I See Our Community Working Together

Written by Mike Ziegler
    Tuesday, 23 December 2014
I See Our Community Working Together

Camping trips, while fun, are still subject to Murphy's Law: anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

I recently lead a camping trip with a group of youth from a partner organization. It was approaching midnight and we could barely see the campsite from inside the van we had taken temporary shelter in. Our vision was not only obscured by the sheets of rain (a surprise storm had rolled in), but the windows were also fogged from the heat generated by the dozen or so young men huddled up inside the van. The sounds of rain and wind outside the van were quite loud, but even louder was a sound that was coming from the inside of the van – laughter.

It was the laughter that often accompanies these unpredictable moments of life – moments that are a beautiful sloppy mix of exhilaration, comradery, and a joyful resignation to the fates. That laughter that says, "This is crazy, but we're in it together." Animated by this communal feeling, we rallied to gather all of our belongings and transported them to a cabin on the property by running through the rain. (Did I mention the van was stuck in the mud?) Then finally, we all crawled into our sleeping bags and fell fast asleep, each happily exhausted and with a new camping story to share.

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One young man said, "I'm going to remember this trip my whole life." Of that, I have no doubt, as many of the young men on the trip spoke of a lot of "firsts": first time in a canoe, first time setting up a tent, first time building a fire. In order to accomplish most of these "firsts," support was needed from their peers. It took two of them to paddle their canoe down the river. It was much easier setting up the tents with a partner. It took many hands to gather enough wood for our roaring fire. And, as it turned out, it took a whole lot of strong folks willing to get dirty in order to push our van out of the mud!

My official role on this trip was to be an "outdoor guide" of sorts, but the feel of the trip was wholly collaborative. These young men had spent the better part of their summer working together with the "Peace Project," a program piloted by Walnut Way Conservation Corps to bring young men and mentors together in the community to address issues of violence and create safe space for positive alternatives. Many of them have been witnesses to some pretty adverse situations and have been there for each other as they deal with the outcomes. Yes, the camping trip had its adversity in the form of a big old storm, but it was simply a new landscape for these young men to express the support they already show for each other. Authentic support systems such as these are not only key to making a stormy camping trip fun, they're also integral to thriving communities.

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Mike Ziegler

Mike Ziegler

Mike Ziegler is the seasonal Urban Adventure Specialist at the Urban Ecology Center. He’s happy to hold that position; not only because it allows him to engage others in his love for having fun in the wilds of Milwaukee, but also because he’s now able to tell his parents you actually can get a job as an adventurer! Mike gets energy from building supportive and vibrant communities welcoming to all its members, as well as from the sun. 


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