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Star Sleepers: GAP Year Expedition 4



January 30th, 2018. It’s my first day back from one of the most exciting expeditions that I’ve been on yet. My name is Gianluca, a participant of the SOAR Gap Year Program, and someone who is very interested in the outdoors and cannot help but listen to Lady Gaga while writing this. Everything about the outdoors amazes me, from the simplest things, like the smell you get when you walk through a pine forest, or the feeling of the sand from Zion National Park between you and your sleeping bag. I feel like the name “Star Sleepers” is a perfect name for this year’s Gap Year group, because at every opportunity that we get, we make the conscious decision to sleep under the stars. Nothing compares to seeing Orion’s Belt and the rest of the galaxy in the middle of a national park with only your teammates around you and it has an unbelievable effect. I love the idea of how small we really are in the universe. It really puts who I am as a person in perspective. Did you know that we have a very small percentage of star dust inside of us? It’s pretty cool if you think about it because we are made up of the same thing as everything else around us. We just came back from our 4th expedition totaling 13 days. If you think that planning a 2 week trip is easy, then you are wrong. It takes an incredible amount of dedication, time, energy and protein.


For our 4th expedition, we went to Arizona and visited plenty of beautiful places on the way including Utah, Nevada and the Colorado River. Our expedition started off with the long car rides to get to Salt Lake City where we spent the first few nights in BLM land (Bureau of Land Management) and we woke up to absolutely breathtaking (and below freezing) views. Next, we made the long trek to the border of Nevada and Arizona, specifically to the Hoover Dam, to begin our four day canoeing trip down the Colorado River in the Black Canyon. Not only was this one of the most beautiful things that I have been able to experience, but it was also a huge learning experience for me. I learned about so many different species of birds, different types of rocks, and about the Hoover Dam, how it was made, and how people lived back when it was first made. We canoed about 16 miles to Willow Beach. Along the way, we saw so many different hot springs, different types of wildlife, we even got to meet a new friend Roy, the rubber duck! : ) We brought him into caves and went on beautiful day hikes through canyons and beaches and to say we all, including Roy, had fun and learned a lot is an understatement.


After the 4 day excursion through the Black Canyon, we started heading towards Arizona. Along the way we saw many beautiful campgrounds, lakes, deserts, vegetation, and again, the wildlife. I have never seen so many cacti in my life! Once we were in Arizona, we headed towards Tucson to visit The University of Arizona, where the renowned SALT Program is located. Its a program that is dedicated specifically to people with Learning Disabilities. They provide so many amazing tools to help their student like free tutoring and essay assistance (they actually help you write them and they work with you to improve on your writing). We got a tour of the beautiful university. It is gigantic and has so many different types of people in the 43,000 student population. The people on the campus are friendly and helpful, and we even got to meet a previous Gap Year participant, Collin. A big thanks to Collin for giving us some well needed advice and some insight into how we can change and grow as individuals. After some yummy pizza and a spa day for Big Booty Judy, our well named 15 passenger van, we headed to Phoenix where we had an incredible tour of the ABC15 studio thanks to a friend of one of the participants, Koh. We got to see where they film the broadcast, and meet Stephanie, one of the News Anchors, who was super friendly and even had a past working with children with learning disabilities. And finally, to end that amazing night, we treated ourselves to amazing Mexican food at a place called “Rosita’s Place” which filled our bellies up with the yummiest (Mexican) food that I have ever had. That evening we slept in Phoenix and were able to feel the heat. When we were in Tucson, we had this amazing rock climbing experience at Barnum Rock. Personally, I am afraid of heights, so climbing was a challenge, but overcoming it felt amazing.


Once we finished in Phoenix, our journey back to good ol’ Dubois began. Going from the heat to the cold is not a fun experience, but it was still amazing (especially the views) and the campgrounds. Camping in tents is something that I think everyone should try because it is really fun and has a different feeling than a bed, and personally I sleep much better with the fresh air! But overall, the journey back home gave us some time to reflect on what we learned through this expedition. We had time to think about the hard work we had to put in and think about how we can use the experiences on expeditions in our lives at home. Some things that I learned from this expedition is to expect the unexpected. Even though we went to the desert, it was very cold and at times it even rained, which goes to show that you need to prepare for the worst, whether that’s very hot or very cold.

Our first week back on base has been an exciting one! We have a new participant, Derek, who has been able to make the transition to the Gap Year very smoothly, and has been the most helpful person I know. We are also going to be welcoming a new participant Sarah this weekend, which is another super exciting addition to the group!

There have been so many things happening around the Eagle View Ranch and I’m really excited to see what will happen in the next few weeks. For example, we will be going to Belize at the end of February and we are all very excited! We are back to volunteering on base and class starts next week! I recently started volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club and I am so excited to be working with children. I simply adore children and I think that they have a lot to learn from me and Koh (my volunteer buddy). There are so many more opportunities and experiences that are waiting to happen here at SOAR, and I cannot wait to share these experiences, along with other members here at the Gap Year, and hope that you found a little bit of interest while reading this, but yeah thanks for reading, until next time! Happy adventuring amici miei!



Why Kids Need the Outdoors

Experts have long been asking the question…Do kids need the outdoors? Just like they need sleep, meals, education etc.? Our experience with outdoor adventure programs paired with other research and experience suggests that YES, yes they do! Spending time outdoors is believed to help build self-confidence, increase self-awareness, and improve interpersonal skills. It can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and aggression.

