never use freshly cut or “green” wood, freshly cut wood is usually hard to light anyhow.

Essential 11: Body Protection

In Youth Odyssey, we like protecting our bodies from the heat, the cold, snow, rain, bugs, and much more. During cold weather we always encourage the kids to bring extras articles of clothing because layers is always a good thing. At all times we are protected from our heads to our toes. We supply just about every non-clothing items if needed, but we strongly recommend a few things. A few of the items we recommend (varies by weather): jackets, outdoor pants/shorts, hiking shoes, and sunglasses. Hiking shoes is one of the biggest things because protecting our feet is crucial in order to go on our fun hikes!

Hiking Clothes

Dressing appropriately for every occasion is vital for an enjoyable trip. Protect yourself from the sun, rain, snow, and all the above. The lighter the load the better, we like light loose fitting clothing because tight clothing can be restrictive to movement and blood flow. Another important thing to always remember with selecting clothing during cold weather, “cotton is rotten”. When cotton gets wet it can take all the heat from your body, which can be very dangerous. We like the kiddos to be nice and warm! Cotton is okay if it’s warm and toasty outside, but it might get soaked in sweat so prepare yourself! 

Layers and Snow

Hiking Shoes

Protect those feet! There is a shoe for every occasion, and the having wrong shoe can make a huge difference. Before we can enjoy the great outdoors we need to take care of our feet! Hiking shoes typically come in 3 different styles: Trail Running, Day Hiking, and Backpacking. There are several factors we consider to determine what shoe we will need: terrain of the trail, amount of weight we are carrying, the weather, and distance of the hike.

  • Trail Running

    Recommended shoe for most Youth Odyssey trips. Low-cut shoes designed for quick movement on the trail. Great when carrying our light packs on a the trail.

  • Day Hiking

    Low-cut to Mid-cut shoes designed for rougher terrains because they are more rigid than a trail running shoe. These are also great for longer day hikes, such as mountain hikes, when carrying medium sized packs.

  • Backpacking

    High-cut shoes designed for the ultimate backpacker. We use these during our backpacking summer camp to carry our 50+ lbs big packs. They also provide the best ankle support.

Trail

Time to Hit the Trail

Hiking is one the best activities nature has to offer, but it takes some effort and preparation! In the end it can be very rewarding. The great thing about nature is it is always changing, and never remains exactly the same. Each trip can be full of new surprises like a flock of turkeys at South Llano State Park. These moments are our favorite because the kids get to experience and see new things. It’s all about expanding horizons at Youth Odyssey, and we hope these hiking tips will come in handy for your next adventure as well.

“Literally every section of a hill is different and will work your calves a little differently.” Kelli Calabrese

Parenting Corner: How to Handle Holiday Stess

The holiday season is upon us! With all the fun it brings, it also carries with a significant amount of stress for both the parent and the child. This leads us to the topic of our blog today! How to keep your and your child’s sanity through this holiday season!

“I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”
A Charlie Brown Christmas

Parental Stress Affects Your Youth

Youth are very sensitive to their parental unit’s stress. Research has proven that young babies can become deathly ill when there is conflict within the home. (Ever heard of failure to thrive?) Everyone knows that the holidays, though they are supposed to bring joy and thankfulness, also brings along a TON of stress. Kids pick up on this. It is important to try to keep everything as normal as possible during this time. But how is that possible?!

Funny You Should Ask!

There are a few things that kids desperately need in order to keep their behavior in check. The first one we are going to talk about is their bed time! Making sure your youth gets enough sleep every night is imperative to maintain optimal brain function. Kids are growing so their bodies are already exhausting more energy than ours. When family is around and celebration is in the air, it can be tough to keep a consistent bedtime. A tip to help is, make going to bed a positive experience. Meaning, they get rewarded when they go to bed willingly at their bedtime such as dessert before bed, you read them a story, or they get to watch 30 minutes of their favorite show….whichever reward best suits your child.

In addition to sleep, your child needs to maintain a healthy diet. Typically during the holidays we feel like we don’t have enough time in the day to accomplish everything, much less cook a healthy meal. We opt for fast food as opposed to taking the time to cook. This holiday season, try to schedule your activities around the time you usually cook your meals.

