The First La Vida Patrol

Pastor Tuck Knupp and the First La Vida Patrol
by Rich Obenschain

In February, I had the chance to interview Pastor Tuck Knupp who was on the first La Vida patrol in 1970. Tuck and Steve Oliver took part in the first eastern Young Life training program which was housed in northern Virginia. Part of this training included going on the original Adirondack Expedition for the La Vida program which was being established at Young Life’s new outreach camp, Saranac Village.

Tuck filled me in on many facts about that first La Vida “patrol.” It was called a patrol because much of the philosophy and methodology on experiential learning came from Outward Bound. This is what they called their extended expeditions. The first La Vida experience included rock climbing on Mount Joe near the ADK Loj, hiking in the High Peaks and canoeing on a number of lakes and rivers. It included a three-day and three-night solo and a 10-mile run back to the Young Life camp, complete with a “Heartbreak Hill”. There was only one expedition that first summer in 1970.

The first patrol was led by two men, George Sheffer Jr. and Jim Koontz. Both men had been involved with Young Life, and George spent most of his career working at Young Life’s Dale House in Colorado Springs. The goal of that first patrol was to test out many of Outward Bound’s educational components and see how Young Life could add the important emphasis on faith development. Another goal was to do some reconnaissance of the Adirondacks so, in future summers, La Vida Sherpas would know where to take groups.

There were around 16 or so participants in the first group who were between 22‑30 years of age. Tuck remembers that it was a very diverse group, including African Americans, Latinos, Asians, Caucasians and one Native American. Participants were intentionally from both urban and suburban areas because La Vida wanted to minister to young people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Many young men from urban areas had been sent on the program by Dean Borgman and Bill Milliken, who were working with kids in the Lower East Side of New York City. One young man named Carlos even brought his German Shepherd on the trip.

After that expedition, Tuck and Steve were given the responsibility to promote La Vida to Young Life areas and recruit kids to participate in the program for the purpose of character development, discipleship and training in servant-leadership. They represented La Vida at divisional staff meetings and helped to develop a La Vida leadership program designed to train group leaders who would bring kids each summer. In the early days of La Vida, Sherpas didn’t travel with the groups­­­­­. They met them for outfitting, framing the experience, the ropes course and rock climbing, solo and 10-mile run.

Tuck came back for two more Young Life summer assignments in 1973 and 1974 to serve as the La Vida director for half the summer. After La Vida, Tuck completed his M.Div. and D.Min. at Fuller Theological Seminary. He served as the area director for Young Life in Richmond for 18 years and worked another seven years as Development Director for Rockbridge Campaign while living in Williamsburg. After Young Life, Tuck served as senior pastor of Swift Creek Presbyterian Church in Moseley, VA and now serves at Hope Church in Richmond, VA.

We’re very appreciative of men like Tuck who saw the potential for ministry through the La Vida program and helped to give it structure and a great reputation for impacting the lives of young people.

Pastor Tuck Knupp


La Vida ADK Staff Give Back to the DEC

Story by: Amber Hausman
Photos by: Sara Golden

La Vida has developed a longstanding relationship with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) over the years. We are big users of the Adirondack State Park, so when the opportunity arises, we like to give back by partnering with the DEC to preserve the wilderness. In June, our summer staff visited Catamount Mountain in Black Brook, NY and helped to build a bridge in an area that needed trail maintenance.

The work crew started about half a mile from the trailhead where the work truck was and then carried multiple boards and logs from the truck to the bridge area, another half mile. They also had to move a few small boulders to help support the bridge.

This group worked hard and had a lot of fun in the process!

We are blessed to have a strong relationship with the Rangers. Shortly after this service project, we had the Rangers over to the the base camp for our annual Ranger Breakfast. This was a great opportunity for our Sherpas to interact with the Rangers in a smaller setting and ask questions about their role in the park. La Vida hopes to continue this friendship for years to come!

Lessons Learned From The Adirondack Leadership Program

By Charlotte Charek, 2016 ALP Participant

I’m not much of an outdoorsy individual. I’m far more likely to “camp” next to a woodstove with a good book. However, going on the Adirondack Leadership Program was one of the best decisions I’ve made, as there are so many things to learn from the experience. The trip is taken with a small group, so that by the end they are like a second family. The hiking and camping can be difficult, but over time you learn teamwork, resilience, resourcefulness, and how to step up and be a leader when needed. You learn how to trust in others, and you learn to trust in God.


During my particular trip, we had a few instances in which we felt like giving up and going home. At one point, we got turned around in a forest, surrounded by mud and swamplands, with no idea what to do next. I remember it being miserable for about five minutes before we all realized that we were fools. We prayed for God’s guidance, and with renewed strength we persevered and He led us right out of there to a beautiful lake. I imagine He was thinking, “Well, it’s about time…” From this experience, we learned how to “take a leap of faith,” which was actually our motto for the trip. We learned that in life, there are going to be some hard times, but you have to learn to trust that God has a plan for you, that He will catch you when you fall. It’s such an important lesson, and one that I know I’m going to carry close all my life.


Another thing that’s really nice about this program is that there’s no technology allowed. With so much of our lives being occupied with phones, computers, and televisions, it’s easy to get lost amidst the buzz. Because of this, my generation tends to get distracted from what really matters. I have to say, when I got my phone back after the trip, I almost wanted to tell my leaders to keep it! Out in the woods, you get to know your group and yourself on a deeper level; the communication and thoughts are allowed to flow uninterrupted without the ring of a phone or the background noise of television. I found myself reaching out and expressing myself to God more, now that I wasn’t constantly looking at a screen.  It’s a nice reminder that God really deserves our full attention, and that sometimes to hear Him we need a little quiet.

