It has long been known that wilderness experiences and outdoor and adventure-based education support emotional, behavioral and intellectual development in children and teens. Students who learn outdoors develop a sense of self, independence, confidence, creativity, decision-making and problem-solving skills, and empathy towards others, motor skills, self-discipline and initiative. Add to this the documented research that is growing in support of Animal Assisted Therapy especially for children with medical challenges, like cancer, and one can see how therapy teams in Central Oregon fit perfectly into a nine day adventure in the Sisters Wilderness called “See You At The Summit”.
Ole and I are one of three therapy dog teams participating in See You At The Summit. Quite a wonderful adventure for these teens from Washington and Oregon. I felt Paul Petzoldt affirming the life changing experiences for these remarkable young people. Several more days ahead with the goal of a summit.
The experience was serendipitous for Compassionate Canines: a cancellation from established Portland-based teams left the program in need of therapy dogs and handlers. Jennifer Horseman, our local volunteer coordinator for Compassionate Canines of Central
Oregon, was able to respond. Despite the short notice, Jennifer put out the word for volunteers and Dani Stewart, Ann Pinske and me, along with our dogs, Indy, Tola and Ole respectively, participated. This opportunity wove nicely with our own personal interests to hike in the Cascades. The outdoor setting definitely supported the premise that it is important for the handlers to identify the environment that feels best for them. (See the article “Could Handlers Potentially Impact the Success of Therapy Dog Sessions?”).
We were present for the first day’s meeting when the teens and staff of the program arrived at Mt. Bachelor. The dogs were an important part of the process during introductions and expectations outlining the nine days ahead. Since the teens had just met that day, the dogs were a positive distraction during awkward moments of this first time meet-up at base camp. We alternated hiking with the group on subsequent days and joined in various activities when the teens were settled into camp for the night. Although none of us backpacked and camped out, the route to Broken Top was such that we were able to meet up on the trail most days as needed.
Leadership and organization were essential to make this first-time challenge a success. Spurred by a dedicated focus and dream of over a decade, See You at the Summit was born from the vision of founder, Heather Rose. I encourage you to visit seeyouatthesummit.org to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for her endeavor to take teens dealing with cancer into the wilderness.
Deb Wilkinson with Ole
I really appreciated my Summit experience because it showed me how valuable therapy dogs are as an ice breaker when teens are getting to know each other and opening up (ie being vulnerable). It was a great experience!
As for my experience with the Summit teens, it was very memorable, and I felt fortunate to have been a part of the group.