Final Words of Wisdom

My last piece of advice is to avoid over scheduling. You can only be in so many places at once. Do not try to please everyone. Your family’s sanity is more important than trying to please everyone. People understand that the holidays are busy! They are going through the exact same things as you! Just remember to relax and enjoy the holidays with your family. Your vibes are going to rub off on your kids and thus, create better behavior.

Day of Giving Results Are In!

What a great week we’ve been having here at Youth Odyssey! This year’s Coastal Bend Day of Giving was a complete success and we blew last year’s numbers out of the water. With your help, we met our match and EXCEEDED our overall goal of $40,000! After all was said and done, we raised $42,617.55! THAT’S AMAZING! Especially considering that last year we raised $34,133.16 (that means that we raised $8,484.39 more than last year…crazy).

Let’s Break It Down…

This was our second year on the Coastal Bend Day of Giving and we knew exactly what we needed to do. We hit the ground running and had a great social media presence through end of October and into early November. We sent out newsletters and talked to anyone who would listen about the Day of Giving. It’s really cool to see all that hard work pay off, but one of the coolest things about yesterday was getting to see how many people out there believe in us and what we do here (120 donors to be exact)! Several of those 120 had never donated to us before, but we had a lot of return donors as well.

Kids excited for Day of Giving
Kids excited on Day of Giving

All the money we raised on the Day of Giving is going straight to supporting kids in our programs. It will give them the opportunity to attend our after school programs, visit our ropes course or go on a camping trip with us. We are so excited to expand our reach with these funds and work with more youth than ever before.

So what I really want to say is, THANK YOU! We couldn’t have done it with out you.

The 5 Why’s of Youth Odyssey

Sometimes we get so caught up in what and how we are doing something, we lose sight of the most important part, WHY!? Why does Youth Odyssey do what it does? The truth is, each and everyone of us here at Youth Odyssey believe in our ability to make a change; to touch young lives and send them forward to be better than they were before. We know what we do works! We’ve seen it! I realize that reading blogs and following our social media accounts can only show glimpses of what we do here. Thus, the inspiration for this weeks blog was born! I present to you the “5 Why’s of Youth Odyssey”. Hopefully, it can shed some more light on why we believe in what we do! As we start our journey through these excellent 5 points, I HIGHLY encourage you to check out the hyperlinks in each section. They are linked to other blogs that go into more detail about each point. So, BUCKLE YOUR SEATBELTS FOLKS AND GET READY FOR THIS ROLLERCOASTER OF A RIDE!

The Why: Empowered at the ropes course

1. Youth Odyssey Empowers

Youth Odyssey believes in giving our youth the power to control their own lives, make their own choices and be unapologetically themselves. We instill confidence, strength and resiliency in everything we do. Every action serves a purpose. This past summer, we hosted our first ever girls and boys empowerment camps! We got to witness shy and nervous youth come out of their shell, face their fears and look toward the future. Youth Odyssey plans on not only bringing those camps back next summer, but expanding our empowerment programming beyond summer camps! We have so many ideas and we know that it will be a major success because of the growth and changes we saw in our youth in just one week of camp!

2. Youth Leaders Give Back

Our Youth Leaders are the cream of the crop, but not all of them started off that way. One of our Youth Leaders, Donovan, has said that he would be a totally different person had Youth Odyssey not been in his life. We’ve definitely seen an upward progression with not just Donovan, but most of our Youth Leaders. We set high expectations for them and they are always ready to step up and meet them. They’ve been hard at work the past couple of months helping out at Blucher Park and with Hurricane Harvey clean up efforts! They graciously volunteer their time to go out and make Corpus Christi a better place. We are really proud of them and how much ownership they’ve taken in their community. We know that Youth Odyssey has helped to instill that compassion and team-spirit in them. Youth Odyssey believes in and teaches, community, helping others and doing your part. When our Youth Leaders go out and volunteer, it’s really rewarding to see those things being put into action.

the Why: Youth Leaders
Why: Kids showing their excitement

3. We Create Positive Change

92% of kids who participate in our program tell us that they have gained self-confidence through our adventure challenges! Honestly, I could stop right there. When a child believes in their ability to accomplish anything that’s thrown at them, that confidence bleeds into everything else they do. It leads to them respecting themselves and thus respecting others around them. Grades go up, attendance at school goes up and they choose better friends. When kids love themselves and have a supportive adult in their life everything else comes naturally. Teamwork, Trust, Problem Solving and Leadership skills are all at or above 90% improvement and Communication isn’t far behind at 87%. These are fantastic results and well above our goal of 75% improvement.

