Reflections From My Summer As A Trip Leader Specialist with Summer Dreamers

By: Matthew Morris

Being just one school year away from graduation and taking my next step into the professional world, this summer was filled with new experiences and responsibilities. Prior to the summer I expected to be a photographer for Venture Outdoors but found myself training to become what Venture Outdoors calls a TLS, or Trip Leader Specialist. A Trip Leader Specialist is an outdoor guide who leads both youth and adult trips including, but not limited to, kayaking, hiking, fishing, cycling, and geocaching. Though I knew some of my assignments would be adult, I was mainly focused in youth.

Despite having experience with youth, this would be an entirely different situation than I had faced before. While coaching volleyball, I was extremely comfortable with my knowledge and skill, allowing me to serve as a guide and teacher easily. With the trips that Venture Outdoors would have me lead, the outdoor experience I had accumulated had been leisurely (unlike competitive volleyball), meaning I hadn’t been forced to think critically about the skills I had acquired. Though I was nervous, I found myself being more and more excited for the chance to teach children about the outdoor activities that I love and grew up with. With this, most of my nerves slipped away.

As a photographer on youth trips, it’s hard to focus on what goes on between the Trip Leaders and children. Most of the time is spent looking for the better angle and waiting for the opportune moment. I learned early on in my first trip (kayaking), that the relationship between Leader and participants was special. Many children have little experience with most outdoor activities, meaning they rely on the Trip Leader as a source of information, a guide, and a safety net.

The more trips I went on, the more I understood the importance, as well as the reward, of being a Trip Leader. I found it amazingly gratifying to be able to share the outdoors, such an important part of my childhood, with children who were experiencing it for the first time. Though I knew what would be expected of me in this role, I was unaware of just how awesome the outcome would be.

Towards the latter half of summer, I was able to take on a role at Summer Dreamers, a summer camp throughout Pittsburgh. Though my nerves about being a Trip Leader Specialist were easily resolved, I found myself somewhat more nervous about this position. In this position, I would be in a classroom for a period of time, with just over 20 children, teaching lessons and tying them to outdoor trips. This was truly unlike anything I had done before. Looking back, my thoughts on this position are much similar to regular youth trips, and this six-week program was extremely rewarding.

For the first time, I was able to truly bond with a group of students which was no surprise seeing that I was with them for five days every week. As expected with third and fourth grade students, there were ups and downs, defiance and compliance, good days and bad days. It was this complex environment that created a learning experience not only for the children, but for me as well.

Similar to the regular youth trips, it was extremely rewarding to take children on their first hike or fishing for the first time, but the difference was that I was able to reconnect in the following days to see what they really thought/how they really felt. This gave me the opportunity to share more of my personal experiences and further their knowledge and expectations of outdoor activities.

Beyond my work with the children, I made amazing friends with other Trip Leader Specialists. Everybody I have worked with is exciting to be around and awesome at what they do. I believe we all connect in enjoying how rewarding it is to do what we do. Also, without another Trip Leader on every trip, things would be a lot more difficult, especially when it came to Summer Dreamers!

Overall, being a Trip Leader Specialist gave me skills and experience that I didn’t have prior to this position. It was an amazing way to spend this summer.