La Vida Center Staffing Changes

There have been a lot of changes happening within the La Vida Center in the last year. Gordon College’s Vice President for Student Life, Jennifer Jukanovich, has been working with our team and with consultants from KME3 to assist us with a strategic plan and to help put new staffing structures in place. Please read the following update from her!

New Vision/Mission
As La Vida nears its 50th anniversary in 2020, we felt it was time to review where La Vida has been and what its vision should be for the future. Many people say La Vida is one of Gordon’s best kept secrets. In a time when studies show young people have increased anxiety and less resilience, we believe La Vida can speak into our culture in even greater ways. Below please find our new vision, motivation and mission statements.

Our VISION is to be the premier institute of outdoor experiential education that develops servant leaders who are equipped to transform their communities worldwide.

Our MOTIVATION; The gospel of Jesus Christ compels us to help individuals, groups, and organizations “take hold of the life that is truly life.” (1 Timothy 6:19)

Our MISSION is to catalyze character formation, cultivate community and develop servant-leadership skills in individuals, groups and organizations through outdoor experiential education.

Funding
As we have worked toward defining our vision, motivation and mission, we have been encouraged by several large gifts that will allow us to make some systemic changes in our staff structure, while also undergoing a strategic plan as we gear up for the 50th anniversary.

Staff Realignment
La Vida has been on very solid ground under Rich Obenschain’s leadership for over 40 years. La Vida has grown in its impact through the Adirondack and Discovery programs for our students, by adding the Adirondack Leadership Program, Adventure Pursuits, the Rock Gym and Adventure Camp, which serves 700 youth from our community each summer. In the last two years, we’ve also acquired the Compass Program from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and received funding in partnership with the Chapel office from the Lilly Foundation to create a new program called Theology Matters. As part of our discernment, we are working on a strategic plan for La Vida, but a common refrain is that we cannot pursue growth without empowering our staff. Thanks to a generous donor, we’ve not had to tap into Gordon operational dollars to pursue this realignment.


Rich Obenschain, Founder
Rich’s new title reflects his role as the Founder of La Vida at Gordon. His leadership is being redirected toward securing La Vida’s foundation and empowering its future. Practically this means Rich will be moving toward educating and empowering new leadership, representing Gordon and La Vida to alumni and donors, recruiting new donors, writing the history of La Vida, and making preparations for a 50th celebration.

 


Abby Stroven, Senior Director
Abby has stepped into a senior leadership role as Senior Director, where she will be overseeing daily operations and the strategic plan. Leading Adventure Pursuits the last five years, Abby doubled its revenue and expanded its impact to working with groups from Boston College, Harvard University, Veritas Forum, numerous local schools, the ROTC program and business corporations. She came to La Vida after spending seven years working with an adventure education retreat center called El Refugio located near Quito, Ecuador.

 

Nate Hausman, Director of Education and Program Development
Nate’s role has been expanded to Director of Education and Program Development, overseeing Discovery, looking for new opportunities to expand our educational opportunities at Gordon and abroad, such as a new partnership with Young Life. He will also be overseeing the leadership of several of our educational programs like Theology Matters. Nate has been directing the Adirondack Programs for 18 years and will be looking to hire someone to assist in the daily operations of base camp.


Sarah Shannon, Director of Adventure Pursuits
Sarah Shannon will replace Abby Stroven as the new Director of Adventure Pursuits in January, after serving as a part-time assistant director of Adventure Pursuits the last two years.

 

 

 


Bryn Clark, Director of Theology Matters
Bryn came to Gordon from the Seminary where he was directing the Compass Program. He now oversees the Theology Matters summer programs, consisting of Compass and Summit, while also working with the Chaplain on Equip.

 

 

 


Michael Hill, Director of Adventure Camp
Michael has served as Director of Adventure Camp since 2013 and will continue in his leadership of our summer program.

 

 

 


Kate McMillan, Office and Finance Manager
Kate will continue to serve as our Office and Finance Manager. Kate has been instrumental in managing our budgets and overseeing all purchasing and billing needs for our various programs.