4. We Open Minds & Expand Horizons

You would be amazed at the number of kids who live in Corpus Christi who have never seen the ocean or the bay. They live (at most) 30 minutes away from the water and have never ventured that far outside of their neighborhood. Their world is so small and we won’t stand for it. We believe that when youth understand all the amazing things this world has to offer, that they will be inspired to never stop exploring, growing and searching for their next adventure. When kids want to do more, see more, and BE more, that’s when truly amazing things start to happen. They push themselves in ways you wouldn’t believe, they are motivated to experience the world and be part of something outside their stagnant neighborhoods.

“I knew mountains existed because I had always seen them on TV and in magazines. But you kind of get a better perspective seeing with your own eyes. That was my first time ever to see an actual mountain…just to see everything so natural and clear, completely untouched by modern man. It was beautiful. Beyond beautiful. That is, and always will be, something I’ll never forget. That one single trip made me want to see more.”Youth Odyssey Participant
the Why: Youth at the ropes coursethe Why: Testimony

5. Hear It Straight From The Horse’s (by horse’s I mean kid’s) Mouth

This is my favorite thing about my job! When we get to hear the kids put into their own words how they’ve changed and what they’ve learned, it’s truly inspirational and gives me the best warm fuzzies… and maybe some watery eyes too. So buckle up while I share a few of my favorite revelations with you.

  • “My favorite memory is when I proved my mom wrong. I did the rock climbing and two-line bridge. I made it all the way to the top and never stopped till I finished. It took all my fears away.”
  • “Having confidence is important. Don’t let others shoot you down. You define yourself.”
  • “I learned self-confidence which will help me believe in myself and be more of an “I can” guy than an “It’s too hard” guy.””
  • “I like Youth Odyssey because before I joined I didn’t really know anyone. Youth Odyssey has made me the person I am today. I stand for what I believe, I help people even when they don’t ask, and I know how to take charge in a situation. Youth Odyssey really brought me out of my shell. I still have tons of room to grow, but I like how I am so far.”

Get it? Got it. Good!

So how do all these things tie together? Why do we do what we do, and why does it matter? Our goal, is to get our kids to the realizations in point 5. We put everything we have into our programs because we want these kids to realize that they are capable of anything they put their mind to. So many of the kids we see on a day to day basis are not given positive reinforcement, they are constantly being told that they can’t. We want to tell them that they CAN, but we don’t stop there. At Youth Odyssey we go a step further. Instead of just telling these kids that they are capable, we let them discover it for themselves. That’s what adventure eduction is all about! When we let kids learn how to be leaders, work together and problem solve in a controlled environment, we build their ability to be resilient. If they can overcome a seemingly impossible task in a Youth Odyssey program, what’s stopping them from doing the same thing in the real world?

Absolutely nothing.

Coastal Bend Day of Giving (Prescheduling Starts Today)!

Youth Odyssey is happy to announce that we will be returning to the Coastal Bend Day of Giving this year! The Coastal Bend Day of Giving began in 2009. Every year since its inception, the Coastal Bend Day of Giving has been more successful than the year before and has raised a total of 9.5 million for people and animals in need. This year, 45 local non-profit groups will participate in the 24 hour period of giving and Youth Odyssey is so grateful to be included again! Last year, We raised $36,000. This year, our goal is $40,000. And all proceeds go toward our adventure programming, which is free for youth!

How To Help At-Risk Youth

If you’d like to preschedule a donation, follow steps 1-3 below! If you were planning on giving on November 14th, you can follow steps 2-3.

  • Create An Account

    Head over to the link below and create an account! If you’ve donated in past years, your login information will still be valid and you won’t need to create another account! https://www.coastalbenddayofgiving.org

  • Find Youth Odyssey

    Use the search bar on the Coastal Bend Day of Giving website to find us by typing “Youth Odyssey”, OR check out the last page on the non-profits tab, OR click the link below. From our profile, you can also find personal campaigns made by friends and neighbors to help us raise money. https://www.coastalbenddayofgiving.org/youthodyssey

  • Change A Life

    Click the “DONATE” button on our Day of Giving profile, which is the link below, (or personal campaign page of choice) and follow the prompts the website gives you. Easy as pumpkin pie. https://www.coastalbenddayofgiving.org/youthodyssey

Day of Giving, Kids on Amazon River CrossingDay of giving, kids at backpacking camp

The greatest part is that you can preschedule your donation starting TODAY! All gifts from today, through November 14th (Day of Giving) will be matched! This means your money will have double the impact. There is a minimum donation of $10, but no maximum. We are really excited to see all that we can do with the help of friends, family and supporters like you!

