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Feeling Proud of What I Accomplished

Joel Duarte is a sophomore in high school from Dos Palos, California with a radiant smile.  While backpacking to Illilouette Falls or rafting the Merced River, Joel exuded great excitement and enthusiasm for Yosemite.  On the 40-day course, he shared that he felt much brighter and more positive on the trails and in Wawona at ARC’s basecamp than he feels at home.

At home, Joel wrote in his metaphorical poem, “My life is not the best.  I don’t feel supported…I sometimes think that I am the only tree in a giant meadow…I feel that I’m the only one living in my house.”  He described these feelings of loneliness as similar to a tree “withering” away.

Dos Palos, Joel’s community, is a small agricultural town in the Central Valley where 90% of high school students qualify for free and reduced lunch (as of academic year 2016-17).  ARC has been serving Dos Palos students with after-school, weekend, and summer programming since 2009, our first year in Yosemite National Park.  Joel was recruited to ARC by Jesus Alejandre, a full-time ARC staff member, who graduated from the Yosemite summer course in 2012.

Joel says he joined ARC because “I wanted to get away from all the negativity in my family and because it seemed like a fun challenge.”  He and has teammates went on three backpacking expeditions in Yosemite; they went rock climbing, kayaking, white water rafting; and they participated in an intensive academic program focused on environmental science and English education, with over 140 hours of literacy instruction per student.

Joel found the backpacking challenging.  He wrote, “I wasn’t really as prepared physically as the other participants, but I still wanted to show them and the instructors that I could finish the hike and wouldn’t give up.  On the second day, the hike was around 4 miles, with a giant backpack, and that distance wasn’t even the longest we walked during the course.  It was a crazy experience.”

However, he shared that it wasn’t the backpacking that he found most challenging about his ARC immersion course, it was sharing his feelings with his teammates.  In his final essay, he wrote “I was feeling sad and scared because I never told anyone how I felt about my family.  I was revealing so much about myself and showing my true emotions…I was scared they were going to say, ‘That’s why your family doesn’t love you.’  However, I realized as a result [of sharing] that people here at ARC care about how I feel, and won’t put me down.”  Joel discovered during his ARC summer that he wasn’t alone and that he had a group of teammates and instructors who supported him unconditionally.

Joel wrote at the end his experience, “I learned to be an independent, problem-solving leader.  I’ve become more independent by learning how to cook my own food, by doing chores that no one asked me to do, and by taking initiative in my education.  I’ve become a leader by setting my goals high and not being afraid to push myself.  I realized that I can share my emotions or problems with people…and express myself.”  Even though the backpacking was “crazy,” Joel said “All these experience at ARC have made me feel proud of what I accomplished.”


Thank You to ARC’s Dedicated Summer Staff

ARC would like to extend a deep and heartfelt thank you to our 2017 seasonal staff members.  ARC is fortunate to attract passionate and hardworking outdoor professionals and, this summer, we had especially dedicated staff teams in Yosemite, Sequoia, and Tahoe!  ARC staff worked countless hours in the front and backcountry to ensure that the students had a transformative summer experience; they invested deeply in the personal development and growth of each student; they organized the food and gear to ensure that students were comfortable and well-fed; and they created an environment of learning, challenge, and wonder!  Thank you so much to our 2017 ARC Summer Staff!


SamSam Gilbert was our environmental science and lead backpacking instructor in Tahoe this summer.  He packed a lifelong thirst for adventure and the outdoors into his role. Family camping trips in the Midwest gave Sam a love for the outdoors from a young age. After high school he participated in a NOLS semester course in the Rocky Mountains, and honed his leadership and outdoor skills while pursuing a degree in Outdoor Recreation at Indiana University. Sam has worked in outdoor education in Colorado and California, and taught English in Hanoi, Vietnam. Sam said his favorite part about being outdoors is how it shows us “the seeming simplicity of life.”  Sam was a logistics master for us this summer and his sense of humor kept staff meetings light-hearted and fun.  We were very grateful to have him as part of the Tahoe team.


AixaTahoe instructor ​Aixa Correa ​completed her second year with ARC.  She taught language and grammar skills that allow students to express their unique voice and write more powerfully. Aixa appreciates the growth and learning that ARC students experience in the outdoors. Spending time in nature is, well, natural for Aixa: “Being dirty is socially acceptable!” But the wilderness also carries a deeper meaning for her: “I love being in a space that I, as part of nature, was intended to coexist in.” Thank you, Aixa, for being such a thoughtful, empathetic listener and mentor for our students!