 

 

 


Amber Hausman, Outdoor Education CORE and Marketing Coordinator
Amber has a new title that reflects some of the new responsibilities that have been added over the years. She oversees registration for our La Vida and Discovery courses and has taken on more with our social media and marketing needs.

 

 

We are excited for all that is in store for La Vida!

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A Tribute to Scott Dimock

by Rich Obenschain

This past summer, La Vida lost one of its founders, Scott Dimock, a long time advisory council member and great friend and mentor to Rich Obenschain who brought La Vida to Gordon College. Scott was one of those friends like Jonathan was to King David, who was gifted at helping friends discover their calling and encouraging them to use their gifts to serve God faithfully. Scott helped start Young Life in Northern Virginia in the 60’s and was one of the primary initiators of La Vida in 1970 as a wilderness discipleship program. He later helped Young Life develop the ministry to urban youth in Washington DC and mentored many Young Life leaders. Then in 1995 he was one of two men who founded the Southeast White House and DC Dream Center, a ministry seeking to inspire youth and adults to dare to dream, equipping them to reach their God-given potential.

On July 28th Steve Oliver and Rich traveled to Fairfax Station, Virginia for a Celebration of Life service and what a celebration of life it was. There were many testimonies of how Scott had impacted and encouraged the lives of a great many people in his 50 years of ministry. It is estimated that Scott helped to officiate over 100 wedding ceremonies (including Rich and Katherine’s) of those he had befriended and actively encouraged. Scott was especially helpful to Rich in the early 1980’s when La Vida was being closed down and did not have a home for two years. Scott was on the original advisory board who helped facilitate the move to Gordon College in 1982 to give La Vida a year-round base of operations. Thanks to Scott’s ability to connect and support those called to ministry, many thousands of young people have been impacted over the last 47 years.

 

 

La Vida Center Summer Update

Adventure Pursuits:

This summer was a busy one for Adventure Pursuits. From April through August, we welcomed over 30 groups to our challenge course on campus and over 2200 people! We had a few groups return for annual visits including the National Student Leadership Conference from Harvard University, Boston College’s Leadership Class, Boston College’s Summer Management Class, Boston Fellows and Christian Heritage School. We also welcomed some new groups this summer – On Belay, Ipswich Middle School, Elevate New England and Bethany Covenant Church. Many thanks to Brian Schonewald, McKenna Allen, Zach Hanna and the rest of our staff for helping us welcome these groups to La Vida during the summer months. We couldn’t have done it without you all!

Compass:

This summer, La Vida hosted the 17th Compass Program. During the month of July, students from across the country backpacked with La Vida’s Adirondack Program, studied theology with Gordon professors and journeyed to Iceland for a week of service and learning. This was the program’s second year in Iceland where we lived and worked in the capital city of Reykjavik. Compass partnered with the Salvation Army to host a day camp for low-income, immigrant and refugee children. The experience was ripe with challenges and rewards; multiple language barriers meant communication was limited, yet smiles and laughter abounded through even the rainiest, most Icelandic of days. It wasn’t just the children who were impacted. “Compass has truly been a life-changing experience,” one student reflected. We are already planning for our 2018 summer program, which will include a further ministry in Iceland.

Summit:

In August, La Vida hosted the inaugural cohort of the Summit Study Center. For three weeks, five students lived at the La Vida basecamp in Lake Clear, New York. During this time, students attended theology classes with Dr. Amy Hughes of Gordon’s Biblical Studies department. The class, titled “An Introduction to Theological Reflection,” challenged students to prepare for their upcoming college experiences through practical engagement with their Christian faith. Discussion topics ranged from the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the theology of top-40 pop songs. Following the course completion, students embarked on a backpacking trip through the Adirondack wilderness. Their itinerary consisted of multiple tangible summits, while the small community continued to grow and support one another into their next chapter.

Adventure Camp:

Like many of you, we had a very hot summer here in Wenham, and instead of wilting, Adventure Camp managed to thrive this summer. We had 620 campers fill 675 spaces. That pushes us past 5,000 campers in the last 10 years! While the majority of our campers come from nearby towns, this year we had campers from Maine, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and even as far away as Puerto Rico and China!

