About Berkshire Outdoor Center

Berkshire Outdoor Center is a year-round component of the non-profit Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA. Situated on 1,400 acres of prime conservation lands in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, we host more than 12,000 guests per year in our Environmental Education, Outdoor Education, Leadership Development and Adventure Recreation programs, along with fabulous conferences and retreats, family events, youth group retreats, and even weddings!

Much like Spring, Lacrosse is in the Air

It’s beginning to feel a lot like… Spring! That’s right, winter is slowly melting away and, here at the Berkshire Outdoor Center, we are excited to welcome the newest season. Put away your basketball shoes and hockey skates because it is now lacrosse season. This week at BOC, we have two different college lacrosse teams visiting the Berkshires for some team building and outdoor challenges.

The Wheaton College lacrosse team enjoyed snowshoeing around camp this morning. One team member, Giovanna, said, “It was really peaceful. Even though we were all together out there, it felt like we were alone.” We completely agree that snowshoeing this winter has been a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and connect with nature. The women also love all the competitive games that they are playing outside, including broomball- a BOC favorite. The team then got to challenge themselves on the alpine tower, and friends supported one another from the ground as each women climbed to the top platform.

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As mud replaces snow, we wanted to know what some of the women’s favorite parts of spring are. A poem inspired by the Wheaton lacrosse team and My Favorite Things (from The Sound of Music):

Snow melts on sidewalks and sun shines on faces
The trees are blooming in all sorts of places
Squirrels are running and all the birds sing
This is why I really love spring.

Bright colored robins and colorful flowers
Playing outside after warm rain showers
A shift of the seasons and the changes it brings
This is why I really love spring.

The days grow longer and also much brighter
Snow boots replaced with shoes that are lighter
Feeling the breeze as I fly on the swing
This is why I really love spring.

When the frost bites, when the wind stings
When it’s cold and dark
I simply remember these pieces of spring
And into the day, I embark!

Highland Elementary School Trudges Through The Snow

The Berkshire Outdoor Center is continuing to explore the wilderness, with the help of a nearby elementary school.  This week Highland Elementary brought their 5th graders out to have some fun.  Our instructors took the children snow shoeing, rock climbing, cross country skiing, and played broomball.  Despite snow drifts above their waists and the bite of the cold, the students toughed it out and had a great time!

One of the students here this week was Autumn. Coming to the BOC and staying overnight was the first time Autumn has really been away from home.  There was no fear from her however, because she was having so much fun outside.  She had just been cross country skiing and was really excited to go rock climbing next.  Another thing she wanted to make sure everyone knew was that the food was great!  Keep it up food service staff!

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Aidan was another 5th grade student here for the first time.  Aidan was super excited to be here.  He couldn’t wait to be outside all day, because they never get to do that at school.  Aidan had been cross country skiing before, but he said that the trails here at the BOC were great.  After skiing, Aidan was really looking forward to just being able to be with friends all day long.

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When the cold became just a little too much, the kids were able to come inside and drink hot chocolate.  While inside, the students played games like Gaga Ball and low ropes activities.  One of the challenges is to have your classmates holding ropes connected to a ladder. Once the ladder is upright, students are able to climb up and over.  It sounds easy, but it is not.  A little nerve wracking in truth. The group did a wonderful job though, with everyone pitching in.

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The fifth graders still have an exciting evening to go, with large group activities like zingers and a campfire. Tomorrow the fun doesn’t stop.  As Highland Elementary students are learning, the winter season is an incredible time to have fun outdoors.  I hope you all are able to do the same.  Keep warm out there!

Ode to Amber

This past week at Berkshire Outdoor Center was Winter Camp 2015! Winter Camp was full of fun and smiles as always. During camp a cabin says grace in a creative way before each meal. Cabin McKinley wrote a poem for Winter Camp Director Amber Banta that brought down the house! It goes a little something like this:

Amber Banta: Our Fearless Leader

She is strong and sturdy with roots like a cedar

Epitome of charm, style, and grace

Her wonderful smile brings warmth to this place

Smart and brave with unparalleled wit

You make camp 1,000 times better, every last bit

Without you in our life, Winter Camp would be bleak

Can we eat first for the rest of the week?

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Amber Banta: Our Fearless Leader!

