Outdoor adventure camp challenges adolescents physically, mentally

By Melissa Rollins, Editor, editor@newsandpress.net

When Aimee-Cox King graduated from Hartsville High School, she thought she wanted to be a teacher. After a few years, King realized that she was meant to help kids in a more non-traditional way. Now she runs Cypress Adventures from her hometown, surrounded by family.

“My parents still live in the house I grew up in,” King said. “I graduated from Hartsville High in 1992 and left, swearing I’d never come back. I started at Winthrop as an education major, special education, and after two years I quit. I went to Charleston and worked and traveled. I ended up going to the University of South Carolina in the Upstate to get a business degree. I worked four years as a marketing manager.”

King said that in all her endeavors she was looking for something that she never seemed to find: peace.

“I was not happy; I was miserable,” King said. “I was depressed all of my adolescence, until I was 28. When I was 28 I quit my job and applied for law school because I thought that would be easy for me. It wouldn’t involve my heart, just my head. I packed up my truck, my mountain bike and my camping gear and started driving. I drove around for two months hiking, biking and camping and I ended up in Flagstaff, Arizona where I went into therapy for the first time.”

That one decision changed everything.

“I started dealing with some of my anger issues and some of my identity issues,” she said. “I knew then, in therapy, that these should have been developed in my teenage years. I was angry and resentful that I was 28 and just starting to find myself. I was 28 the first time someone asked me how I felt and really meant it and really wanted to help me understand how I felt and the words to communicate how I feel.”

The adventurer inside of her needed to explore outdoors and she also needed to look inside to explore her inner monologue, desires and feelings.

“I realized what was making me feel whole was the combination of outdoor adventure and therapy; challenging myself emotionally and physically,” King said. “Learning to rock climb and failing over and over and over. Getting stronger with every single attempt. I didn’t know that outdoor education existed but I knew I needed to be with adolescents and help them learn what I was learning at 28.”

Looking for a way to help others, King said she started the only place she could think: the internet.
“I started Googling outdoors and jobs and realized there was a whole field out there that I didn’t know anything about,” King said. “I moved to Louisiana and worked in the office of state parks’ outdoor outreach program. We took charter school kids canoeing, taught environmental science camp by playing games and learning from those games. Hurricane Katrina happened; that’s the only reason I left there, actually. I moved to Albuquerque and worked at a place that I’ve modeled Cypress Adventures after. It worked with high school and middle school kids, partnering with schools in after school programs. We did a challenge course, a ropes course, mountain biking, back packing, games that look like fun but are actually strengthening problem solving skills and communication skills, conflict resolution, those kinds of things.”

Realizing that outdoor learning centers were not readily available in the South, King set about to create one.
“I did my master’s program online through Clemson,” she said. “That is when I learned the science behind the cognitive, physical and socio-emotional development of the adolescent stage of development; he theory and the science behind why those programs that I worked for worked.”

After learning about the different stages of growth, King realized how vital the work she had been doing really was.
“I argue that the adolescent stage of development is the most neglected stage and it is so critical because adolescence ranges from age 9 to 24,” King said. “People don’t realize that during that time growth happens as rapidly as it does from birth to three-years-old. It can be traumatizing for us as humans to have all of these changes happening so fast in our brain. If we aren’t taught and encouraged and give the experiences we need to become self-aware, then we don’t become self-aware. As the stage of identity formation, it is essential for them to reflect.”

The camps she runs with Cypress Adventures are designed to give adolescents the things they need in a safe environment with people who can help them process everything.

“High sensation, high risk is a natural tendency in adolescence; we provide an opportunity and an environment for them to take risks,” King said. “It is healthy; it is necessary. We do that by taking them hiking, out into nature, playing games. Some games make them emotionally vulnerable and some games make them physically vulnerable. They all involve physical activity and critical thinking.”

Cypress Adventures was established in 2015 with a grant from the Byerly Foundation. They served 87 adolescents in their first school year.

“That first group helped us fundraise and get were able to get a bus so the second group got to go on field trips and get out into the community,” King said. “Part of our program is networking our students with other people in the community, other adults, programs and agencies. We’ve had some kids intern at the Chamber of Commerce because of a field trip we took there. One became an apprentice at Sonoco because we went out there and learned about what Sonoco does.”

Cypress Adventures will be holding a lip sync fundraiser to held them reach their goal to eventually have a ropes course challenge center in Hartsville. The Lip Sync Battle: Return of the Six will be held at Center Theater August 2 from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for students 5 to 17-years-old. They can be purchased online through Center Theater. The community can also purchase ballots for $5 to vote for their favorite act. For more information about Cypress Adventures, visit cypressadventures.org

Author: Stephan Drew

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