After months of planning and dreaming, our participants are here! While we had a lot of fun imagining what A Place Beyond would look like, it’s been a dream to see that vision come to life in the hands of these bright, funny, compassionate people.
It all kicked off with our arrival day, Sept. 9, as 35 students descended upon Friendly Pines Camp. Some were dropped off, some flew, some drove themselves, and picked up new friends along the way! There was a great deal of nervous energy as we gathered together for the first time at the amphitheater. But in the hours and days that followed, the nerves began to melt away as students started sharing their stories, laughing, and meeting roommates.
The participants were split into four small groups, where they’ve been able to get into the heart of what APB will be. Discussions so far have centered around community norms, positive group culture, and generally just getting to know this tight group of people who will be so critical to their experience here this semester.
We didn’t let our masks stop us from getting our first taste of the Prescott National Forest! Over the weekend, students embarked on trips that explored the area around camp. There was a shorter walk around the Groom Creek Horse Loop, a challenge hike up to Spruce Mountain, and a scouting mission of our nearby boulder field to get psyched for all of the rock climbing to come this semester.
Our evenings have been filled with a wide range of activities. Staff members led a night titled “COVID Compliant Games We Hope to Never Play Again.” Students rotated from instructor to instructor playing games meant to get people familiar with one another, while having a great (socially-distanced) time. The next night, we ran a workshop on Nonviolent Communication. In rotating pairs, students engaged in dialogue surrounding different memories, emotions, and the importance of having our universal human needs met.
But APB staff weren’t the only ones putting on evening events! We had a participant-led movie night, game night, stargazing expeditions, workouts, and many long talks over the fire pits. This community has already taken an amazing amount of ownership over this experience, and we as a staff are inspired by the level of inclusion and joy that they bring to everything they touch.
Over the course of this first week, we’ve had a lot of conversations about how the pandemic has affected us and how the last 6 months made us feel. Many have described feelings of loneliness, isolation, fear, and hopelessness. So hearing stories and appreciation for being in a community once again feels like the first breath after being underwater. We’ve got so many more memories to make here at A Place Beyond, and I'm so excited for what's to come.