While our campers were fantastic, none of this would be possible without our incredible staff and high school volunteers (CITs). Two-thirds of our 33 summer staff were experienced veterans of Adventure Camp, but our new staff came with a lot of energy and enthusiasm and really stepped up to the challenge. Just over half of our 16 CITs led for the first time this summer, but several came after spending years at Adventure Camp and they all brought a LOT to the table!

We had the opportunity to showcase staff and CITs as we put on skits, led activities, and had group discussions around the summer theme – Make A Difference. We hope campers continue to use the lessons they learned from Adventure Camp to Make A Difference in the lives of the people around them throughout the year.

Adirondack Expeditions:

The Adirondack program not only had a lot going on in the woods and along the ponds, but also kept very busy around the base camp property. For those who have either served on the ADK staff or have participated on a La Vida trip, you know how critical the staff members are for making trips run well, but also to ensure they have deep impact on a participant’s life. This past summer’s staff was a phenomenal example of what servant-leadership should look like and how communal living is one of the best ways to worship God and experience His Creation. There were over forty total staff members who served at some point during the summer months, many of them for the first time ever. We also experience a large contingent of staff who were not current Gordon students or alumni.

This was the first summer in several years that every Sherpa was able to head out onto a trip every session. A few of the many highlights associated with those who participated are: the Covenant Christian Academy junior class did a week-long backpacking expedition in May using the trip as a fundraiser for a local non-profit organization. This was the second time this class has visited the base camp (they came before the start of their freshmen year). Capital District Young Life (Albany, NY) brought two separate groups. This trip has marked the beginning of renewed efforts to get Young Life and La Vida partnered again. The trips were hugely successful and that area is already thinking about next summer’s plans to return. We were also able to expand our Adirondack Leadership Program trips into August. That program continues to grow and has become one of our primary focuses for enrollment growth.

After celebrating twenty years of ministry at the base camp in 1996, we entered the next twenty years with a continued focus on improving the property. The back of the office was gutted down to the studs and dirt floor in preparation for new floor joists and flooring as well as pine v-groove wall coverings. Our medical training was able to use that new space this past June and all visitors commented multiple times on how nice the space was. Many of the buildings received new entry stairs and porches and the Algonquin building received final permit approval for the planned remodel. Work is now underway to prep that space for the Summit program in 2018.

The base camp office was gutted in August 2016

The office can now be used for meetings and classroom space.

 

One of the Capital District YoungLife groups

La Vida in China Continues

La Vida has continued their partnership this year with The Hutong and Concordia International School of Shanghai by offering the second La Vida trip as part of Concordia’s educational travel component. This year the trip was led by Joel Cox ’16 who has served the La Vida Center in various capacities. He has led our summer Adirondack Expeditions, facilitated at the Challenge Course, taught Discovery, and given rock climbing lessons in our rock gym. We were very excited when he accepted the offer to lead this trip in China! He led alongside Simon and Jun who are trip guides with The Hutong.

Joel sent us a few quick thoughts as he wrapped up the trip. Here’s what he had to say:

“I’m back in Beijing after a week in the woods. There’s a ton to cover with the trip, but I’ll keep it to a few specific ideas. 

The haphazardness of China: The first morning here I explored the city with Jun and Simon. Almost everything I saw was so different than anything I’ve seen in Europe or the US. I would try to point it all out to Jun and Simon but they were used to it and didn’t seem that phased. I saw a guy with a spear and a cow bell walking down the road. The driving here makes Massachusetts look like a peaceful suburb. People pass you with just inches to spare. We rented bikes and cruised around, dodging huge buses, people, motobikes, rickshaw contraptions, and policemen. It felt like Frogger in real life. People in the park were playing a Chinese stringed instrument. One young girl wore a shirt that said, “Beneath this mustache lies a handsome man”. I loved just watching that somehow everything in the city works despite the seeming chaos. So cool!