Harvey Helpers

The effects of Hurricane Harvey are still being felt months after the storm made landfall. Youth Odyssey was blessed to not have suffered much damage, and we resumed programs almost immediately following the storms. Unfortunately, not all of our neighbors were so lucky.

Hurricane harvey made landfall August 25th, 2017. Upon touching land it was a category 4 hurricane with winds up to 132 mph! It was a 9 day marathon of rain and high winds that resulted in 51 inches of flood waters and $180 billion in damages throughout the coastal bend area. Many people lost their homes and prized possessions. In Houston it took the lives of 77 people. Upon the culmination of the event, Americans and Texans from all across the country banded together to support one another. We here at Youth Odyssey also decided to fight the good fight and help clean up what Harvey took from our precious land.

Hurricane Harvey Cleanup
Hurricane Harvey Cleanup: Holiday Beach Strong

Nothing Beats Hard Work and A Can-Do Attitude!

Rockport, Texas sustained damages to homes and businesses alike. We grabbed our Youth Leaders and some volunteers and headed out to help. The first weekend we went out, we took on Holiday Beach. Our youth helped clear drywall and insulation out from two separate households. The second home had completely lost its roof and the amount of damage was astounding! The family was in good spirits and had a can-do attitude. It was really inspirational. The kids had such a sense of accomplishment that we went out again the following weekend! This time they helped an elderly lady clear out all the debris and glass from her yard that was right on the water. Originally, she said she was planning on hiring a company to come out with a bobcat to clear her land, however, the kids did such a great job, she did not require one anymore! (Talk about some hard work!)

When you drive down the road in that area, doesn’t matter which road because every road looks the same, you see telephone poles knocked over, piles of sheet rock and wood where buildings used to be along with the furniture, and prized possessions on the street underneath what used to be homes. Our youth saw first hand how natural disasters can devastate a community. With so many businesses and homes destroyed, it was evident that Rockport and Holiday Beach had a long way to go. However, along with the rubble, our youth saw Texans of every color and background, pulling together to rebuild. It is an image few can forget. It really gives a new meaning to Texas Strong.

Hurricane Harvey Cleanup: youth leaders

Campfires – Outside Scoop

Let’s get this fire started

Here at Youth Odyssey we love the outdoors, and it’s a big part of what we do. Being outdoors and going camping requires some knowledge on how to build campfires. I am going to be talking about different types of campfires we know and love! The kids love building campfires, and we hope you develop the same passion.

Campfires and hatchets
Campfires: Cutting wood for the

Softwoods vs. Hardwoods

Before we run off and go build a campfire, the first thing we need to know is what type of wood we need. In the forest we will find two types of wood: softwoods and hardwoods. It is important for us to understand the benefits and drawbacks of the wood. Utilizing our resources well is a must in order to make the best campfire possible. An important note we always tell the kids is to only use dead wood, not living wood or freshly cut wood. Obtaining the best materials sets us up for a successful evening by the campfire. Great campfires means good cooking, and we are all about good eatin’ in Youth Odyssey.

Softwoods

Softwoods typically don’t have your typical leafs, but have needle like leafs. These trees will be your: Pines, Firs, Cedars, Evergreens, and Cypress trees. Hey look! There is a pine tree above the campers heads! A benefit about this wood, is it’s great to use for kindling because it lights easier and burns quicker. Pine needles are a great tinder source, and we often search below pine trees to find pine needles. The drawback is this wood doesn’t make the longest lasting fires.

Looking for wood for our campfires

Hardwoods

What are Hardwoods you ask? How about the HUGE oak tree our crew is sitting on?! Hardwoods usually will have big leafs. These trees will typically be your: Oaks, Maples, Pecans, Aspens, Dogwoods, and Elms. A benefit of this wood, is it’s great if we want longer lasting fires. Hardwoods typically burn for much longer, but a drawback is hardwoods can be harder to light. A good amount of tinder is needed to get hardwoods lit in a hurry. Unless of course we already have a smokin’ hot bed of coals!