Girl Scouts Brave the Berkshire Winter

Greetings from the Berkshires,

I am coming to you live from the Berkshire Outdoor Center. We have just landed ourselves a good several inches of snow and the temperature has dropped to a real feel of -17 degrees. Today here at the Center we have a group of fearless girl scouts braving the fierce winds while doing team building activities and ice skating first thing in the morning. Not once did I ever see a frown, the girls were full of smiles and giggles from the very beginning.   After a morning of adventure the girls came in with some time to spare, so I began interviewing a few ladies.

 

“Meet The Cookies”

Me: So Michaele, tell me how did you feel before you left the house the morning?

Michaele: Very excited, I heard this place was so awesome.

Me: Now that you are here, what are you excited to do the most?

Michaele: Snow tubing, I’ve never been!

Me: And have you ever been outside for this long in the cold?

Michaele: Yes, but never for this long?

Me: Were you at any point too cold?

Michaele: Nope, not at all. Running around kept me really warm.

Me: Alright Michaele, I’ve got one final question for you. What Girl Scout cookie could you never live without?

Michaele: The Thanks a lots. They’re my favorite!

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After my interview with Michaele I was introduced to a young lady named Lily, and what a character she was. I was informed that there are three badges the girls can earn while they are here. They can earn the Night Owl Badge, the Trail Blazer Badge, and the Adventurer Badge! She was very excited to tell me this and pretty much anything I wanted to know because it meant she could practice one of her three accents. Her goal is to master the British, Irish, and Scottish accent, but she wasn’t the only one. My next interviewee, Annika, was also part of the accent posse.

Me: So tell me Annika, how did you find out about this trip?

Annika: (In a British accent) This is my second time coming now, and I found out about it from one of my troop members sisters. We are all basically just one big group of sisters, everyone knows everyone.

Me: Wow, quite interesting, and how is it here compared to the last time you were here?

Annika: (In a Scottish accent) So much colder than the last time, but it’s still really great here. This year I get to be one of the leaders, which is really awesome.

Me: What does it mean to be one of the leaders?

Annika: (In an Irish accent) It means I get to help with more things, like coming to help set tables during meals.

Me: Well we really appreciate all of your help, I just have one more question for you. If you were stranded on an island all by yourself, which box of Girl Scout cookies would you bring with you?

Annika: (In a Scottish/Irish accent) I would bring Thin Mints, definitely Thin Mints!

Me: Well thanks for your time Annika, good luck with your accents!

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Next up I have got 10 year old Emma with me.

 

Me: Hello Emma, tell me how are you feeling this morning?

Emma: Very enthusiastic, I’m really happy to be here!

Me: Have you been to the B.O.C. before?

Emma: No, this is my first time.

Me: What has been your favorite activity so far?

Emma: Ice skating, I had never been before.

Me: That is so exciting! What was the best moment you had out on the ice?

Emma: My best moment was being able to ice skate. I had never been before so I started out with the chair, but then I finally went without the chair.

Me: Did you have any falls?

Emma: A few, but they didn’t really hurt, I just got back up and tried again.

Me: Very impressive, you’re quite the trooper Emma. Can you please answer me one last question.

Emma: Sure

Me: If you had to eat 50 Girl Scout cookies back to back, which flavor would you choose?

Emma: Oh boy, I’m going to have to say Caramel delights.

Me: Alright Emma that’s all I’ve got for you, please send over one last friend.

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Our final interview of the day is with Cailyn, age 10.

 

Me: Hi there Cailyn, thanks for taking some time to speak with me.

Cailyn: No problem

Me: Have you been here before?

Cailyn: No I haven’t

Me: How were you feeling before you left the hose today?

Cailyn: Really Nervous about things

Me: What kind of things?

Cailyn: I just didn’t know how things were going to be is all

Me: Hmm, well how are you feeling now that you are here?

Cailyn: I like it a lot, I’m having a lot of fun.

Me: What are you most looking forward to doing while you are here?

Cailyn: Well I’ve never been tubing, so I am really looking forward to that!

Me: Have you ever been outside when it was this cold?

Cailyn: Oh yeah, this is nothing!

Me: Well you are one tough cookie! Speaking of cookies, I’ve got to ask…

Cailyn: You want to know my favorite cookie?

