Welcome to our second post featuring insights and lessons learned, written by the middle school outdoor leadership students at Manchester Academic Charter School! The middle school is located in the newly renovated Museum Lab located in Allegheny Commons – an excellent location to get kids outside during the school day to bike, hike, kayak, fish, and more! Participating students reflected on their leadership course at the end of the semester and their responses are shared below.



My name is Julian. I am 14 years old. I like biking, swimming, drawing, and hanging out with my friends. Venture Outdoors is a class that I like because it makes it easier to go outside and show people what you know when it comes to outdoor activities. Usually I get involved in Venture Outdoors by showing some of the other kids how and what to do if they’re confused. One of my most memorable moments in Venture Outdoors is when I first had my Venture Outdoors class in 4th grade I had a bunch of friends who I went kayaking with and we always raced against each other. We always went through this tunnel at the lake and it was really cool. Hopefully, when I get older, I can do something that will get me outside more than usual, like biking or going to the pool to swim and socialize with others.

Fun fact about Julian: He is currently one of the longest-tenured regular participants of Venture Outdoors youth programs, beginning with his after-school site at Providence Connections in 4th  grade – now he is in 8th grade at MACS and still participating!

Julian, an 8th grader at MACS, has participated on Venture Outdoors youth programs since 4th grade!


My name is Romele. I go to Manchester Academic Charter and I’m 13 years old. I have been with Venture Outdoors for  2 years in a row. Venture Outdoors Leadership looks like you telling and showing everybody on task and showing them how to do an activity. I mostly have fun in every class. My favorite activity is biking because that’s just what I like to do when I go outside. I feel great whenever I’m riding a bike. As I get older I would like to bike around the city to get outside.

My most memorable moments in Venture Outdoors were when we went bike riding and one of the students got attacked by a goose. There are many things about me that are great. For starters, I am friendly to many other people, my friends are very funny, and they like me. I think that a leader for Venture Outdoors is a person who takes care of their group members.

Romele fishing along the North Shore during weekly leadership class


Hello! My name is Jordyn and I am thirteen years old. I go to Manchester Academic Charter school, and I am now an 8th grade student. I love math and I do other things to keep me entertained outside of school. This is my second year of MACS so I been in Venture Outdoors for 2 years. In previous years, when I went to camp during the summer, there were activities that Venture Outdoors did with us. Now at my last year at MACS, I am taking a leadership class with Venture Outdoors. We do things like biking, kayaking, fishing, and hiking. The most memorable moment I had with Venture Outdoors would have to be kayaking because it was my first experience with the kayaking, it’s really fun to do, and I love water. This can improve my leadership skills because they teach us how to fix things. I can use these skills to help others in the future. I appreciate that Venture Outdoors is doing this different activities with me but I don’t know how I am going to stay doing outdoors things in the future. I wish I can attend it again next year.

“The most memorable moment I had with Venture Outdoors was kayaking.”



My name is Xavier and I’m 13 years old. I attend Manchester Academic Charter School. I enjoy Venture Outdoors because I like being outside and I like the people who work with us. I love to participate in the activities even if I think I won’t like it. I think that being a leader is that you are calm and confident, you are a listener and a loudspeaker. My favorite activity was when we built fires. I liked building fires because they reminded me of survival games and shows and when I build fires I feel like I’m in the game or show. In the future, I will get myself outside by going camping and running 5K and 10Ks.

By: Manchester Academic Charter Middle School students

Twice a week this past Fall, aspiring outdoor leaders put their skills to the test during their elective leadership course with Venture Outdoors. Middle school students at Manchester Academic Charter Middle School, housed in the newly renovated Museum Lab in Allegheny Commons, learned about group dynamics, incident scene management, and how to properly give a paddle talk, among other skills. The students also had the chance to enjoy the outdoors for themselves by kayaking, biking, geocaching, hiking and indoor BMX biking at the Wheel Mill. Here’s what they had to say in their reflections of the course:

My favorite outdoor activity:
• I do activities anywhere.
• Playing football.
• Snowball fighting.
• Walking around and playing outside with friends.