Group sitting on a fallen oak tree which is a perfect hardwood for campfires
Campfires: learning the basics

Tinder & Kindling

We don’t play around when it comes to campfires. The youth are all about making legit fires. We don’t “cheat” by coating the wood with lighter fluid. Rather, we like adventure so we gather tinder, kindling, and then use a match or lighter to get our campfires started. Gathering tinder and kindling can arguably be one of the most important steps in building a campfire. Obtaining the right amount of both is important, or it will be difficult to get things going. Tinder is your fire-starter: pine needles, old-mans beard, or dry grass. Kindling is quick starting fuel: twigs, bark, or pine cones. When tinder and kindling are used together effectively, the campfire will light right up!

Types of Campfires

The fun part of after we gather all of our resources is now we get to make the campfire! At Youth Odyssey we travel to many different state parks, nature preserves, and national parks during our programs. Since we facilitate a mixture of activities and face different climates on our trips, these factors will determine what type of fire will best suit our needs. Fires are used in a variety of ways: for cooking, for survival, or for ambiance. We often build fires for cooking because s’mores and foil dinners are a kind of a big deal, but let’s talk about the whole arsenal of campfires Youth Odyssey builds!

Campfires: A-Frame

Beginner Campfires

A-Frame

An easy, attractive, and fun fire we make is the A-Frame. This fire is excellent because it doesn’t require many resources. It’s also easy to build, and creates a good platform to place your tasty foil dinners. To begin building the A-Frame we place two logs in a V formation. Then we place smaller logs along the top to form an “A”. Lastly we place our tinder and kindling in the gap underneath. When the fire starts to dwindle we can add more fuel in a variety of ways. One way is to lay wood on the outside, in gap underneath, or on top. This fire lasts a good while, and ignites well on a windy day!

Single Log Fire Lay

Arguably the best beginner fire we like to teach the kids is the Single Log Fire Lay. Single Log Fire Lay’s are simple to build, require very few resources, and can be maintained with ease. Constructing a Single Log Fire Lay requires only a few steps. We place one log in the fire pit, and then place our tinder and kindling in front of the log. To finish things we lay small pieces of wood or logs against the main log above the tinder. This fire is very suitable for our foil dinners too! As the fire starts to dwindle, it is simple to replenish. We just simply lay more wood against the main log. Hint! This is where the name “Fire Lay” comes from!

Campfires: Single Log Fire Lay

3 Log Fire Lay

There are different forms of Fire Lays. Depending on how many resources we have or what environment we are in will determine what Fire Lay we will use. We typically have four go-to’s: Cross Ditch, 3 Log, Single Log, or Log Cabin. On a very windy day the Cross Ditch and 3 Log Fire Lays will give us added protection from the infamous wind. The 3 Log Fire Lay is essentially constructed in the same way as the Single Log, however, we place one extra log on each side of our main log. This gives our Fire Lay added protection and rigidity.

Cross Ditch Fire Lay

Cross Ditch Fire Lays could be considered more advanced than other Fire Lay types because it requires more skill to construct. However, the process is only slightly different. First step we take to develop a Cross Ditch Fire Lay is to dig a small trench in the form of a plus sign. The trench helps negate wind effects, and makes the wind work for us rather than against us. Our tinder and kindling is typically placed in the middle of the trench, or elsewhere depending on the fire we build. We can build any fire lay above our cross ditch as long as we utilize the trench.

Campfires: 3 log fire lay
Campfires: Cross Ditch

Intermediate Campfires

Log Cabin

One of our campfire favorites is the Log Cabin! This behemoth is super fun to build, but even more fun to watch it burn. Imagine a whole structure completely catching on fire, this is what the Log Cabin fire will resemble! The good part is it’s just a campfire, so knot to worry! This fire takes a decent amount of resources and time to make, but it starts up quickly. To build the Log Cabin, layer logs in a perpendicular pattern starting with bigger logs on the bottom, and working up to smaller logs on top. Place your tinder and kindling in the middle of the structure towards the bottom, and then light it up. Log Cabins provide great spots for foil dinners, and since this fire is typically big and tall, and it’s good for s’mores too.