I’m so grateful to everyone involved with this program, as it was most definitely a life-changing experience.


The Adirondack Leadership Program is an exciting opportunity for 15-18 year olds. ALP takes place in the Adirondack’s of New York where groups of 6-10 students are led by our staff on a backpacking or canoeing itinerary. It’s the perfect environment for challenge, personal growth, and community.

We are now accepting applications for the 2017 season! Apply today!

Reflections on My Time in the Adirondack Leadership Program

By Amelia Luke, 2015 ALP Participant

The Adirondack Leadership Program opened my eyes to many things. It opened my eyes to see God and his creation, myself, and the greatness in other people around me. In the months following my trip, I have viewed the world in a different light and I am a better person because of it. Throughout the course of my journey with La Vida, my relationship with God grew to new levels. Being in such a beautiful environment everyday gives you a chance to see God’s work and really appreciate it. More than once a day my breath was taken away and I was just so amazed at the masterpiece that was in front of me. It’s something that we take for granted everyday, but during those ten days, I didn’t take it for granted. Through the beauty that surrounded me, I grew closer to God. Although it has been months since I have seen the spectacular mountain views that allowed me to deepen my relationship with Christ, the mornings when I see a beautiful sunrise help me to remember to keep God close.


Top of Owls Head Mountain after the rock climb.

I also learned many things about myself. Most importantly, I learned I am more capable than I think I am. One of the most powerful memories I have of this is when my group climbed the rock face on Owls Head Mountain. I was doing a difficult climb and I honestly didn’t think I was going to make it up. Getting to the top was the best feeling in the world, I was so proud of myself and it set the tone for the rest of the trip for me. Every day was long and hard and there were times when I thought I wasn’t going to be able to take another step but everyone in the group felt like that at some point. No one was getting left behind because we supported one another to keep pushing even when things got tough. At the end of the day, when my group was sitting around laughing and reflecting on the day, I knew that I couldn’t have done it without each one of them along side me.


Working together to prepare dinner.


Making Mexican food the first night of the trip.

I took away an abundance of memories and lessons from La Vida but what I took away most was what I call “marrow moments”. The moments in my life that I feel are the marrow or the center of what life is all about. Whether it was standing at the top of a mountain, sitting at a moonlit lake, talking around a crackling fire, laughing in the middle of the woods because the bear bag just won’t go up in the tree or singing along to a guitar with a group of other Christians, the marrow moments I took away are endless. La Vida itself is a program that teaches people what life should be like and how to live life to the fullest. It is an experience that I would do tomorrow in a heartbeat and one that I am forever grateful to have had in my life.


Last day of the trip before the ride home.


The Adirondack Leadership Program (ALP) is an exciting opportunity for 15- to 18-year-old high school students to develop their leadership potential through adventure. Apply today!

Photo Contest Winners

Congratulations to our contest winners! It was fun to look through all of these wonderful photos and we had a hard time making the final decisions. All in all, we received 69 photos submitted by 26 different people and spanning over 30 years. Thanks to all those who participated.

Photo by Tricia Chan

Photo by Tricia Chan taken at Pollywog Pond

photo taken by Kristin Birdsall at Raquette Falls

Photo by Kristin Birdsall at Raquette Falls

Photo taken by Sarah Shannon at Round Pond

Photo by Sarah Shannon at Round Pond

Photo taken by Kristin Birdsall at Owl's Head

Photo by Kristin Birdsall at Owl’s Head

Photo taken by Kristin Birdsall on the summit of Giant Mt.

Photo by Kristin Birdsall on the summit of Giant Mt.

Construction of the New Equipment Building at Base Camp

This past weekend, Nate returned to the Base Camp with 11 volunteers including employees of Gordon College, Nate’s LEAP Intern, and Rich and Amber from the La Vida Office. The group arrived Thursday and immediately started work on the construction. The next two days consisted of preparing the flooring and putting up the walls and roof of the building. It was amazing to see after 30 hours of work, what once was a blank site, is now a near complete building ready to serve the La Vida program. Nate is excited about some of the new features which include a garage door for easy access during gear check in/out, a covered rear porch that will allow groups to stay dry during rainy check in/out times, attic storage, and level floors (haha, all former Sherpas know what we’re talking about). Although we got a lot done this weekend, there are still a number of items on our to do list for the building. This coming Spring, Gordon’s electricians will travel back up to Base Camp with Nate to finish wiring the building. Plumbing will hopefully be installed for a washer and dryer, and doors and windows will be installed to fully secure the building. We are very thankful to all of the people who volunteered their time and resources to help make this building a possibility for us.

Photo Credit: Amber Dvornski

Gear Building1

Gear Building2

Gear Building3

Gear Building4

Gear Building5

Gear Building6

Demolition of the La Vida Gear Shed

3 weeks ago Nate Hausman, Director of the Adirondack Program, headed up to the La Vida Base Camp with Paul Helgesen (Director of Plant Operations and Sustainability), Jeff O’Brien (Fleet Manager), Nate Kenison (former Sherpa) and John Whitmore (2013 ALP participant and friend of Nate’s) to demolish the gear shed and prepare the site for La Vida’s new equipment building. Another former Sherpa, John Pillen, also helped with the demolition. 7 years ago, the gear shed shifted off of its footings and has since been leaning to one side. Nate and Paul collaborated this last year to create a blueprint and project timeline for a new building. This weekend was the beginning of those plans coming together and marked the first of two weekends of construction at Base Camp.


Photo Credit: Nathan Hausman