Me: Well actually, I was wondering if you were to be spun around times with your eyes blind folded, what kind of cookie would you want someone to put in your mouth?

Cailyn: Wow…Well I suppose Thin Mints.

Me: Thank you so much Cailyn.

Well there you have it from the mouths of cookies! They are brave, they are fierce, they are The Girl Scouts!

The beginning of Winter 2015!

Fresh snow covers the ground
The sound of laughter all around.
Winter in the Berkshires is here at last
Already going by shockingly fast.

A fresh fallen icing on Eastern Hemlocks
Under past by deer, rabbits, and the fox
A Northeastern wind wisps through the trees
Brings the winter storm felt down to your knees.

Crafts inside provide a break
From skiing and skating across the lake.
A snowshoe hike offers a view
And s’mores by the fire when all is through.

Our program instructors returned in January from some time off, during which many folks went home for the holidays, spent time with family, and collected a plethora of adventure-filled stories to bring back to camp. Refreshed from the time away, the winter season at BOC has been full of enthusiasm, new skills, and snowy days outside! We eagerly awaited the first group’s arrival in mid-January, excited to share with the kids how great winter in New England can be when equipped with the right tools.

Learning about beaver ecology is that much more rewarding after you’ve worked hard snowshoeing to the beaver pond. Tracking animals in the winter is significantly different when you have the snow to help you decipher a bounder from a straight walker. Tubing is exhilarating once the fresh powder is packed down on the hill and the wind is blowing in the bare trees. And cocoa is best enjoyed by the fire after a long day playing outside in the snow.

These past few weeks we have worked a variety of groups, including the 10th grade class from Miss Porter’s School. After leading various team-building activities with some pretty incredible high school girls, we had the chance to conquer our fear of heights on the Alpine Tower. One by one, girls double-backed their harnesses and climbed upward, while friends cheered encouraging words from below. During cross-country skiing, the girls became Olympians when they created a relay race around the ski track. While we hiked the green trail to the beaver pond, each member of the group shared a beaver fact with everyone, only pausing at the sound of “camouflage!” After four activity-filled days, I think it’s safe to say that we all slept well the final night!

The past couple of days, we have had all hands on deck working the much anticipated Women’s Wellness Weekend, and it was a blast! Women travelled from all over to spend a week in the beautiful Berkshires, relaxing with friends and family. Saturday morning, we lead a sunrise snowshoe hike and ice-skating a midst snow-covered trees. The snow fell all morning, making the weekend that much more beautiful. Sunday, featured an improvisation class, which turned out to be an hour and a half full of laughter. We are already talking about how much fun the next Women’s Wellness Weekend will be, and it’s just a few weeks away!

There you have it folks- a glimpse into the winter at BOC. Look out for more blog posts in the weeks to come!

Ecology Training in the Berkshires

Spring has arrived in full here in the Berkshires. The trees are budding, the sun is shining, and the more and more groups are arriving everyday! Although we are as busy as ever, we always find time to improve our programming.

Staff training  is always continuing here at BOC with our staff dedicating time to brushing up on their knowledge of the local plant and animal life that populates our property. It’s been an exciting few days. Our staff has enjoyed the opportunity to expand their existing knowledge whilst also sharing what they already know with their fellow coworkers! We’ve all learned something new this week.

Monday was spent exploring the adaptive traits, behavioral patterns, and environmental preferences of the Beaver. Our team toured a variety of local beaver habitations. We took that time to study in-person the impacts Beaver dams have on their local environments, their dams and lodges, and the adaptations the Beaver has that make it so unique. We were lucky enough to spot a few beavers out for a swim in the latter part of our day!

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On Tuesday, our staff brushed up on it’s understanding of the lifeforms found in our local ponds. We began by collecting a sample of specimens from a nearby body of water…

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… and then set to work identifying the organisms in our sample.

 
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Brendan attempting to identify a Dragonfly Nymph we found in the pond!

 

 

In only an hour, we collected over ten unique specimens that were then identified and cataloged! Our staff reinforced their understanding of how scientists classify living organisms. They also brushed up on their knowledge of the local inhabitants in our ponds and swamps.

Just another week of work here at the Berkshire Outdoor Center! We all look forward to passing on this knowledge to our friends and guests in the coming months!

