Written by 2021 Arrows Mentor, Samantha Penturf
I started with my group of Explorers the summer after their sixth-grade year. At our first team event, I got a lot of one-word answers or blinking eyes quietly just staring back at me. Our first trip was backpacking around West Texas and through this program I learned the quickest way to bond was by spending a week in the woods alone as a team. Over our years together I got to experience a lot of first through our Explorer’s eyes. The first time flying on a plane, first time away from home without their parents, first time going a week without a shower. Their timidness started to melt away every time they had to shout out climbing instruction while dangling from a cliff or yell out directions while zipping down a bike trail. I got to be a part of their perseverance and critical thinking skills as they develop over the years.
At our mountain biking focused summer wilderness trip, we pedaled up a tremendous hill and one of our girls was exhausted and struggling at the back. Once we got to the top of the hill all she could see was more giant hills ahead of us. It was overwhelming for her, and we had to sit down, breathe, and talk through it. She knew we couldn’t just quit and live the rest of our lives in the middle of the Colorado wilderness and the only way forward was over all those climbs. We came up with a plan to just focus pedal by pedal and to check back in once we reached the top. On the final giant incline of the biking trip, she was the first to pedal all the way to the top and threw her arms up in the air once she got there. Of course, I was proud of her, we all were but the best part was the pride I could see she had in herself.
The final Explore Austin trip is called the Capstone and typically takes place in Wyoming. Unfortunately, ours was planned in the summer of 2020 so it was canceled due to the pandemic. It was the trip we had worked towards and told the girls about for five years. Thankfully, Explore Austin came up with a plan for graduating teams to make up their final trip during their senior year spring break. It was a road trip to Arkansas or New Mexico. We presented it to our girls, and it caused a mutiny – in a good way. All my Explorers started their own Instagram conversation group and chatted about how they all wanted to do the big Wyoming trip in the summer. Among themselves they figured out dates and drafted an email that explained their position and request to the Explore Austin staff. Explore and the girls made it happen. It was exciting we would get to go on the trip and it even more exciting to see these once shy little girls act as leaders and independent young women.
Even now that the challenges and trips are over, the program created a network and community for the Explorers as they continue to grow into young adults. It expands and connects the Austin community across the city. If one kids tells us about her interest in real estate, we can all look through our contacts and find someone for her to shadow. When one of the Explorers struggled with mental health issues during the pandemic, she could easily reach out to any of the Mentors on our team to find help and resources for counseling. One of our Explorers is going to do a marketing internship through Explore and another worked this past summer in the grant program because she is interested into going into the nonprofit field. She said, “It was cool to see the behind the scenes of the program and Explorers and Mentors make it easy for development and marketing to make the case why the organization matters”.
I joined Explore Austin about seven years ago and it changed my life and expanded my community. I hope everyone can find a way to participate in or support this meaningful program that Explore Austin has developed for this city.