Written by: Claire Smallwood
On May 30th, 2015 SheJumps and the Mountaineers hosted the first-ever Wild Skills Youth Initiative. The goal for the free clinic—open to girls ages 6-18—focused on basic first-aid, Leave No Trace ethics, the 10 Essentials to pack in the outdoors, compasses, maps, navigation, and rock climbing.
The Wild Skills program was initially conceived by SheJumps Pacific Coast Regional Coordinator, Christy Pelland. Pelland was introduced to SheJumps three years ago as a participant at a Get the Girls Out event at her home ski resort, Crystal Mountain in Washington. Pelland’s personality, philanthropic attitude, and dynamic skill set made her a solid addition to the SheJumps team when she became a formal volunteer Regional Coordinator in 2014.
Above: Wild Skills volunteers Kelly, Christy Pelland (Event creator), McKenzie Temple (Washington Regional Coordinator for SheJumps), & Phoebe
SheJumps has hosted many Youth Initiatives since its inception in 2007, including an annual program in Salt Lake City that brings Boys & Girls club teens skiing. For myself as the Executive Director and co-founder, these youth programs are at the core of why SheJumps began. I can’t imagine accomplishing our goal of increasing the number of women outside without looking to the next generation, and instilling a sense of wonder and outdoor stewardship through Youth Initiatives.
That’s why Wild Skills is different, and why it’s a game changer. Christy says, “Wild Skills is exactly what I wanted to be doing as a young kid – learning the skills that would make me a better explorer. I have two young girls and want them to feel confident, strong and capable in the outdoors and life – so I decided to take the information I was already teaching them and package it up for SheJumps. I wanted to create a youth initiative format that could be replicated throughout the different regions. We focused on creating girl-centered curriculum that covers the foundational skills needed for getting out into the wild outdoors.”
Together with the help of the Mountaineers, a grant from the North Face Explore Fund, NOLS instructor Liz Meder and skilled graphic artists Rebecca Stewart-Johnson and Karly Siroky; Pelland dreamed up the Wild Skills journal which is a magical combination of material ranging from skills, checklists, coloring pages, inspiration and rainbows! Think little girl’s diary meets outdoor manual and coloring book. Each participant received a journal as part of their registration packet.
Hearing about it and talking about it was one thing, but when the day for the event arrived, I think anyone who was there witnessed a phenomenal transformation—not only for the young girls, but for the 60+ volunteers there as well.
With the groups of girls separated into color-coded age groups—pink, yellow, orange, and green—their arrival meant friendship bracelets, colorful flagging tape wrapped around their wrists, ankles, and ponytails with their new friends applying face paint in the shapes of hearts and stars as they met everyone and got to know their group leaders. Divided into the four corners of the Mountaineers’ auditorium room, Pelland brought everyone to attention with some uppity-pop music and a megaphone, shouting “who’s ready for a dance party!?” Donning a purple tutu, black checked tights, and a blue-tshirt with “I Speak Girafficorn” on the front, it wasn’t hard to see how a woman like that could have come up with an event like this.
Once the flow of the day was explained—(the siren on the megaphone means it’s time to change stations!)—the remaining parents exited and the kids went to work. (The parents had an optional group yoga and park walk scheduled). The Pink group I was charged with—fourteen 6-year olds—was scheduled for compass and navigation first.
I was surprised at how well the Mountaineers navigation instructor was able to adapt the material to a group of 6 year olds, and perhaps, even more surprised by how well the 6-year olds absorbed the information. They were initially anxious and nervous, but within minutes they were using their compasses to find North and South—I know adults who don’t know how to do this. They were reading topographical maps, identifying bodies of water, and mountain summits. And this was only the first workshop of the day!
The second stop of the day was Leave No Trace and “the Ten Essentials” (basically, what to pack when you’re heading out—the bare necessities). Again, the youngest group and the Mountaineers curriculum were complimentarily outstanding. The instructor explained Leave No Trace ethics and had 4 small groups act out basic skits to show what they just learned.
All the groups convened for lunch by the rock-climbing wall outside. I could feel a smile beaming from my face as I looked around and saw how fast the bonds had formed between the girls of all ages. There were girls helping girls on the bouldering wall, secret handshakes being created, and lots and lots of tutus running around. (Pelland also created a “Fun Cave” for girls who were losing their attention or needed a break, complete with Wild Skills coloring pages and a tutu-making area).
Our group was sticking around for rock-climbing after lunch and the brave Pink group jumped right in. The Mountaineers rock-climbing instructors did a wonderful job of clearly communicating the safety and technique for it, and while no one was free-soloing the wall—the girls all had a great time scaring themselves a bit and coming down with ear-to-ear grins.
The last and final workshop of the day for our group was First-Aid. By this time the girls were definitely getting a bit distracted. On the other hand, I think if you become distracted by making new friends while learning useful skills, it’s the sign of a good life! The Mountaineers instructors for the First Aid clinic could totally sense this, and they managed to communicate the most basic level of safety to the girls—who absorbed it well. “Stop! Make yourself calm, call for help!” The most hilarious part of the day was when the instructor, who could very plainly tell she was losing the attention span of the 6 year olds, said, “Now, who wants me to wrap me up like a mummy?!”
When it was time for the final assembly of the day, the anxious and anticipatory looks of the morning were replaced with smiles and giggles. One more dance party was happening while the parents showed up to collect their kids, and we heard over and over again, “When is the next Wild Skills?” Which was amazing feedback to get right away. All I kept thinking was, “this is why we started SheJumps.”
Every single volunteer, girl, and parent who decided to take part in the first Wild Skills event helped to make history on May 30th in Seattle. The event could not have happened without the help and support of the Mountaineers, our amazing SheJumps crew: Christy Pelland, McKenzie Temple (and her family), our SheJumps Seattle Ambassadors: Jenny Lee and Julia Dubinina, all of the amazing volunteers, as well as the Wild Skills participants!
THANK YOU to everyone who helped!
…You know who you are!
The Mountaineers: Caitlin O’Brien Kristina Ciari Mountaineers Volunteers: Mercedes, Mika, Brenda, Clare, Kim, Jessi, Lauren, Kristen
SheJumps Volunteers: Haley, Betsy, Kara, Holly, SarahMae, Katie, Siena, Kim, Christine, Melissa, Tori, Jen, Brandi, Sara, Liz, Robyn, Krystin, Jessika, Kelly, Brianna, Michelle, Phoebe, Erin, Nikki, Jessica, Anna, Molly
Photographers: Rikki Rivera Brianna Stoutenburgh
Videographer: Nathan Pelland
Wild Skills Journal: Karly Siroky Rebecca Stewart-Johnson Christy Pelland
In Kind Donations: Seattle Bouldering Project Corepower Yoga Chris Meder Photography Crystal Mountain Arc’teryx Ibex Ada Rosman el Sage Designs Krave Beef Jerky Wolly Bugger Starbucks Kyra Thompson Lillie Miller