Spring Has Arrived!!!

One swallow does not make a summer, but one skein of geese, cleaving the murk of March thaw, is the Spring. 

Aldo Leopold                                                                                                                                                                 Image

Grandfather Winter just doesn’t seem ready to let go yet. His icy fingers grip to the iced over ponds and the pockets of snow as if he was a ruler of the land for all eternity.   Sometimes, it felt as if his power over the rolling Berkshire hills was never ending, especially as snow blanketed the cabins and trees halfway through April and the islands of ice graced Rudd Pond until just the other day. Even though he is strong, Winter is losing his fight.

Spring fought back hard and fast. I first noticed it when walking across the frozen lake one March evening. As the last rays of light dipped below the tree line, the lake began speaking in loud, groaning tones. It was ready to breathe again. Pretty soon after, the birds began to come back. While the constant two tone call of the chickadee and the squawk of the raven have been with us through the cold, the friendly “Peter-Peter-Peter” of the Tufted Titmouse and the tail bobbing of the Pewee are new sites in the last few weeks. It really hit home when I was walking along the road to Smith Pond and I heard the familiar honk that had been quiet through the winter freeze. As I look up, slow wing beats mark two geese flying with purpose over the frozen lake. Seeing their potential resting ground solid, they flew on looking for open water. They couldn’t turn back. For them, egg season will soon be here and they need to return to their home breeding grounds, fight for their traditional territory and raise a brood away from the sneaking eyes of foxes, weasels and raccoons. While some people mark the first day of spring as March 20th, the flight of these birds across the grey blue sky makes spring a reality.

Of course, spring isn’t limited to just the birds. Neighborhood raccoons have ended their winter sleep and for a while groggily made their way through camps, looking to stretch their legs and get some food after months of only the walls of a rotten tree trunk to keep them comfortable. Spring peepers, the tiny denizens of the vernal pools and surrounding hardwood forest, have brought their song back for its yearly debut. Their play list is the same year after year, but one can’t help but roll down the windows and listen as the music fills the night air. The wood frogs too have made themselves known. While their song doesn’t have the same magic as the Spring Peeper’s, they come out in force on rainy nights looking for just the right vernal pool to place their eggs. Even full of eggs, its amazing how far and high they jump.  The buds on the trees are coming out to meet the warmer weather too. The red maple is in full (but tiny) flower and some around here wish that it wouldn’t use the wind to send its pollen every which way. Seriously, can’t they use bees or just not have pollen at all? Oh well, nature doesn’t do what we want it to and without that pollen we wouldn’t have the spectacular displays of foliage that make the Berkshires come alive in the fall.

As we are gearing up for a busy summer, it’s nice to take the time to see the age-old battle between winter’s cold and spring’s persistent and inevitable victory. This is one fight that never gets old.

 

Spring Staff Training 2014

It is official; our spring 2014 season is officially underway! The staff here at the Berkshire Outdoor Center spent the first week in April brushing up on our Ecology, Facilitation and Spring Recreation skills. We focused on creating a Professional Development Plan for each staff member that crystallized individual goals for: leadership facilitation, recreation skill teaching, and environmental science instruction. This spring season we will see more than 5,000 people come through our doors. In order to deliver the highest quality programs we devote a lot of staff hours to training and program creation. Throughout the week our ten staff spent two days on the High Ropes Course, and many hours learning new techniques for introducing activities and alternative ways of processing experiences. Our Executive Director stepped into teach Forest Ecology and the entire staff spent time creating alternative activities for inclement weather that we are sure to implement at sometime this spring. It was a week of instruction that will lay the foundation for a whole seasons worth of learning for our guests, staff members, and administration team. We feel prepared and ready to bring the outdoors and experiential education to the thousands of guests we will serve in the next three months!ImageImageImageImageImage

Winter Camp 2014!

February 14-22nd, 2014, Winter Camp, Berkshire Outdoor Center at Chimney Corners Camp – one of (if not the single) greatest experiences of my professional life. My first experience as a residential Camp Director revealed itself to be, I hope, the first of many.

