Our Approach: guide teaching student how to make fire

Young Adults

We believe that all young adults have unique needs and especially those that are struggling with such issues as depression, motivation, anger, self-esteem, drug use, anxiety and finding it difficult to figure out what to do with their lives. At Open Sky, there are eight key principles to our approach in working with young adults.

The Eight Guiding Principles

Our Approach with Young Adults

  1. Treating Young Adults as Adults
  2. Creating Authentic Connections
  3. Providing a Genuine Healing Community
  4. Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Successes
  5. Harnessing Nature’s Healing Capacity
  6. Providing Real Life Skills
  7. Finding Direction
  8. Celebration and Ceremony

Treat Young Adults as Adults

This day in age, the transition from childhood to adulthood is lasting longer than it ever has. With the luxury of material abundance and longer living, we have in many ways lengthened this in-between time. As well, our cultural obsession with youthfulness, individualism, materialism, and sexuality (all traits of adolescents) makes the gravitational pull strong to keep young people from fully maturing into healthy, well-adjusted adults. At Open Sky, we recognize these forces preventing our young adults from moving forward as contributing members of society, but we will not allow our students to be victims of these same forces.

adult student resting with his pack onWe believe a key to becoming an adult is to be treated as an adult. Young adult students are expected to step up in making decisions, solving problems, and orchestrating each day’s activities. Each student is a vital member of the community on a day-to-day basis. Open Sky young adults are given considerable freedom and autonomy to be contributors and leaders within their peer group of students. Instead of utilizing external pressures and motivators in the way teens might require in order to accomplish the day’s agenda, young adults are asked to be responsible for ensuring that everything each day gets accomplished. Whether it be preparing dinner, getting each other up and out bed in the morning, or organizing students for a day on the trail, adult students at Open Sky are essential to the day’s success.

We believe that another part of what our young adults need is a balance of support and structure to ensure success. We support our students by listening with empathy and treating each of them as individuals with unique attributes and gifts, life experiences and struggles. We support our students by providing a holding environment in which their greatest attributes are encouraged and their maladaptive behaviors and self-destructive thinking are not accepted or reinforced.

Additionally, with the support of field guides that are developmentally close in age (Open Sky field guides average 30 years of age), the young adult student is given a group of role-models of well-adjusted adults close in age they can look up to for guidance and direction. We have found that many young adults respond well to mentors and teachers during this phase of their lives. Field guides are selected and trained to provide an empowering experience that balances freedom and autonomy with support and direction.

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Creating Authentic Connections

The Open Sky team believes in being genuine and of sharing openly what we are feeling and thinking with one another. This is a fundamental aspect of our community: people relating with people on the most basic level as humans sharing an experience in this world. In truth, we are not a “program,” we are a collection of people providing a life affirming rite-of-passage. We believe that our responsibility to our students and to each other is to be real with each other, to show up and be present with one another at all times as best as we each are capable. In a genuine community environment with authentic interactions, each person is encouraged to discover their true nature as worthy, honorable, and capable people.

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Providing a Genuine Healing Community

adult team at Colorado base campIn one way or another, most of our young adults at Open Sky are suffering from a wound of some kind. A wound that has been internalized and is a hurt that is deep and strong. This might be the loss of a loved one, it might be a violation of a personal boundary, it could be a regret of a past behavior, it could be a feeling of being unaccepted or unappreciated; the source of which could be from any of a number of events or life moments. For each of us, at one point or another, experience this kind of hurt and struggle with the pain of it. We believe that the way to heal is through the pain, providing space for the pain to be felt, for it to be nurtured by caring people, to be heard and acknowledged, not shamed. Walking through this pain with nurture and support and the skillful guidance of our treatment team enables a student to heal this wound, to release its grip on his or her thoughts and feelings. Each young adult at Open Sky will share their story with the other students, with their therapist and field guides and in doing so, will have the opportunity to heal and be given support for growing and learning. Through the day-to-day time spent in the nurturing presence of guides and opportunities for exploring this hurt, there is a chance to discover the source of strength that emerges from surviving this hardship and to see how these experiences enable us to expand our compassion for ourselves and for others.

In essence, moving into adulthood is moving into conscious awareness in which we are no longer a function of our trauma or our family and personal history and its accompanying impulsive reactivity. At Open Sky, we aim to help each of our young adults learn that they have the ability to make choices with what they do and how they respond to circumstances.

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Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Successes

students-relaxing-with-mountains-behindIn this modern age, we have taken away much of the challenge of our physical existence, so much so, that arguably we have created an unhealthy culture where our material abundance has led to the highest rates of obesity and apathy ever known. Living in the outdoors requires work: demands of the weather, of walking everywhere, of learning to live without furniture and a bed means that young adults learn how to take care of themselves in ways that are easily taken for granted everyday. There is not a bed, toilet, oven, microwave, television, computer, iPod, or overhead lighting; all these basic amenities are missing. Young adults learn to make do with what they can do for themselves; specifically, they learn how to take care of themselves completely without the modern conveniences their lives are propped up by. This engenders a sense of empowerment, of being capable of successfully keeping themselves physically comfortable and safe: warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet and fed when they are hungry. Open Sky young adults become successful students of life and in doing so become confident in themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing.

