Creating a virtual safe space during the COVID-19 crisis

No one could have predicted how the Leadership Program would change within the first week…”

On March 10, 2020, 12 teens walked through our doors for Day one of our Spring Leadership Program. They would be the first group to participate in the program outside of our traditional summer schedule. I remember the feeling in the room that day: heightened energy and awareness, new people, a ton of information, and a buzz of excitement for the next 12 weeks. 


No one could have told me how the Leadership Program would change within that week. Instead of crawling up caverns in Joshua Tree, backpacking in the Coastal Redwoods, and traversing the Big Sur coastline, our participants would be spending the next few months adhering to strict shelter-in-place orders due to a worldwide pandemic. 

Our Leadership Program participants discuss relevant topics via video conferencing twice each week.

When faced with the option to stay in the program under these strange new circumstances, all 12 participants opted-in, despite—or maybe because of—the new challenges and unpredictability impacting their lives. We swiftly transitioned to an online platform, where we could meet twice a week through video conferencing.

Our participants have shown great discipline and dedication to this experience. We’ve covered topics including group management, financial literacy, local ecology, equitable access to public lands, and adaptive leadership. We even had the privilege of speaking with Congressman Mike Levin to learn about environmental conservation in Southern California, and participants shared stories of their own outdoor experiences and what equitable access means to them.


That was a particularly proud moment for me. To hear them share stories, from their first time gawking at the vastness of a starry night sky to the rush and joy of catching their first wave, directly with a policy maker was powerful and inspiring.


I’ve known these kids for eight weeks and already I’ve been awed by their growth, perseverance, and vulnerability. In that short time, they’ve gained something beyond the leadership skills, technical proficiencies, and advocacy experiences written into our curriculum. Through their commitment to each other and the active effort they’ve put into cultivating a culture of safety and trust, they’ve created an incredibly important resource for themselves: a community. 

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