An Interview with Outdoor Outreach Field Instructor, Vincent Culliver
What’s your favorite outdoor activity?
What made you want to become an Outdoor Outreach instructor?
As a past participant myself, it was kind of coming full circle for me.
I first heard about Outdoor Outreach when I was 13 at Monarch School, a school in downtown San Diego for kids affected by homelessness. I was so jealous of all my friends talking about how they got to go surfing and kayaking and rock climbing, and I couldn’t wait to sign up. My first trip with Outdoor Outreach was snowboarding and it was eye opening for me. All of a sudden, I wasn’t just a kid who lived in a shelter with his mom. I was a snowboarder.
Looking back, it was life-changing to learn from young guys who lived in my neighborhood and had gone to my school. When I’d hop out of the van and see instructors like Ryan or Juan waiting for me, I was like “It’s mind blowing that you’re here. You get paid to do this. I wanna be like you.”
Does being a program graduate affect how you relate to participants?
Kids are usually surprised to find out I grew up like them. They kind of look at me in disbelief when we get into a conversation about where I’m from, what I’ve gone through, like “Oh shoot, you grew up here too? You were homeless?”
They realize that after where I came from, here I am teaching them how to surf or do something else they never thought they’d have the chance to do. It’s really cool to be able to show them that this place—the beach, the mountains, this crag—this is their playground now, too.
Can you share a story of impact from the field?
A few years ago, there was a young guy in the school program I worked on who was always missing trips. When I’d ask why, he’d just say “Oh, I got in trouble.”
I’d give him a little bit of a hard time and end every trip telling him I wanted to see him next week—and it worked. He started being really consistent, and eventually got his own surfboard so that he could go out even more.
I don’t really know what kind of trouble he was getting into—he came from a rough neighborhood with a lot of gangs and drug use, so I could guess. But I could tell he was a good kid. If surfing was the push he needed to make decisions that kept him in school and got him to the beach on weekends instead of somewhere worse, I’m glad I could be a part of that.
What impact do you want to have as an Outdoor Outreach instructor?
I hope they realize all the things that are possible for them. I hope they look at me and think: “You’re a good role model, I wanna be like you.”
Vinny might be right. It might have been surfing that helped the young man he told us about—facing tough choices around gangs, drug use, and more—choose a path that kept him in school and, in his words, out of trouble.