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New Perspectives - Apr, 1995 Issue #33 

Juneau, Alaska
Cinda Stanek, Director
Lon's visit: March 25, 1995 

Alaska has a mystique. Ever since the days of Jack London, and even before, Alaska has had the reputation of having the power to change lives through unique challenges. Cinda Stanek and the others involved with the Alaska Wilderness Institute (AWI) firmly believe the Alaskan wilderness can be used to help young people, ages 13-18, "who are challenging school, home, community, and social norms." Starting May 11th of this year, and every month thereafter, AWI will take a group of young people into the Southeast Alaska wilderness for 21 days and test the effectiveness of its power to change lives. 

David Rogers of Juneau and Bob Bradley of Anchorage, founders and owners of AWI, invited me up to Juneau to meet Cinda, review and comment on their plans and see their base camp. It has been 25 years since I was last in Alaska, so I of course jumped at the chance. 

Southeast Alaska is a land of extensive waterways, towering mountains, numerous glaciers, a sense of history, and high precipitation. Cinda Stanek, who has had extensive experience in the Southeast Alaska wilderness, much of it working with youth with troubles, has developed a wilderness program geared to the climate and geography. 

After two days of orientation at a base camp, the group will head for the high country for five days of hiking through alpine meadows and pass a few of the many glaciers. Then, after a brief return to base camp, they set forth for ten days of Sea Kayaking around the islands surrounding Juneau. The sea kayaks chosen are doubles, with broad beams, making them almost impossible to swamp. Cinda has extensive experience in sea kayaking, and believes kayaking is a unique experience that has an untapped potential for emotional growth. For example, safety of course is a very high priority. The specific safety precautions alone for sea kayaking contain rich lessons in responsibility, team work, and considerations for others and the environment. These precautions contain specific experiences that other wilderness programs are unable to tap. Add to this the silent gliding along the water among the variety of Alaskan wildlife, the variety of beauty, and the sense of finding and making camp on a deserted beach, the child has the opportunity of an unparalleled experience. The area has another advantage. The expeditions will never be further than 40 miles from Juneau. Since there are dozens of helicopters available, a victim of an accident can be evacuated and into a hospital within minutes, not the hours that is the usual time frame for lower 48 wilderness survival programs. 

Overlaying all of this is AWI's use of what they call metaphoric education. "This style of experiential learning has been proven to be some of the most effective educational techniques available. Lessons, skills, and experiences are directly related to the student's world outside the course. It is active learning which is continually applied to the reality of their individual lives." 

AWI believes "Youth in their teen years tend to have an insatiable thirst for risk, adventure, and seeking the 'edge' of life. The 'rush' they get from risk is very real - and very healthy....These teen years are critical. Risk and adventure can be found through sometimes destructive experimentation with drugs and alcohol, shoplifting and other crimes, truancy, or violent behavior. That 'edge' of life can also be found through non-destructive means that quench the rush-seeking appetite with physically and emotionally healthy challenges." AWI intend to provide the needed healthy challenges through an experience found nowhere else. 

It is difficult to predict the success of a program. There are so many variables. However, I'm confident that Bradley and Rogers are on to something with unique potential. Under the administration of Cinda Stanek, they are picking good staff, which of course is the prime secret of success in emotional growth schools and programs. I think they have staying power, which means referring professionals and parents will have a additional type of wilderness program to select from. 

Copyright 1995, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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