Alexis Angulo came back to ARC this summer — this time as a summer intern in Tahoe. Alexis graduated from the ARC summer program in Yosemite in 2015. That wilderness experience made an impact – Alexis says his favorite part of being outdoors is the “sightseeing” – and he has stayed connected to ARC ever since. Alexis is a 2017 graduate of Gustine High School in Gustine, Calif. “I enjoy advocating for ARC,” he says, “and encouraging others to experience the beautiful nature we have.” Alexis will be attending Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the fall and shared with ARC students his advice and guidance on college applications and financial aid during the course.   Thank you, Alexis, for sharing your wisdom and advice with our students this summer.




AnnaAnna Santoleri returned to ARC as a writing and leadership instructor in Yosemite. Her work this summer was informed by her teaching experiences gained over the past two years: finishing her master’s degree in Education and living in Malaysia on a Fulbright teaching grant. Anna designs and supervises outdoor education for students that you can bet includes mountain peaks, wool socks, and ample opportunities for self-awareness, group connections, and personal growth. Anna said she was happy and excited to be back at ARC: “It feels like coming home.”  Thank you, Anna, for your attention to detail, your passion, and hard work this summer.





StephStephany Subdiaz brought her books and a backpack to Yosemite, where she was an instructor this summer. Stephany graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2016, and has extensive experience leading outdoor trips for the college’s recreation department and the Ventana Wilderness Alliance. Stephany came to ARC from the High Mountain Institute in Leadville, Colo., where she has been teaching math to high-school juniors and leading them on wilderness trips. The outdoors for Stephany is all about “hard work and enjoying the simple things,” she says, like “a hot drink after dinner, or burying my toes in sand after a long day of hiking.”  Stephany prepared the Yosemite students this summer for their peer teaching day, where they imparted what they learned about their natural environment with younger students.  In addition, she shared her passion for the outdoors with ARC youth.  Thank you, Stephany, for your commitment to each and every student this summer


EllieEllie Moore brought her extensive wilderness knowledge to the Sequoia program, where she was course director. Ellie is a fourth-generation educator, with a decade of work in experiential education. Blending academics with outdoor adventure is a recipe for “confident, thoughtful, and empathetic young leaders,” Ellie observed. Ellie spoke from experience this summer. She was 13 years old when her mother took her backpacking for the first time. “The outdoors has continued to teach me self-sufficiency, teamwork, confidence, and humility,” Ellie says. “Whether it is paddling to catch a wave, working to start a campfire, or taking in the view from a mountain summit, I find that great clarity of mind (and peace of heart) comes from sweating and breathing deep in wild places.”  Ellie was a logistical guru, English teacher, and extraordinary outdoor leader for us in Sequoia.  We were so grateful to have her as part of the ARC team.


Raquel picRaquel Rangel returned to ARC for her second summer and served as the Environmental Science instructor in Sequoia. Raquel brought a love for the outdoors (especially birds!) and very strong organizational abilities to her work with ARC.  Previously, Raquel participated in a 30-day NOLs mountaineering course, where she became comfortable traversing snow fields (which was helpful this summer!).  She also has worked for several years with Latino Outdoors, designing outdoor excursions and running program logistics.   These skills were a great asset to ARC this summer as we embarked on our first summer of programming in Sequoia.  Thank you, Raquel!




P.O.H.T.E. for the Best


Day 25 of the course was our Solo day.  Solo is where participants spend 24 hours alone with their thoughts and for us it was near Tuolumne Peak.  We had  a beautiful view of Yosemite’s mountains, with sunrises and sunsets perfect for your PC background.  Solo itself was a very enlightening and reflective experience which was apparent when we reunited.  Meeting back together we realized how fun it is to talk and be together as a team.  An example of this shined brightly when we created our new group norms POHTE which stands for Patience, Optimism, Honesty, Teamwork, and Empathy. These are the things our team decided would help everyone be their best self within the group.

–  Chris Rodriguez


Our First Basecamp

We are staying at the Sagehen Creek Field Station right now and are getting ready for our next expedition.  We will be kayaking next week on Lake Tahoe.  Yesterday we had the wonderful opportunity to go white water rafting on the South Fork of the American River. It was a hot and sunny 118 degrees (according to our car) and the water was icy from the snow melt. We sailed through rapids and paddled our way through beautiful scenery and sat down to an excellent lunch with our rafting group before progressing to the last leg of our journey. We ended our trip with some cold sodas, hot pizzas, and as always, lots of laughter and reminiscing of the days events. We all had an amazing time despite our exhaustion towards the end of the day!