This trip was challenging in that with typical La Vida trips, I’m able to have a good amount of control over the trip itinerary and the lessons as well. But this time, since I didn’t know the area, I had to defer to Simon and Jun’s judgment as to how best handle the actual trip logistics. I ended up settling in to a role of trying to have one-on-one interactions with all the students and also teach the La Vida curriculum lessons and devos as best I could. That was an awesome challenge and humbled me as well. I was pretty dependent on Simon and Jun’s knowledge and would have struggled without their guidance on the trail. There are no real trail maps of the mountains we were in, so I had to trust the other guides. With that being said, I loved being able to lead devo times with the students, especially with the beautiful backdrop of the Chinese mountains. The students were pretty responsive even though they came from a wide-range of religious backgrounds.

This trip really reinforced the idea that third culture kids are incredibly adaptable. All of these students were some type of TCK, and they seemed incredibly relaxed about anything that happened during the trip. Some wild donkeys visited while the kids were doing their solos, and they just would pet the donkeys and then move on. I never had to wake them up, they would just get up with the sun, start cooking breakfast and pack up camp without being told. They could push themselves on the hike, and I never heard any of them complain. Watching them, I was able to think more about being a missionary kid and how that has deeply shaped how I operate. I often want to ignore it and act as if I’m like any other American, but I think interacting with these students helped me accept more of how international experience is part of my identity.”

Joel is now off to Nepal to take part in a 40-day wilderness leader training. He will return to the North Shore after that, and we hope to see his continued involvement in the La Vida programs.

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!

Spring Break Adventure in Ecuador

By: Kristin Mello ’18

I have had many adventures at Gordon, but my biggest one was a mission trip to Ecuador this spring break with the Wood Fellows, chapel staff, and Abby Stroven, Director of Adventure Pursuits and Rock Gym at La Vida. While in Ecuador, we had the privilege of visiting El Refugio Hacienda, La Vida’s South American counterpart. This retreat center is on a beautiful mountain property more than 9,000’ above sea level, and it is where Abby Stroven spent seven years of her life prior to working for La Vida.

I have really enjoyed my time learning about various programs within La Vida, but as someone who wants to use the concepts of outdoor education internationally, I also need to see what other places and countries do. For this reason, the three days visiting El Refugio was like a dream come true. From hearing Abby’s stories to actually seeing the space they have, observing the way things are organized and facilitated, and working on the property, it was a great conclusion to the week in Ecuador.

While at El Refugio, the team helped out in a few ways: preparing the trails for an upcoming tough mudder (and they got sufficiently muddy), moving hundreds of roof tiles for storage, and working on the living quarters. The first day arriving at El Refugio, the team was led in a few name games and was brought to the Fenix, Ecuador’s Giant Swing. The next morning, most of the team woke up bright and early for a sunrise hike of the property line. At more than 10,000’ elevation, this was the most beautiful hike I have ever done. There is a reason that Abby says it is one of her favorite places in the world. As the sun came up, the mountain range was illuminated and clouds hovered below us. The beauty of God’s world was breathtaking, as nature and civilization joined together in an awesome landscape.

Later that day, we had the opportunity to take some solo time and reflect on the past week in Ecuador. Abby and I walked a little ways into the property, almost bushwhacking at times on a path that was long past use, to the retreat center’s very own tree house, complete with cargo net, individual look-out pods, and bridge. It was in a very peaceful spot surrounded by nothing but green and the smell of eucalyptus, and I had to return for some more time there the next morning with one of the Wood Fellows. The day concluded with dinner at a fire pit and a time of sharing encouragement and gratitude with one another.