More and more, the daily activities and routines that make up children’s’ lives are happening indoors. Because our lives as adults are the same way, parents are reinforcing this way of life without realizing it. When given the choice, many kids will choose to stay indoors watching television, playing video games, or some other activity. In his well-known book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv gives this trend a name: Nature Deficit Disorder. While there are increased concerns in the parenting and child development community on the long-term impact of “screen time” on a child’s development, we should also be concerned about the immediate impact that growing up indoors has on social skills, self-confidence, and life skills that kids need to live emotionally healthy lives.

Many parents are turning to summer camp to combat nature deficits in their child’s life. Summer camp has long conjured up memories of cabin mates, lake swimming, arts & crafts, and camp fires, but for some kids who prefer to stay indoors, summer camp almost seems like punishment. Many of our campers here at SOAR struggle to make friends, often feel like outsiders at school, and would choose computer games over hiking any day. The idea of spending two weeks camping and living outside can be intimidating. However, it can also be life changing when given the chance.

The effects of a long-term outdoor experience, like summer camp, can resonate in multiple areas of children’s lives. So why do kids need the outdoors?

Social Skills

Any outdoor experience focused on kids is going to involve other kids! Whether it is summer camp, boy or girl scouts, a sports team, or a school sponsored trip, getting kids outdoors together can have a big impact on the way they interact with one another. Unlike school, the outdoors provides an environment that is naturally engaging and offers new experiences for many kids. As a group, they will be confronted with challenges that have to be addressed through communication, flexibility, and teamwork, helping build interpersonal skills that typically do not come easy for kids who are struggling socially. Completing challenging activities such as backpacking 20+ miles, rock climbing, or rafting class III & IV rapids also has a huge impact on confidence and the way kids see themselves. Realizing strengths and conquering fears gives kids a chance to rally around each other and not only begin to see themselves differently but begin to see each other differently. With this newfound confidence, stepping out of their social comfort zone becomes less intimidating.


Self-confidence is one of the biggest and most immediate impacts of being outdoors. In addition to helping kids feel comfortable to be themselves and pursue friendships, the confidence that comes with being outdoors improves self-image and can impact behavior at home and at school. Before each camper begins their experience at SOAR, we ask parents to describe their child’s level of self-confidence. We then ask the same question after their child has been home for about two weeks, and nearly 66% of parents indicate that they have seen an increase in their child’s self-confidence. When kids are placed in an outdoor environment, away from the comforts and routines available at home, they are challenged physically and emotionally. Naturally they begin to grow in areas such as independence, self-reliance, problem solving, teamwork, and so much more. Growth in these areas results in increased self-confidence, giving kids the push they need to persevere and reach their academic, social, and emotional goals.

Mental Refresh

Being outdoors has many therapeutic qualities. This is why we vacation by the ocean, roll our windows down on the way home, and prefer a big, green backyard. Nature and fresh air feels good! It lifts our spirits and leaves us feeling mentally refreshed. With the growing stress of being kid, especially a kid with learning and attention issues, hitting the refresh button is crucial to limiting behavioral and emotionally setbacks. An outdoor experience allows kids to unplug—from technology and life—and just be a kid! They get to try new activities, realize new strengths, appreciate home, and learn more about themselves in a non-threatening environment. The Attention Restoration Theory (ART) developed by Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s explains that our daily environments, such as work or school, require direct focus and force us to try and ignore distractions. Sounds exhausting right? Imagine if you are a 6th grader with learning and attention issues. Really exhausting! ART suggests that natural environments do the opposite. They require indirect focus, which actually helps to restore attention, allowing us to focus better when we return to our normal lives.

Kids need the outdoors! Make a conscious effort to spend more time outside with your child. Here are 12 Ideas for Getting Kids into Nature from Childmind.org. Also start thinking about your plans for next summer! A longer outdoor experience may be just what your child needs to begin reaching their goals.

Have a reluctant camper? Camp is fun! It is a wonderful opportunity to experience nature and learn more about yourself. Of course, parents know that! If you are having a hard time convincing your child, let us know! We’d be happy to answer their questions and explain more about the amazing adventures that SOAR has to offer.

Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service!

This year, the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday! This centennial is near and dear to our hearts at SOAR because National Parks make many of our adventures possible!

“The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.” At SOAR, we believe that the great outdoors provides endless opportunities to develop independence, life skills, and self-confidence. It also supplies the world’s largest platform to develop new hobbies, interests, and to realize new strengths!

Here are just a few of the amazing National Parks that are campers, students, and gappers visit each year. Thank you to the National Park Service for making these adventures possible. Happy Birthday!

Yellowstone National Park


All of our Wyoming campers get to spend a few days exploring Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone National Park is also one of the first stops on our Gappers regional expedition!

Dry Tortugas National Park


All of our Florida Keys campers spend three days soaking up the beauty of Dry Tortugas National Park. The crystal clear waters are the perfect spot for snorkeling and sea kayaking.

Channel Islands National Park


Channel Islands National Park is the first stop on our CA Coastal Adventure. Campers take in the incredible views while snorkeling, sea kayaking, sea caving, and day hiking!

Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park is just one of the incredible National Parks campers get to explore on our CA Expedition. Here campers will find themselves surrounded by giant sequoias, magnificent waterfalls, and deep valleys surrounded by towering granite cliffs.

The Blue Ridge Parkway


The Blue Ridge Parkway is a major part of our NC Campers’ experience. Just minutes from our Balsam Base, it provides endless views and explorations for campers.