2017 ARC Tahoe Trip-First Expedition

Hello my name is Gisselle and I’m a student for this year’s 2017 ARC Tahoe trip! So we just finished our very first expedition and it was incredible! The experience was great. I’ve never done something like this before so it was scary at first. It took a while to get used to being away from my family and be around with people I have never met. Soon enough we all got along and have formed an amazing bond with one another. The first expedition consisted of learning to trust one another and become leaders for the rest of the group. We all had to try super hard to get along if we wanted it work! We were hiking through the mountains and forest of Tahoe during our first expedition. We were all tired, but pushed through it all. It was something that I will never forget! I feel like more teens should be interested in doing something like this!Expedition one


The Rock

On day five of our first expedition, we spent the day at the camp we had set up the night before. We had a Science lesson where we learned about trees and soil from our surroundings and an English lesson where we discussed our goals and challenges. At the end of the English class we threw large rocks in to the river nearby which represented our challenges that we wanted to let go. It was an emotional moment for all of us because metaphorically we all held on to our problems but wanted to throw them out.

-Johan Stoll

At the far right: Johan

At the far right: Johan


Worth the View

The first expedition in one word? Tiring. By Day Six of our hike on the Ostrander Lake Trail, all ten of us ARC participants and four instructors were exhausted, both mentally and physically. At this point, we had gone through steep incline and declines, a thunder storm, and a very emotional English class. We were all at our wit’s end. But while we were on our way hiking to Chilnualna Falls, we came across a clearing at the crest of our hike. We were breath-taken by the endless view of enormous trees and the gorgeous sunset. This felt like our reward for a hard day of hiking, or as our instructor Michael would say, “Simpsons and ice cream!” The time for our break had come, and we decided to spend ours there. It was a great evening, where we played group-bonding games, played baseball with pine cones and a stick, and simply sat admiring our surroundings. This was the first time that our group as a whole felt truly accomplished.

-Julia Travis



No Longer an Island

Jesus Dominguez-Gomez first read about Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) in his local newspaper, the Merced Sun Star. Excited and curious about spending his summer in Yosemite, he began to ask teachers and counselors about ARC. Within a couple days of learning about the program and receiving encouragement from his teachers, he submitted his application . Much of this exemplifies who Jesus is. He is strong-willed, determined, and self-motivated.

Jesus enjoying a relaxing lakeside view

Jesus enjoying a relaxing lakeside view

These traits were on display during the ARC 40-day summer course as Jesus hiked 60-plus miles, performed personal poetry, and climbed peaks. In Yosemite, Jesus realized that his strong-willed, independent nature, while helping him endure challenging hikes, also sometimes prevented him from trusting others. He admits, “I would refuse to receive any help that was offered to me. It felt shameful to ask for help. It made me feel like I was not capable. Mentally, I was afraid to depend on and trust strangers.” Because of this, Jesus had difficulty working efficiently with his peers and even more difficulty discussing why.

Recalling his ARC experience, Jesus remarks, “Joining ARC became an opportunity to learn to appreciate help. I was inspired to confront the challenge, work in a team during ARC expeditions, and gain confidence in accepting help.”  rock climbing expedition was when Jesus realized he was ready to change. It can be a daunting experience for most first time rock climbers – trusting your safety to people below who are belaying. Most everyone feels like they will fall, so it truly is an act of complete faith to know you will come down safely after traveling fifty feet up a rock face. “My experiences with ARC taught me to acknowledge that, although I’m capable of being independent, I was not a ‘solitary island’. I needed to learn to ask for help and appreciate it. Struggling in hard times alone would only make my situation worse.”

Jesus at the top of his rock climb

Jesus at the top of his rock climb

After rock climbing, Jesus was able to more positively accept critiques from his peers. He was also able to better communicate how he was feeling. This proved to be immensely helpful for Jesus once he returned home from the summer course. When Jesus was faced with the task of applying for colleges this fall, instead of insisting he do it all on his own, he reached out to his ARC mentor and high school counselors.

Reflecting on his experiences, Jesus says, “When I know I really need help now, I don’t hesitate to ask. ARC played a major role in shifting my ideas. I [now] have better relationships with my friends. I’ve also been able to open up emotionally to my mentor, something that I haven’t really done before. Before I would be very isolated.” Jesus will graduate this year from Golden Valley High School. He looks forward to attending college and living independently, but not isolated from others. He plans to study law and politics and will be interning in Congressman Jim Costa’s office this summer.