And what an incredible community! Sixteen staff, five Leaders-in-Training, forty-eight campers and one dog – each lending a little piece of themselves to our greater camp culture. We survived bumps, bruises, stomach aches and homesickness. We danced the dining hall spotless after every meal and wholeheartedly competed in Iron Chef, the Becket Winter Olympics, Gaga Ball and Minute to Win It. We attempted a Disco Igloo and failed. We attempted the Zipline and Giant Swing in three feet of snow and SUCCEEDED. We laughed and joked and built up each other’s spirits for six awesome days.

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to the concept of “synergy” when the “whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Every so often in my life that resurfaces in me and I think, “This is it, THIS is synergy.” When we came together at Winter Camp, we created something bigger than ourselves. And though it’s so short – just one week – we’ll carry that synergy with us until it’s time to do it all over again in 2015.

So here’s to the memories of Winter Camp 2014 – we’ll share them forever!

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5 Questions for 5 Instructors

In this week’s blog post, we’ll do a little Q&A with a random selection of Berkshire Outdoor Center instructors. They each got to answer five questions and in typical form, had a wide range of responses to our inquiries, from thoughtful to silly and sarcastic to meaningful – a lot like the mix of folks who make the magic happen every spring here in the Berkshires. Happy reading!

This is Sarah Malcolm, she’s from England:

Goes by "Malcs" since she's officially our third Sarah on staff this season.

Goes by “Malcs” since she’s officially our third Sarah on staff this season.

1. How did you come to be a BOC instructor for Spring 2013?

My lovely big brother pulled me across the pond and after months of anticipation between my application and visa process, I’ve finally joined the BOC family!

2. What has been the most challenging thing about working at BOC?

I think initially it was just trying to adapt to a completely new set up in a very different time zone. After I got used to that I faced the real challenge of learning all of the “ecologies” (beaver ecology, pond ecology, forest and bog ecology,) which I thought I had left behind me forever when I finished school! It was a nice challenge, though.

3. Is working with your brother a pro or a con?

Seeing my brother for the first time in almost two years has been awesome and being able to shadow him at what he does best has made me very proud. I can now see why he didn’t want to come home! I have also noticed that I have picked up too many of his traits already!

4. What have our BOC guests taught you during your time here?

I have learnt the value of teamwork. And I mean that in the least cliche way possible! When being forced to do team building at school, I never fully saw the point in it. However, watching the children and other guest here completely evolve after working to achieve tasks together, I have learnt how valuable and special that experience can be.

5. How will your experience working BOC impact your life in the future?

I think I will take a positive working attitude with me into future employment and even into life outside of work. It’s clear to see how much everyone enjoys being and working here and that spirit makes it an addicting environment to work in. So far, I have been having an amazing time with such awesome new experience up my sleeve and have learnt that no matter how many s’mores you have, you’ll never feel s’matisfied.

This is Kyle Sauerbrunn, he’s from Massachusetts:

See how happy Kyle is, even though it's raining? This is normal. He's so happy!

See how happy Kyle is, even though it’s raining? This is normal. He’s so happy!

1. How did you come to be a BOC instructor?

In 2010, I realized there was no time to waste in finding my dream job. Between 1999 and 2008, I had spent every summer at Camp Becket, so when the time came, I realized BOC was the perfect fit – it was my favorite place, and it was never closed.

2. What has been the most valuable thing you’ve gotten out of your time working at BOC?

The natural environment provides everyone the opportunity to teach. I have learned fascinating things and shared invaluable experiences with participants and coworkers alike in the woods, on the ponds and all across our property.

3. If you could change BOC in one way, what would it be?

BOC instructors are smart, talented and funny, but I think it’s time we put Benjamin Beaver through staff training so he can teach us the ultimate Beaver Ecology lesson.

4. Why do you believe you job here is important?

A sense of place in the natural world is a part of a good foundation for life. I believe it is important to develop this placehood and share the many ways it connects us with others and the world when we part from BOC.

5. How would your mother or grandfather describe your job to someone else? What do they think you’re up to out here?

After returning from my 2nd BOC season, I built a geodesic dome in my mom’s backyard. She would describe this job as a bonanza of creativity. As for Grandpa, I once told him about shelter building with a group of kids so he thinks we sleep outside and he says a prayer for all BOC participants every time it rains.

This is Lilah Shepard, she’s from Massachusetts but goes to school in Louisiana where it’s warm year-round and that makes her very, very smart:

Last week was training and this week she's in it up to her eyeballs!

