“People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” – Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth
My personal vision of conservation has been with me for a long time. Its expressions took the form of experiential courses and projects for secondary students. Environmental Awareness and Group Leadership Explorations (EAGLE) 1986-2000, explored the role of nature in risk taking and personal growth in a natural setting. Analysis of Environmental Relationships in Individual Expression (AERIE) 1994-1998, explored the role of nature in inspiring creativity, and Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE), 2009-present, explores nature through ecological relationships, critical habitat restoration, community service, collective vision, and the nature of leadership. All are courses that I developed alone or helped to develop. I have been a lead teacher in all of them. And they all express my personal vision of conservation. Way too simple, it boils down to 10 words:
“Be passionate. Be grateful. Be hopeful. Give back to nature.”
Yesterday, I took my book, Gold in the Glades: The GLADE Guide to Outdoor Leadership Development, to the printer. It is a milepost for me – the culminating event in a year long journey to document everything that I could about the GLADE project and experience. It was a soul searching process. Some days the words just wouldn’t come, clogged in some muddy ooze, unable to free themselves. On other days I couldn’t stop them from flowing, like an effervescent spring in the heart of the Current River watershed.
Many times prior to and during the writing of Gold in the Glades, the word transformation is used to describe the experiences of the youth [who participate in the GLADE program]. It is not a word to be taken lightly nor is it to describe a normal enjoyable outdoor experience. Rather, it is reserved to express the idea that something very significant has occurred in the lives of the participants. To dispel notions of hyperbole it is necessary to explain why the word transformation is appropriate to describe the effects of the GLADE experience on its participants.
Transformation used in the positive sense implies that the perceptions of an individual have been altered to give him/her more clarity and purpose in life. As a result of the GLADE experience the participant’s world is perceived differently, with greater appreciation and gratitude for nature and everything else that is good. This nature-impacted perception of reality is incorporated into the very fabric of the youth and all is renewed. If credibility can be assigned to student reflections long after the academy week has passed, the term transformation can be applied to the GLADE experience without hesitation.
“I wish I had a camera as good as my eyes,” reflected Jessica B. of GLADE 2011. If only there was a snapshot that could express the passion of these young leaders as they experience together the sun setting over the lake. Then perhaps their loved ones at home could understand their transformation and share their newfound passion.
Post-GLADE reunions, community grant projects, and public presentations provide an opportunity for the newly emerged green team to reignite the flame experienced during the week of the academy. If the staff and community have done their job well, GLADE graduates have been welcomed into a growing network of people and organizations who share a love for nature and a desire to positively impact the natural world through conservation action.
The GLADE network has provided them with immediate access to the expertise and resources necessary to translate their inner desires to change the world into local action to shape their home communities in remarkable ways. They reenter with knowledge, wisdom, and human connections that not only ease their transition, but catapult them into a bright future with a metaphorical green tool kit designed to give wings to their greatest visions for a dynamic, living planet.
The universal human conditions of departure, experience, and reentry provide the backdrop for the GLADE project. Our goals within that context are to increase the young leaders’ knowledge and awareness of biological systems, to provide experiences that facilitate personal growth and development, and to connect each individual to a growing network of people who recognize that our own fate is directly related to the fate of the other species that share the Earth with us. With nature as our common passion, we aim to revitalize and to transform young peoples’ lives so that our precious natural resources are passed on to their children’s children.
© 2011 Greg Swick – all rights reserved
Photos © 2010 Kelsey Rumley
Greg Swick (M.Ed.) is the Director of the Green Leadership Academy for Diverse Ecosystems (GLADE). He is an author and experienced outdoor educator and leadership facilitator. His courses explore the human role in ecological interactions and incorporate hands-on, experiential learning in grassroots leadership development. He is active in the Greater Ozarks Audubon Society and is one of 40 nationwide recipients of a 2010 TogetherGreen Fellowship for conservation leaders. Greg writes about his experience in conservation on his blog, Conservation Conversations.
His new book, Gold in the Glades: The GLADE Guide to Outdoor Leadership Development details his experiences with the GLADE program and acts as a sourcebook for future leaders who are interested in integrating environmental education philosophy, leadership training, and ecological research into a working model of habitat and community improvement locally and across the nation.