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Youth program alumna Rosenda Sánchez-Avina shares her Yosemite experience

She had seen the Sierra Nevada mountains above the small Central Valley town where she grew up, but she had never hiked them. It was her first time camping, her first visit to Yosemite, and the first night of the 2016 Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) summer course in the park. That night, she and the other girls in her cohort learned the hard way that their tent was pitched on top of a sprinkler, which drenched them and their gear, forcing them to relocate in the dead of night.

If she was frightened or irritated at the time, you can’t tell it now, as she admits with a smile that “the sprinkler incident” formed an immediate bond between her and her fellow adventurers, and they laughed about it for the rest of the 40-day trip.

ARC, one of the Youth in Yosemite Programs our donors support, connects high school youth with “meaningful and transformational experiences in the outdoors.” In a recent interview with alumna Rosenda Sánchez-Avina, we loved learning just how life-changing the experience was for the then high school junior, now UC Merced Class of 2021 graduate, who studied literature and plans to pursue a career in publishing.

Rosenda explained that “ARC was the first time I got to challenge myself to do something new, academically and personally.” She learned about the program through a friend, who had been the first ARC participant from their school. She had already been looking into summer programs with a literary focus, and was intrigued by the writing elements of ARC’s curriculum. Not only do ARC students backpack, kayak and climb —  they also study language arts and environmental science, write poetry and essays, and practice public speaking. As interested as she was in the program’s academic component, she was understandably nervous about spending so much time outside — and she was especially scared of bugs. Plus, she was a picky eater, and was entirely unconvinced that she’d survive six weeks of dehydrated food.

So while that first night in camp was only the beginning of a series of challenges — throughout the course, the students completed several backpacking trips, including to Buena Vista Lake and Ostrander Lake — Rosenda successfully pushed herself past her limits. She practiced asking for and accepting help, and she felt the support of the people around her. She realized that all food tastes better in the mountains. Oh, and she learned how to “power pose” — pause, stand tall, place your hands on your hips, and remind yourself how strong you are.

Rosenda says that the number one skill she gained during her ARC experience was confidence, and when she returned home, her friends commented that she seemed more outgoing and willing to speak up in clubs and in class. She now loves to hike and camp with friends, and the year after her course, she volunteered as a camp counselor. She sums it up this way:

“Before ARC, I was quiet. I thought I didn’t have a lot to say, because I hadn’t done a lot…Now, I’m willing to do and say more, because of my lived experience.”

Once you take on a challenge, you know you can do it, and you know you can find support.”

Rosenda says that her ARC experience in Yosemite gave her the opportunity to build a “you can do anything mindset.”

As you read this, a new team of students has just wrapped their month-long ARC adventure, and we have no doubt that they’ve each had as transformative an experience as Rosenda’s. Watch this space for more photos, quotes and art from the latest ARC graduates, which we hope to share with you soon!