Adventure Risk Challenge charts successful course

Eve Giovenco
Special to the Sun
Happy campers from the Adventure Risk Challenge Sagehen locale gather for a bit of mugging.
Courtesy photo |

TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — Over the past eight years, ARC’s Director Jen Gurecki has achieved a powerful vision for ARC. Under her leadership ARC has crossed its 10-year milestone, empowering youth to climb to their personal summits.

Now Jen is moving on to pursue her doctorate in sustainability education. “The eight years I’ve spent with ARC have been fundamental to my growth both personally and professionally. It is a bittersweet departure, and I am confident that ARC will continue to thrive under new leadership,” she said.

Sarah Cupery Ottley is enthusiastically moving from the role of program director into the executive director position. After five years of dedication to ARC, Sarah said, “It’s an incredible experience to work for an organization in which so much transformation takes place. Every time I work with our participants, I’m able to observe that they have grown in confidence, character and academic ability.”

We’d like to express our thanks to those who supported ARC and the Voices of Youth event this summer, where we successfully raised nearly $30,000 toward future positive youth development programming.

At both program sites, Yosemite and Truckee, ARC hosted very diverse groups in the summer immersion courses this year — from urban and rural California, from 12 towns, seven cultural heritages, and six languages spoken among the participants. The teams were filled with many different personalities as well: the vocal leaders, the organizers, the jokesters, and the encouragers.

“I liked the diversity of backgrounds of each ARC student. I learned a lot about their stories and culture,” said one leader.

It wasn’t easy learning to put aside differences and to learn how to work as a team. But they never gave up and persistently problem solved any issue that arose. Each group quickly gained independence from the instructors, and took ownership of life on the trail.

They learned to lead.

They faced the challenges.

They learned to step out of their comfort zones toward personal growth, self-revelation, and inspiration.

“ARC gave me the chance to have a deep and personal connection to nature,” said a participant.


For some, the biggest challenge of the course was the curriculum work; writing and sharing in a group was as scary as rock-climbing, the ropes course, and backpacking. ARC creates a safe atmosphere for those who may have failed high school English classes or those who are non-native English speakers. Most had never told their personal story or how impactful certain events were on their lives.

“I learned to become a better writer, to save water and nature, and to leave no trace,” an attendee commented.

At the end of the course, they all expressed high dreams for their lives now and in the future, and motivation for achieving those dreams. Our participants started as strangers and left at the end of the 40-day course calling each other family, each with an incredible sense of achievement and empowerment.

“Without ARC, I would still be struggling trying to find myself and trying to discover my limits. I am very grateful for the great opportunity that I was given,” noted one student.


By April Kuang

I am the porcupine

Always carrying spikes

Blocking others from knowing my mind

Because I’m too weak to be attacked without any spikes.

When I was a little kid

I didn’t know how to use my soft spikes

Like the infant porcupine

I once was so welcomed when many classmates were around

But their mocking faces impress on my mind

“Pork chop” “Nerd” “Loser” “Tomboy.”

Swords and knives stab emotionlessly and directly toward my heart

Like the aggressive bites on the baby porcupine

But I didn’t know what to do

The baby porcupine can never leave its mother’s sight

My parents told me,

Their crying girl

Sweep your tail and erect your spikes

To your enemies.

Bullying didn’t happen again

Except my best friend

Who betrayed me, lied to me, and teased me

The biggest nightmare presents

With the gang of previous enemies

Pain and sadness exploded rapidly from my broken heart

Just like a huge wound bleeding from a porcupine’s belly.

The wound is hard to cure

And I started to close my heart

No one reads my secret mind

No one knows my little wish

The vigilant porcupine.

As the time flies

I immigrate to San Francisco

Confusion gradually storms into my family

Stress, language, being misunderstood

They can’t read my closed mind

And I don’t receive their hidden love

Tons of problems pile on and collapse

On the day I decided to leave far away

Going far away for 40 days

The wall of pretending crashed

They state I’m rebellious

I fight back with coldness

Once again

I erect my sharp spikes

But guilt and sadness emerge

Day by day toward my heart

I long for their letters

I pray for their forgiveness

But it’s already too late.

Although the porcupine is an herbivore

She is not a silent sheep

Waiting to be eaten

But I’m not born to be a porcupine

But experience has taught me to use my spikes

I can’t wait to throw out my past

My past of bullying

My past of sadness

I’m waiting for one day

The day of owning a strong mind

The day of being a strong porcupine

Without relying on my spikes.


By Paulina Mosqueda Gonzalez

I am a waterfall

Furious water rushing through me

Rocky and immense, filled with life

Surrounded by flowers which bloom by day and night.

I may not seem Intimidated

But if you ever try crossing me

You will leave me with a trace

Making my water slowly diminish.

Now let me tell you my story

Maybe you will see

People always cross and step on me

But many don’t know,

How much pain they leave.

As a child there’s not much you can do

Like a trickle of water just starting to mature

I still learn from what’s right and what’s wrong

And always having to depend on mom and dad.

I’ve always been told to help others

To not let anyone bring me down

To just hope for the best

Because everything will come

At its right time.

“Your friends will always be there” they told me

I lived for years trusting them

Thinking they were just like family


The pain I felt

That adrenaline rushing through my veins

Trying to act strong but seeing them

Just made me run away.

Drugs they tried to make me taste

Trying to contaminate my water

I refused to say yes.

Not being considered the cool one

For not tasting or taking a smoke

One by one

I let them go.

As I saw my friends walk away

One by one

It hurt the most

One by one

They ignored me and told me “NO.”

Thinking it was okay

I looked at the mirror every day

Just wanting an answer

But seeing my tears run down my face

One by one

Going faster and faster like a waterfall

Every time a brick of cold ice hit me.

As time goes on

Day by day

I realize how it was the best choice I could ever make

Making me stronger

Making my water stay fresh

Rushing faster and clearer

Every time a good decision is made

The few friends I have now

Are true friends

Whose best strength

Is to be there for me.

I am a Waterfall

With few rocks now

But those who stayed

Were there to support


Through my roughest times.

The rushing water that splashes with fear and strength

One day will change with a

Peaceful rush of water

That soon will make a melody of happiness

The birds will sing, splash and play along

The flowers will bloom with bright petals that reflect the sun

Finding life from my calm water.

I will be independent

I won’t rely on my parents anymore

I will accomplish my goals

Like going around the world and help the poor

To make my parents proud

To show everybody that if I stay strong

Anything I commit myself to

Can happen any time.

I will work hard

I will be passionate about my dreams and goals


ARC links wilderness to academics, adventure to leadership, identity to literacy and confidence to activism. For more information visit

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