Campfires: Log Cabin
Campfires: Upside Down fire

Upside Down

When we know we are going to be around the campfire for an extended period we turn to the Upside-Down Fire (Self-feeding). This beauty, depending on how big we build it, can last for several hours. A drawback is things don’t get started in a hurry. Upside-Down Fire’s are slow burning, but provide a fire for longer periods. To make this fire, we build a structure similar to a Log Cabin, but our tinder is on top. As it burns the embers fall onto the wood below keeping the fire sustained, thus coining it a self-feeding fire. At Youth Odyssey this means s’mores for days!

Tipi

If it’s cold, if we are shivering, even if our hands are numb, no fear we know the Tipi! The Tipi is a classic. What makes it so great is it lights fast, burns hot, doesn’t require vast resources, and more importantly it’s cool! At the end of the day if we don’t do cool things we are failing our jobs! To build this masterpiece we create an upside down cone formation with our wood, and place our tinder in the center. If we are feeling extra cool we can even keep a space open in our Tipi to gather the embers it drops, and use those to light a secondary fire! Now that is cool!

Campfires: tipi
Campfires: rocket stove

Advanced Campfires

Primitive Rocket Stove

No rocket fuel necessary, it’s a Primitive Rocket Stove! Primitive Rocket Stoves are small cooking beasts, and can be started with very few resources. Fortunately, Youth Odyssey has never been stuck in a survival situation, however, this stove is a very useful survival tool we can make out in the wilderness. A big benefit to this stove is it can be maintained using small twigs or branches. First we find a mound of soil, and then form two holes. We will make a horizontal hole in the front of the mound, and a vertical hole at the top. Both holes will intersect in the middle of the mound, and this creates a fireplace chimney. Our chimney creates a draft keeping the fire nice and hot. At the top of our chimney is a great cooking platform to hold a pot or pan. Hot chocolate anyone?

Nature at its best

Campfires are a staple in Youth Odyssey camping trips. They link us to nature, and bring us together for group. Group is a time we can connect more and talk about our trip. Many of our youth have never had a s’more, or have even been next to a campfire. This is one of many ways we help connect youth to nature and the outdoors. Nature is one of the best tools to increase healthy lifestyles. It opens minds to creative thought, increases moods, and expands awareness. Grab your packs, build a fire, and explore!

cooking hotdogs over campfires is the best

The Benefit of Outside Play- Parenting Corner

Remember running around outside in the summer, heart pounding, sweat running down your brow, hair soaking wet still from your play in the sprinklers, and that excited grin on your face from laughing with your friends? Those are the memories that make us who we are. Experiences like that are what the youth of today’s society lack. Researchers are calling this the “Nature Deficit Disorder,” suggesting that there is a direct link between behavioral issues and not spending enough time outside. The fact of the matter is, our youth is missing this important piece of their childhood!

“Now I see the secret of making the best persons, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.”

Walt Whitman

Outdoor Play at School

Research has shown that kids who are involved in outside activities regularly have less behavioral/social issues than those who do not. The average attention span is 45- 60 minutes….for an adult. Yet our schools expect our youth to be focused for many hours at a time. Other countries have a better handle on understanding the importance of outdoor play. Nordic countries schools take 15 minute recesses after every 45 minutes of instruction. This has improved their test scores dramatically compared to the United States.

“For every hour that passed after a break, student performance worsened–average test score deteriorated by 0.9 per cent of a standard deviation.”
Malene Sommer Christiansen, Recess Improves Student Performance

Vitamin D, Depression, and Sunshine Remedies

Twenty percent of teens and young adults ages 15-24 experience depression and suicidal thoughts, while only 10% report spending time outside. How are those two linked, you may ask?! Well let me tell you! The sun provides our bodies with vitamin D. Studies have shown that a decrease in vitamin D levels in the blood are linked with depression! Taking vitamin D pills as a treatment for depression has shown positive results in many studies. My question for you, is why take pills when you can remedy it by playing outside?!

This Month’s Action Step:

My challenge to all parent/guardians is to get your kids outside! Involve them in Youth Odyssey! (Although I may be biased! :P) But involve them in something outdoors. Try implementing family walks before the sun goes down. Go out and play basketball or soccer! Whatever your fancy, just get your kids outside!

One Last Tip!

What do I do if they fight me on participating? Try your best to pick an activity your child will enjoy. If they are extremely stubborn, start small. Ask them to join you on a walk or help you garden something. Baby step them into outdoor activity. It will not only benefit your youth, but also you!