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Schools & Program Visits - Jun, 1998 Issue #52

Cusick, Washington
Bruce & Shirley Morelli, Co-Directors
Lon’s Visit: May 31, 1998 

The Morelli’s main activity this summer is their Summer Frontier Challenge, A Character Building Adventure. Between April 15 and October 15, 1998, boys between the ages of 14 and 18 can enroll for a 60 to 90 day wilderness experience. 

The Summer Frontier Challenge is a two or three month outdoor oriented program for a maximum of 10 boys. The Morellis want to work with boys who sense they are missing something in their lives, and who need direction from strong male mentoring in order to put their lives together. They do this by arranging a series of outdoor experiences which help the boys growth through a “touch with nature.” They do not work with boys with drug and alcohol addictions, who need intense psychological treatment, who are in trouble with the law, or who have physical limitations that would preclude them from full participation in intense outdoor activities. They are looking for boys who have a dream that life can be better, and who have parents who share that dream. 

The young men start by occupying a frontier style base camp on the back part of the Morelli’s mountain homestead. This 50+ acre working farm is obviously functional and well-maintained, with a large garden, orchard, horses, etc. It gives the impression of a safe mountain retreat most people only dream about. An added attraction is the Bison Ranch in the neighboring property just across the bordering county road. The boys learn the basics of everyday living, working, learning, and adventuring through maintaining their own camp as a group, and preparing and cooking their own meals, which includes food from the homestead garden which they help with. There are many trips ranging from short overnight trips to week long field expeditions into the surrounding back country, which is accompanied by extensive training in vital wilderness skills. 

A person has to have an understanding of the Morelli’s personal history to really understand their program philosophy and how they go about impacting boy’s lives. 

Bruce would have a legitimate claim of being born a century or two too late. He is most at home in the wilderness, and he is most animated when discussing the outdoors and wilderness experiences. He has made his living most of his life using and teaching wilderness skills, homestead development, and leading long distance overland journeys. 

He met and married Shirley, an Atlanta Georgia girl, about 23 years ago. They met on a camping trip (of course) in California, one of the two camping trips Shirley had ever been on. She had no idea of what she was getting into, but followed him as they moved into the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California to live off the land. They gradually migrated north, raising their 3 sons and 2 daughters in a variety of locations in the wilderness of Central Idaho near Yellow Pine Idaho, in the bush of Alaska, near Mount Hood in Oregon, and in 1992, to rural Northeastern Washington when they founded Straight Arrow. They shared with me their picture albums showing a variety of scenes of them over the years. The variety of family pictures featured rustic mountain cabins and domestic family backwoods entertainments and activities looked like the pictures had been taken from history books of 19th century western settlers, except for the modern technology of the prints and lack of the 19th century artificial poises. 

Bruce joked about that being the “ultimate impact” program for Shirley. She said one of the reasons she was willing to try a wilderness adventure was she had been beginning to realize the life she had been leading “missed something.” In the wilderness she learned that what had been missing in her life was “effort.” Things had come too easily for her, and she learned that acquiring something through her own efforts was not only necessary to a healthy self image, but very deeply satisfying in a way she had never felt before. 

Their deeply held personal philosophy in working with children is they want to “pass the torch,” teaching the younger generation that effort is the very essence of a good life. They feel most children are missing something important in their lives. That as a result, the magic has been taken out of their lives, and the missing ingredient is effort. Further, that one of the best ways to learn how important effort is to a meaningful and satisfying life can be found through learning to touch nature. 

This is the direction they want to teach the children sent their way who have been looking for independence, but in the wrong places. 

Copyright © 1998, 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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