One of my personal highlights at El Refugio was the opportunity I had to observe the facilitation of three low elements for a church group during our last full day there. Abraham Vargas, El Refugio’s adventure designer, showed me around and entertained my questions. The group’s day was structured similarly to a day of Adventure Pursuits at La Vida. My Spanish is not perfect by any means, but I was able to follow along and learn a little about the facilitative style at El Refugio. First up was Nitro, or El Rio. It is run very similarly to its counterpart here in the States, and the group had fun with it. After this element, Abraham and I hopped onto the ATV and rode a little ways to another element called the Wall or la Pared. The facilitator began with a verse in Romans, discussing how the body of Christ ought to support one another. Then, he explained the rules and the group began. The element is very similar to La Vida’s, with a few differences that I really like and might even incorporate into my own facilitation next time I do the Wall with a group. The group did well, with a young man starting off as a vocal leader but with the roles changing throughout. Once everyone had successfully conquered the Wall, a debrief was conducted in which each person was asked to contribute to questions about what this element was, what was needed to complete it, and how those principles apply to the body of Christ. Abraham and I then took off to catch the end of the last element, the Whale Watch. After the group left the element, Abraham and I tried out the Whale Watch ourselves, talked about differences between El Refugio and La Vida, and headed back to rejoin my team. I was thankful for the time Abraham took to show me around El Refugio, answering my questions and asking questions of his own.

A final debrief concluded our time at El Refugio and in Ecuador. It was awesome to see the growth of the team throughout the week and the special place that Ecuador now has in everyone’s heart. In addition, it was a huge blessing to see the ministry of El Refugio in action. It is a place and staff that really know how to welcome people and love them well, providing a unique environment of rest and contemplation. Christ is evident in the ministry, and I pray that La Vida continues to show Christ through their programming. I am thankful for the opportunity to have traveled to Ecuador and for the people I met and the experiences I had there. I can now see why Abby Stroven spent seven years in Ecuador, and I hope to return there myself someday.

Kristen Mello has worked for Adventure Camp, Rock Gym, and Adventure Pursuits for the last two years.

New Trail Running Race in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Running has always been a huge hobby of Adirondack Director Nate Hausman, so whenever a staff member catches the running bug, especially as a result of time spent doing the La Vida run or traversing the many ADK trails, he gets super excited. Nathan Landis, long-time ADK staff member, has taken this to a whole new level though by proposing to start his own ultra trail race. Keep reading to hear more about Nathan’s dreams for this race in New Zealand. 

By: Nathan Landis

I’m just now getting back to running after injuring my IT band over the summer, so it has been a long few months. While injured, I was searching for ways to stay connected to running but not in a way that made me dwell on not being able to run. The idea of a trail race in Kaikoura had been on my mind last spring but the past few months it really started to gain some more traction.

Starting about six weeks ago, I mapped out a course aimed at taking in the very best sights and trails Kaikoura can offer. It’s ending up to be about 68km (42 miles). I’ve been meeting with local business owners and town officials for the past few weeks to hear their feedback on the event proposal, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Everyone I’ve talked to has said that the race would be a fantastic idea and a great boost for the town.

I’m really hoping that the race can not only benefit the local community, but that it can also hopefully help runners and their families view life in a new way. Working for La Vida taught me the importance of doing things with purpose and that is definitely influencing how I’m approaching this opportunity. As I’ve been coming back from an injury myself, a word I’ve been thinking about lately is relentless–the idea of coming back to running stronger than I was before and not letting disappointments distract me from the goals I’ve set for myself. With that in mind, I’ve hit upon the tagline Live Relentlessly for the race. It not only describes the topography of the course (there are hardly more than two miles that ever stay the same!) but also a mindset I hope runners take away from their race experience.

The next step is to get official permits and consent from local government and environmental bodies to hold the race. Once those are in hand I’ll be starting to contact larger companies in search of event sponsorship. I’m also planning to start a Kickstarter campaign in a week or two where folks can donate to help cover website & promotional material costs. If all goes well, registration should open in April!

If anyone is interested in contacting me or hearing more they can do that at nathan@kaikouraultratrail.com.

Below is an aerial map of the course, two photos from the trail itself and a photo of me scouting the trail.

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Nathan Landis ’15 devoted four summers serving on the ADK staff. He was a Sherpa and more recently the Property Maintenance Manager. He was also a LEAP intern in the La Vida Center his senior year at Gordon. He is now the Community Coordinator at Creation Care Study Program in New Zealand.