Ten years ago today, I was living in Thailand and starting to pack for a long flight back to the U.S. I had spent the past year as a teaching intern and boarding supervisor at an international school outside Chiang Mai and was preparing to return stateside. I had plenty of time to think about the ominous “future” that lay ahead. I wanted to return to Pittsburgh, where I attended college, and be part of the community development efforts that I saw enriching the city. There was a buzz I just had to be part of. After leading a trail building crew at Crater Lake National Park for the Student Conservation Association, I moved back to Pittsburgh and started volunteering at a variety of nonprofits to gain a pulse on the city. I applied for the Public Program Coordinator role at Venture Outdoors after a friend and former employee remarked “I think you are pretty much the ideal person for the job.” And apparently I was because Venture Outdoors became that future I anxiously awaited. I have been working here for almost a decade and have served for the last four years as Program Director.
As I approach my 10-year workiversary, I find myself with the same feelings of excitement and apprehension as I did during that summer of 2007 when I knew that I needed to buckle down and find a full-time job. My last day at Venture Outdoors will be November 17. The reason for my departure is personal. My fiancée was promoted from a job in Pittsburgh to a new role in Massachusetts, and we decided that if it was a good fit, I would follow. It is now time for me to help the organization I love transition its leadership as I step away for new opportunities.
Venture Outdoors has been the bedrock of my personal and professional growth. Many of our volunteer trip leaders, staff, and members have watched me mature and coached me along the way. I am incredibly grateful to be surrounded by so many caring people who believe in the organization’s mantra that “Everyone Belongs Outdoors!” I couldn’t possibly capture all the great moments that I’ve experienced at Venture Outdoors in one blog post, but here are some of my favorite memories along with fun photos!
- Beginner Snowshoeing at Laurel Summit – My first snowshoe trip included snow angels!
- Trip Leader Cross Country Ski Training at Kooser State Park circa 2010 – We skied down the dam and I jumped off a picnic table into two feet of snow!
- Presenting awards to volunteers at the Trip Leader Social – Always!
- Hosting two Trip Leader Council Holiday Parties that featured new, current, and former TLC and program staff.
- Signing holiday cards with the Trip Leader Council (when wine was involved!).
- Attending a Mount Washington and Beyond Urban Fitness Hike with Mike Cornell where he shouted the IWINMEE during an epic rainstorm that cleared up just in time for us to hike!
- Establishing the early Junior Jo and Youth Outdoor Recreation Program partnerships.
- Organizing the first Sycamore Island Paddle that was part of Rally 2008: The National Land Conservation Conference – this was my first great coordination feat!
- Coordinating the Pedal-Paddle-Peduto series multiple times with amazing guest speakers from all sectors of the city.
- Bringing back the Rock Star Award after a three-year hiatus and keeping the tradition going at Trip Leader Socials.
- Re-establishing our college programming presence.
- Leading a Neighborhood Night Hike in Oakland where we saw the Virgin Mary Shrine of South Oakland that overlooks I-376, stepped inside Posvar Hall as the sky opened up, walked out of Posvar Hall to a light rain, and watched the most amazing cloud and sun display from Phipps Conservatory
- Reading the letter of recommendation that my supervisor Rob Walters wrote to help me get into the CORO Next Leaders for Green Communities fellowship program.
- Restructuring and rebuilding the Program Department (a few times!).
- Hosting three Trip Leader Retreats (aka Experience Leader Weekends) – these were so much fun!
- Helping the organization merge with Paddle Without Pollution.
- Having volunteer trip leaders and staff attend my roller derby bouts. It meant so much to have their support! Especially when Erik Lingren hosted a pre-bout cookout and everyone came as a group.
- Having Volunteer Trip Leader Bill Grove show me all the meeting locations to the state parks and forests in the Laurel Highlands. And we hiked Roaring Run Natural Area and brought out a “body” full of trash!
- Representing Venture Outdoors at the Wilderness Risk Management Conference three times and even winning the Jim Ratz Scholarship to attend in 2014.
- Losing my nervous stutter that came when speaking in public thanks to teaching Outdoor Leadership Training a gazillion times.
- Partnering with the Hill House to present The Adventure Gap and all of the events that were part of Climbing the Hill in 2016. The whole weekend with James Edward Mills was fun!
- Working with the Trip Leader Council to develop the Activity Leadership Guides.
- Adding an extra ‘E’ for Etiquette at the end of the original IWINME introduction.
- Keeping the office traditions of an NCAA March Madness pool and white elephant party going.
- Presenting at the Wilderness Education Associates Conference in 2016.
- Taking the Program Staff fly fishing for our staff retreat in 2017 with our favorite fishing guides, Dale and Cyndi Kotowski.
- Reviewing Don Erdeljac’s epic trip plan for the Fourth of July Fireworks Paddle in 2009.
- Working with the Trip Leader Council to develop the Annual Leadership/Volunteer Meeting.
- Attending Entrepreneurial Fellows Program through the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence at Pitt in 2016.
- Presenting Darlene Schiller with the Legacy Award at the first Annual Leadership Meeting.
I committed myself to Venture Outdoors and to fulfilling its mission. It’s been a constant learning experience, and I am excited to take my talent and apply it in a new setting. Many thanks to everyone for your help along the way. I’m not sure what I’ll do when I move up to Massachusetts, but I am certain that it will include time in the outdoors, family, and friends. A new adventure awaits!