Last week was training and this week she’s in it up to her eyeballs!

 

1. How did you come to be a BOC Instructor this season?

I’ve been going to camp at Chimney Corners since I was 11 and I’ve been a counselor for a few summers, too. This summer I won’t be back at camp and this was a great way for me to get my “camp fix” and experience the spring season at BOC for myself!

2. What’s been the most surprising thing about working at BOC?

That it’s even more beautiful here this time of year than it is in the summer – hard to believe, I know, but it’s true!

3. What were you doing before you got here and what will you do next?

I was at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, finishing my sophomore year. After BOC, I’m going to St. Paul, MN, to live for the summer. A new adventure!

4. Have you learned anything from any of our BOC guests while you’ve been here?

Our guests are constantly reinforcing the incredible power of a positive attitude. With every new challenge, I am always amazed to see how far positivity can go to create real change.

5. What has been the most meaningful experience of the season for you?

Easy. Becoming acquainted with the BRILLIANT SARAH MALCOLM!

This is Will Malcolm, the aforementioned big brother of Sarah and also the teacher of rope coiling from a post a few weeks back:

Will is modeling our Spring 2013 staff t-shirts. Ooh, v-neck, so fancy!

Will is modeling our Spring 2013 staff t-shirts. Ooh, v-neck, so fancy!

1. As our 18-month J-1 Trainee, give us one sentence, phrase or word about each season you’ve worked here:

Spring 2012: “warm“; Summer 2012: “Becket“; Fall 2012: “red“; Winter 2013: “skiing“; Spring 2013: “MOSQUITOES

2. How will you use your BOC traineeship experience after you leave us?

I’m eager to help kids around the world have fun and absorb the value and wonder of nature; especially kids in Africa and Asia.

3. What has been a challenge to you during your time here and how have you dealt with it?

Being an ol’ English boy in a big country has been surprising. I’ve dealt with it by putting on weight.

4. What has been most surprising about your time here?

The number of positive work evaluations I’ve gotten from guests based solely on my accent has been amazing. That, and how many fish I’ve caught.

5. When you are 100 years old, what will you still love to reminisce about during your time at BOC?

I don’t plan to make it to 100. I’ll be lucky to get to 28…

This is Emily Brewster Mullen, she’s from Massachusetts (which means your author didn’t take a very random sample of instructors at all,) but spends as much time as her bank account will allow outside the borders of the grand old USofA:

Mullen's power animal is the mighty beaver. Like the elusive beaver, Mullen dislikes being photographed. (Thanks for making an exception for the blog, Mull.)

Mullen’s power animal is the beaver. Like the elusive beaver, Mullen dislikes being photographed. (Thanks for making an exception for the blog, Mull.)

1. Share a brief history of your involvement with the Becket-Chimney Corners YMCA:

I’m a long time Chimney girl, a former TSP leader and had an exciting interlude as the Becket Day Camp staff coordinator in 2012. I’ve been a Berkshire Outdoor Center loyalist since 2002.

2. What brings you back to this place and this job?

The springtime – it’s so green and lush here! It is the best time for all of our ecology lessons and is the season when you’re most likely to see a beaver. The days keep getting longer and longer. Why would you want to be anywhere else?

3. What were you doing before you came here and what are your plans for after the season ends?

Before I arrived, I was exploring the southern hemisphere and working in Australia with the YMCA there. When BOC wraps up for the season, I’ll return to Aus to work with tripping based adventure programs. I’m working on an endless summer – or maybe it’s more like a winterless year?

4. What is the most valuable thing you think we do for our BOC guests?

We give them the opportunity to try something new. When they’re here, they can have positive interactions with peers in different and exciting ways. We work with them to create opportunities for success and that changes people.

5. If you were in charge, how would you grow, add to or change BOC?

I would encourage more groups to utilize our overnight shelters, I’d solicit more corporate groups to do retreats here and would hire more tall people.

Well, that’s all for this week. I hope you got the sense that our staff is comprised of people from different backgrounds and places who come together to work hard, make an impact, impart passion for healthy relationships and healthy environments and have a really fantastic time doing it. I sometimes think the staff are changed as much by working here as the guests are by visiting. It’s a pretty great thing. We’re proud.