Things I learned about the outdoors:
• First Aid is important because it can be useful in emergency situations, you must be prepared.
• I learned how to make a fire, and fire need to have oxygen, wood, and air.
• I learned how to kayak.
• You can use worms for bait (Jordan).
• Safely cast by putting the rod in water and turn it.

Things I learned about myself:
• I am a physical person.
• I am a visual learner.
• I learn best from someone explaining and demonstrating it to me.
• I never caught a fish.
• I like burning and eating the s’mores.


“I learned leadership by stepping up

when everyone is doing the wrong thing.”


What I learned about being a leader:

• I show leadership by stepping up when everyone is doing the wrong thing.
• I show leadership by helping and motivate others.
• I show leadership by showing kindness to people and helping people (Makiyah).
• I helped people by give them things if needed.

Things I learned about life:
• Be respectful to the community and make sure you leave it the way you found it.
• Don’t interrupt when others speaking.
• Have fun but don’t play too much.
• Be kind and respectful.
• Treat others how you want to be treated (Makiyah).
• Never quit when you start something (Makiyah).

Other neat facts I learned:
• A great white shark can weigh up to 2000 pounds!


Maybe one day you’ll learn new outdoor skills from these up-and-coming outdoor leaders, who are now equipped with the knowledge to share with their family, friends and community. Congratulations to the students who successfully completed the Fall course – we look forward to seeing you grow!

By: Kaitlyn Gallagher

Mornings are not my time. Every morning, I set at least five alarms and snooze them all. I am a miserable person in the mornings; I am grumpy and will say some things I don’t actually mean if someone crosses me the wrong way. I have definitely slept in past 2pm, and I consider any time before 10am early. In summary: I hate mornings.

I had just begun my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa when my new housemates suggested we take a sunrise hike on a mountain called Lions Head. Honestly if I had known my housemates better I would have laughed in their faces, but I was trying to be adventurous and make new friends so I agreed. When my alarm went off at 4am, I wished that everyone else in my house had forgotten about the ambitious plans. I wanted nothing more than go back to sleep. Against my wishes, my housemates were up and ready to take on the hike.

When we got the bottom of the trail, it was still pitch black. I thought of all the lucky people in the city around me who had more hours of sleep ahead of them. My friend told me that there were people who ran up the mountain every morning, and I assumed that those people were absolutely crazy. I personally clung to the side of the mountain and cursed myself for leaving my bed. As we approached the top of the mountain it was a scramble, and I was passed by more experienced people who were used to racing the sun. The whole way up the approximately hour long trek I didn’t get the whole point of the hike. Why did I have to wake up so early? Why couldn’t we have done this just a few hours later? Then we got to the top and I got my answers.

The sun slowly crept over the horizon, stretching through the valleys and into empty streets. It was beautiful. Watching the sunrise was a truly amazing experience which cannot be accurately described in words. My head was clear, and I was able to take a deep breath for what seemed like the first time in a long time. There were all sorts of people at the top of the mountain, old groups of friends, couples, and those crazy people who ran up the mountain. I felt bad for the people in their beds who were sleeping through such a precious life moment. I realized those people who ran up the mountain were probably not crazy, because starting the day off on the top of a mountain watching the sunrise is arguably the best way one can start a day. Realistically, I will not be a person who runs up a mountain every morning, because I still cherish my sleep. However, when the opportunity arises to take a sunrise hike I gladly set my alarm.

So from the bottom of my heart, set an alarm, grab some friends and get out there. I don’t remember the days that I slept the morning away, but I remember every second of that first sunrise hike. It’s worth it.

By: Kevin Hurley, Trip Leader Specialist and Kayak Pittsburgh Supervisor

I feel very fortunate to be a part of Venture Outdoors. In truth, it would be very difficult for me to try to explain all of the reasons why in this short blog post, but I’ll certainly try and get some of the main ones listed.Kevin putting a helmet on a student

First and most personal to me has to be the actual work I get to do for Venture Outdoors. I’ve had other jobs with varied duties and responsibilities, but Venture Outdoors has always stuck with me. Of course, like any work, it has tough days and easy days, but either way they are always satisfying. I recently left an office job to return full time with Venture Outdoors because – though the office job was nice and the people were kind – the actual work never left me feeling accomplished at the end of the day.