Northstar Offers Free Snowboard Day for ARC Students

On the weekend of March 17th, fourteen Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) students from the Central Valley and the Tahoe region had the opportunity to stay at Hutchinson Lodge at Clair Tappaan and snowboard at Northstar California Resort. For many of the high school students, this ARC trip at Northstar was their first experience snowboarding, and for a few, it was their first time seeing snow. Northstar provided snowboards, lessons and passes for the whole group, facilitating a meaningful day on the slopes. By the end of the day, the students were riding the chairlift up the mountain and confidently snowboarding down.

The students shared leadership responsibilities throughout the weekend, taking turns cooking meals and washing dishes. In addition to the snowboarding, the students participated in a journaling activity and a creative writing workshop, and they wrote a personal story and shared it with the group.

Jose Ponce, a junior at Truckee High School, served as a peer leader for the weekend. He is a graduate of the 2016 ARC Tahoe Summer Course. Jose demonstrated the leadership skills he gained from the summer: teaching about ARC traditions; facilitating a reflective journaling activity; and motivating his peers throughout the weekend to fulfill their own leadership roles.

As part of the Tahoe ARC Summer Course, the students each work on a transformational essay expressing their growth and self-discovery. In his transformational essay, Jose talked about the challenges he has faced as an English learner and his journey to overcome them. He stated, “I worked hard on my English skills so I could communicate with others. I worked on practicing presentations, speaking in front of the class… I spent many years improving my speech and I never gave up.”

Jose is motivated to improve his English and expand his comfort zone by speaking in front of groups and using his voice confidently. He continues to grow and give back to ARC through his drive, dedication and leadership.

Thanks to Northstar, fourteen more ARC students like Jose will be back in Tahoe later this month for another weekend of snowboarding, writing and leadership.


Depth of Determination

camp setup

Helping set up camp

Lilly Sanchez was first introduced to Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) in the spring of 2016 when she attended two ARC weekend retreats: camping in Yosemite Valley and hiking in Big Sur. On these trips, she crafted personal, reflective poetry, visited waterfalls, hiked through Redwood forests, and more.  Lilly realized that she enjoyed being in the outdoors and making friends from other schools, so she decided to apply for ARC’s 40-day summer course in Yosemite. The course combines academic instruction with outdoor adventure and, for the first time in 2016, Sanger High School students were invited to apply.

For Lilly, she feared that her academic struggles might force her to go to summer school and miss the opportunity to spend the summer in Yosemite. There were two classes that Lilly had fallen behind on. , but she was determined to not let her grades prevent her from living and exploring Yosemite. She took the initiative to make up the work, get help during lunch, and study after school. She wasn’t sure if or how she might change during the summer, but it was already apparent that Lilly began her transformation well before the course. Lilly remarks, “In the past, I had many experiences where I actually did try, but never made it. So I eventually quit and didn’t want to try anymore; I got tired of failing at things in life that mattered to me.” This, we learned, would no longer be the case – Lilly would learn the depth of her determination.

Happy Birthday Lilly!

Birthday Lilly

Upon arrival for the summer program, Lilly faced her first big challenge: the first backcountry expedition, which spans eight days. She recalls, “[We] had to keep [hiking] even though I really wanted to stop… I told myself I couldn’t do it…” On the hike, Lilly learned camping and backpacking skills, including how to use a compass and how to read a topographical map, how to cook in the backcountry, how to set up a tent, and much more. Lilly celebrated her birthday during this first expedition and her new teammates’ support and compassion for her helped her persevere through the difficult hikes.

The turning point for Lilly was when she completed her metaphorical poem during the second week of the summer course. Once the final edits were made, Lilly was asked to read over her work. Next to ARC’s Summer English Instructor, Michael Dominquez, she slowly and quietly mouthed the words, tearing up as she reached the end. “Before ARC when I had a difficult task in my way I wouldn’t try my absolute best just because I thought I couldn’t… I told myself I couldn’t do it but really I could, I was just too afraid to admit it because the thought of actually trying then failing scared me.”

After seeing what she could accomplish while hiking and in the classroom, Lilly tackled each challenge with more and more confidence. She overcame her fear of heights during rock climbing, she became more comfortable with being open and vulnerable with her cohort, she successfully completed two essays, and she became a leader among her peers.

Currently, Lilly is a junior at Sanger High and she has plans to join the Navy after she graduates. She says that, on the ARC summer course, she learned that “I am greater and better than what I thought myself to be.”