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Harnessing Nature’s Healing Capacity

img_48711Being outside provides a space in which everything is free to be felt and expressed without judgment, without limit and without consequence. Nature can handle a young adult's barrage of angry outbursts or their depths of grief and sorrow. Nature is receptive to everyone’s presence and allows for a spaciousness that is not found with the busyness and materialism that surrounds young adults' normal, everyday civilized existence. The pure beauty of vistas, of mountains, of desert landscapes, of plants and animals generates a reverence and appreciation for life and for our surroundings. It doesn’t tell us what to do like our magazines and advertisements do; it just is, allowing us to just be. For many, many people, their greatest personal solace is found in the wilderness, with Mother Nature embracing them as a part of this spectacular planet; our young adults heal and rebalance themselves.

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Providing Real Life Skills

...Why not stay out there in the wilderness the rest of your days…? Because that's not where men are…The final test for me of the legitimacy of the experience is 'How well does your experience of the sacred in nature enable you to cope more effectively with the problems of mankind when you come back to the city?'

Willie Unsoeld, member of the first American team to climb Mt. Everest

yoga-pose-reachingUnlike most wilderness programs, Open Sky set out from the beginning to provide transferable skills and practices that can be taken home to help our students better succeed in the “real world.” Each and every day, our young adult students will participate in yoga and meditation (a great resource for self-awareness and managing anxiety, depression, grief and anger), prepare and eat a healthy, whole foods diet (a great resource for building a healthy immune system and ensuring overall health and wellness), and learn to effectively communicate with others (a great life-long resource for having genuine relationships). As well, our guides and therapists specialize in helping teach young adults how to become more self-aware, to manage emotions effectively, and to successfully and authentically relate with others. We have found that by providing tools and resources that can be taken home after Open Sky helps the new found abilities become more deeply internalized, such that the ability to resource these skills is nearly automatic when the stresses of life impose upon them again.

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Finding Direction

Adulthood is in large part about contributing to one’s family and society at large. In applying a strengths-based philosophy with our young adults, we encourage them to explore their passions and unique gifts and how their soul might be called to serve their family, their community and the world at large. We recognize that each generation depends upon its children becoming fully adjusted adults that are passionate about how they spend their time and in turn contributing to society as teachers, artists, philosophers, doctors, chefs, mechanics, engineers, business leaders, counselors, and ultimately, as mothers and fathers of the next generation.

looking out over the desertWhile at Open Sky, young adult students are exposed to a number of new experiences, many of which will inspire them to consider a certain career or hobby that might turn into a lifelong passion or perhaps a just a fascinating short-term interest. With activities like yoga, meditation, naturopathic medicine, learning how to prepare healthy food, hiking and backpacking, problem-solving, delegating chores or sitting around a fire and playing music, these are just a selection of the experiences our young adults encounter during their stay with us. Several students have pursued personal, professional and academic interests that were inspired by their time at Open Sky.

Lastly, we believe that the wilderness is inherently inspirational. As a quiet and serene backdrop, it is among the best places to hear that deep calling within each young person that is yearning to be heard. Guided by professional field guides and licensed therapists, Open Sky adults regularly participate in activities like sweat lodges, solos and group council to provide time and space for these callings to be heard and acknowledged.

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Celebration and Ceremony

Celebrating Student Day 2007Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we genuinely enjoy working with young men and women. There is nothing quite like the excitement and enjoyment of working with young people - being in the presence of this emerging energy, their creative and expressive energy. Our team is comprised of people that genuinely enjoy the adult life they have and are role models to the young adults in our care. Our goal is to celebrate this energy, this youthful vitality through appropriate and healthy ways: sweat lodges, hiking and exploring, playing games, making music, and just having fun. Our guides are role models for living a healthy and vital life. When not working, most of our team is off in the mountains or desert riding mountain bikes, skiing, playing music, dancing, climbing and living an active, youthful life.

Additionally, it is a tremendous honor and inspiration for each of us to be a witness to the young adult experience: one of our culture’s most challenging developmental stages. For centuries, prior to the arrival of the modern world, this time frame was honored with a life affirming rite-of-passage and the young adults had guides to lead them through this journey to their emerging adulthood. As each young adult accomplishes a set of objectives in the student pathway, we honor this growth with a ceremony utilizing the symbolism of the four directions. People of all ages crave being acknowledged in their growth and learning and we believe that a successful experience with Open Sky is the very acknowledgment our young adults need in this day in age to make this shift into adulthood.

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