Secondly, is the environment. This has two components because of the company itself and the outdoor, physical environment. If you ever want to watch me go insane, place me in a job where I don’t get to smell the fresh air, feel the sunshine on my face, or the rain drip off the brim of my hat. The other side, the company itself, ties in perfectly with my final reason.

The only thing better than working a satisfying job outdoors is getting to do it with outstanding people. From the Trip Leader Specialists that I work with in the winter to the attendants that I supervise at the North Park Kayak Pittsburgh location, from the other supervisors I work with to my directors and other office staff, I am constantly impressed and impacted in positive ways. The communication is always efficient and the goal is always the same: safety and fun outdoors. I have gained confidence in areas that I have never explored before and have been introduced to things I had never tried before working here. I have gone rock climbing, I have become a kayaking instructor, I have made positive impacts myself on children and adults all around the city. I have explored pitch black caves and, on my own time, have hiked through some of the most remote forests of France and have gone snowshoeing in Andorra in the middle of the Pyrenees mountains. Up until that point, the only time I’d ever tried on a pair of snowshoes was with Venture Outdoors. We truly do provide the means and the equipment to get outside.

Maybe it’s the Thanksgiving season quickly approaching, but I’m extremely thankful for my colleagues and all of the opportunities that I have been afforded in the last 2.5 years of time I have spent with Venture Outdoors. My hope is that everyone in Pittsburgh feels their positive influence as customer, volunteer, or staff member because it is truly a unique and life changing experience.

By: Mara Addision

It’s tough to compete with YouTube for my daughter’s attention. With the stab of a finger, she has at her disposal all the entertainment in the world. She can watch funny cat videos, learn the latest Minecraft tricks, even visit Disney World. What do I have to offer that compares with Disney World?

How about pumpkin decorating? Candy cane searches? Gingerbread house building? Scavenger hunts? All delivered through the panoramic lens of the great outdoors. #nofilterneeded

I became a volunteer Venture Outdoors Trip Leader to help lead and develop outings that my daughter and other school-aged kids would find interesting and fitting to their varying activity levels. Most of these family outings have a fun hook. If you come outside and hike, then you get to make tissue paper flowers, terrariums, or painted pumpkins. If you go on the water and kayak, then you get to eat pancakes, pierogis, or pretzels. If you walk through the park, you can learn to use a GPS unit, find candy hanging in the trees, locate toys and trinkets in cache boxes, or gather materials needed to build a gingerbread house.

When I was a kid, long before the advent of streaming videos and 24-hour online entertainment, and the only video games available were Pong and Jai Alai on my brother’s tiny black and white television set, I’d beat boredom by hopping on my bike and riding around my city block. I’ve heard tales of kids today doing this as well, throwing on their 12 pounds of safety gear and running outside to play.

But I don’t live in a neighborhood with kids my daughter’s age. Outside options are limited due to ticks and traffic. Like her mom, my kid has limited balance, so skates are non-starters. And, of course: YouTube, Minecraft, and crazy cats. And my daughter is not alone in this situation.

This is why groups such as Venture Outdoors are so important. The organization’s mission statement boils down to three simple words: Everyone belongs outdoors. The program staff works months in advance to create weather, age, location, and skill-appropriate outing schedules designed to challenge as they delight, providing adventures new and familiar, and allowing everyone the opportunity to be active within their personal levels of ability.

What does this mean to your children?

They are given the opportunity to learn new skills, break out of their normal comfort zones, and feel proud of their accomplishments. So what if your kids can’t dribble a ball or kick a soccer goal? They can follow woodland trail blazes, identify trees and flowers, discern bird calls, and work a GPS unit. They can feel strong and competent and absolutely amazing.