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Alumni in Action: A Journey from Figurine Frogs to Belonging

Figurine frogs. They lined my shelves in my tiny New York City apartment. Those plastic and ceramic friends were my heart’s delight. Nature finds a way to flourish in the human heart, especially in the imaginations of five year-old urbanites.

It’s no surprise that as a young mother of three, I would eventually find myself on an island in the Salish Sea, among the cedars and hemlocks, covered in mud and ferns, hiding, tracking, singing, and making fires each week with my family and other kindred spirits at a nature connection program.

I had no idea when I moved to the PNW that Coyote Mentoring had been woven into the Vashon community since monthly programs were first offered by Wilderness Awareness School (WAS) on Vashon in 2000. I was lucky to discover this heritage on my second day on the island, and immediately enrolled my children and signed myself up for what would become my life’s work.

For three years, I shadowed the mentors - observing, questioning, playing and wondering.  I fell in love with curiosity, got comfortable with not knowing, and held my first real frog! Mud and salal berries and laughter in the wet grass filled my Fridays.

Stories and songs anchored my spirit as I shed the sterility of my urban youth, rejuvenated my senses and rooted my sense of place. I was awakening to a sense of belonging.

When WAS approached the Vashon community to make this program their own, our community rose to the challenge. With a powerful bundle of teachings behind us and a strong central fire, we birthed the Vashon Wilderness Program (VWP). I was part of the Vision Council to help steward our young organization, guiding the transition from a program of WAS to a fully-fledged 501(c)(3) non-profit educational organization.

During VWP’s formative years, I followed my heart and curiosity out to Duvall to take courses in Coyote Mentoring, the Art of Mentoring and Nature Skills. As I rediscovered my childhood passions and dove deeper into the teachings, I uncovered my desire to return to the youngest ones in my community and. co-created a program at VWP for 4-6 year olds.

To support my journey as a mentor, I enrolled in the Anake Leadership Program at WAS. Those monthly group gatherings provided me with invaluable grounding in the Coyote Mentoring/Eight Shields approach to nature connection, as well as practical tools I could take with me into the field each week as I mentored those young ones. Gathering with this group of people passionate about nature connection and mentoring others on their own paths was a rich and dynamic experience.

I have worn every hat there is to wear at VWP, and have been Executive Director since 2010. My leadership style is deeply influenced by the trainings I received at WAS. The Book of Nature and the natural cycles of learning and growth, the principles of peacemaking, and the way of the coyote have all found a way into my breath and bone.   

VWP has come a long way. We’ve been honored to mentor more than 4,500 people of all ages during our 13 years. Our summer camps and school-year programs for children ages 4-17 have grown to include partnerships with our local school district, park district, and land trust, as well as King County’s park system on Vashon. Beyond programming for children and teens, we offer trainings for parents and educators and free seasonal celebrations for the whole community.

Nature does indeed find a way to flourish in the human heart and in the heart of community.  I continue to be mentored in the rhythms and cycles of the land, my senses awakened to see, hear, smell and taste all that the world offers for connection, for survival, for community, for peace, for beauty. As for those figurine frogs of my childhood? They line my window sill and remind me of my vital work in the world on behalf of nature, the children, and the communities VWP and WAS help to serve.    

Editor’s Note: VWP is one of over 200 sister schools we have identified that are either founded by graduates of our programs or are based on our curriculum and educational approach. Your donations help to train these leaders, who in turn are connecting tens of thousands of youth and adults to nature, community and self throughout the world. Thank You!