“As a Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps AmeriCorps member at the Outdoor Odyssey Leadership Academy, I have the unique opportunity to not only work with youth from the local community and across the country, but also many of our nation’s service members through our Semper Fi Odyssey Program. Semper Fi Odyssey is a translational leadership program aimed to assist both veterans and recently wounded servicemen and women as they integrate back to civilian life after time in the military. About five weeklong retreats bring nearly 200 participants into our program each year. These men and women have the opportunity to learn leadership tactics intended to promote success in a professional atmosphere, network with both peers and “team leaders” (veterans with post-military accomplishment), and complete the many adventure activities our facility has to offer!
When the participants arrive to Pittsburgh International Airport on a Sunday afternoon and trek two hours into the Laurel Highland mountains, they are often uncertain about the coming events, especially when the road turns to dirt about a mile out from our property. It’s common for them to be resistant at first—we often push them outside their comfort zone. Each afternoon, participants have the opportunity to climb rock walls, complete high ropes courses, work out with TRX training equipment, glide down the zip line, relax with specialized yoga and iRest sessions, and more! As the week progresses, as presenters offer unique perspectives into coping, healing, and moving past the struggle that is everyday life, and as the men and women begin to reach out to those around them for support, the magic happens.
The most inspirational moments as a staff member at Semper Fi Odyssey come when an amputee ascends a fifty-foot climbing wall and when someone suffering from PTSD is harnessed into the zip line with his service dog.
I learn about their backgrounds and plans for the future; I gauge their interest in our program and see the appreciation they have for the role we aim to play in their recovery. On Thursday night after a great steak dinner, the men and women have the opportunity to share a personal anecdote, inspirational story, or other message with the room—the talks can last for hours. Working mostly behind-the-scenes, it’s an honor to spend this time with the participants and other program supporters. The last day unwaveringly brings nearly every person through the kitchen doors to thank our team for our dedication to helping them.
Semper Fi Odyssey quickly became one my favorite facets of Outdoor Odyssey’s entire mission over five years ago as a volunteer. My participation has spanned the time since, AmeriCorps is giving me the chance to continue working with such amazing and impactful people—be it students, professionals, or veterans—throughout this year. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities that Outdoor Odyssey and the Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps have provided me.”