Looks of determination and sounds of encouragement pierce the brisk air at Fresno State’s E.D.G.E. Challenge Course. It’s mid-afternoon on a Saturday in early spring and a group of youth from the City of Fresno’s Empowerment Management Team have gathered at the course on the Fresno State campus.
These 11 youth members, identified as leaders in their schools and communities, are at the E.D.G.E. Course to learn about effective communication, teamwork and to gain additional leadership skills. Ranging in ages 14-17, they giggle and scream playfully as they engage in the first activity of the day, which involves teams of two, with one blindfolded and another leading the way, both attempting to dodge a ball of yarn. They would quickly learn this requires both trust and teamwork.
Sierra Ramos, a sophomore at Duncan Polytechnical High School, gives directions and visual cues to her teammate as they maneuver around the field. She said trust was a key factor in this case.
“You need a lot of trust in life to do certain things and you just need to be able to balance what you say and do and communicate well in a team,” Ramos said. “After all, we’ll never ever be able to do it by ourselves. We’ll always need someone to fall back on.”
Leading the day’s activities are Fresno State students in “Recreation Administration 106: Challenge Course Facilitation”, who are providing instruction to the ambitious youth. It’s all part of the experiential learning class, which gives them the opportunity to gain knowledge about facility-based adventure programming skills and techniques to lead adventure education. The E.D.G.E. Course, which stands for Experientially Designed Group Effort, serves as their classroom.
Throughout the two-hour course, the Fresno State students lead the youth group through a variety of team-building and interpersonal activities. From balancing on a large wooden platform in succession to guiding each other across ropes and beams – all the activities were created solely by the RA 106 students.
As each task is completed successfully, cheers of encouragement and “good job!” echo from each student in the course. According to Alex Clifton, E.D.G.E. Course Manager and instructor of RA 106, the students in the course have been working diligently on the program since the beginning of the semester. They created the program, from start to finish, and culminated with them actually facilitating it with the youth group.
“It’s pretty neat to see our students and their growth from the beginning of the semester until today,” Clifton said. “They were given the ability to teach leadership and at the same time, are changing the lives of young people in the community, which is pretty powerful.”
This event is just one way Fresno State’s Recreation Administration department is connecting with the City of Fresno Parks, After School, Recreation and Community Services (PARCS) department. Other existing projects, such as the SPARCI program, connect Fresno State students with PARCS to look at a sustainable parks system in the Valley. Director of PARCS, Manuel Mollinedo, offered the opportunity for the young group to connect with Fresno State.
The Empowerment Management Team, operated by PARCS, embraces the motto, “healing one teen at a time”, which is emblazoned across the back of their t-shirts. The group strives to participate in community service and to volunteer in the Valley, as well as attend youth conferences.
“The teens were really excited about coming out to the E.D.G.E. course,” said Wendy Danyluck, a recreation specialist with PARCS. “Through this experience, the students took away a better understanding on how to communicate with each other and problem solve. I just love watching them work together.”
One of the more vocal youth leaders in the group, Isaac Ivy, a senior at Edison High School, said the experiences he garnered from the two-hour course challenge are beneficial.
“Today I learned something that I already knew, but it enforced the idea that teamwork is necessary,” said Ivy. “Within a team, it is important to not only listen, but to also think about what everyone is saying. I enjoyed listening to everyone and seeing what ideas they were coming up with. I sometimes have a hard time with that because I tend to be outgoing, so I tried to be a bit more reserved today and listen to their own ideas before I implemented y own.”
In one obstacle, the youth group must grab onto a rope and swing their bodies into a hoola hoop positioned on the ground just a few feet away. For some, this is an easy task. For others, the job at hand is difficult. But it’s up to the RA 106 students to build up the confidence in the youth to get them to take on the challenge.
When one youth member struggles, overcome with nerves and trepidation, senior Kyle Lane pulls that student aside for a brief pep talk. Just a few minutes later, that student grabs the rope and makes his way into the hoola hoop with ease and newfound assurance. Lane, who returned to Fresno State for his certificate in Adventure Recreation and Tourism, said the RA 106 course will help him build his leadership skills as he prepares for a career with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Everything that we learn and do here is purposeful,” Lane said. “Being able to become a facilitator teaches me a lot about myself and how I deal with others and deal with obstacles. It’s just another part of my journey as an individual.”
For Emily Phelps, a senior majoring in Child Development, the course will also help her significantly in her profession.
“A lot of what I learned here I had no idea I could apply it at other places,” said Phelps. “I took this course thinking it would be fun, and I could use it to climb up some ropes and have a good time and get some energy out as well, but actually I’m learning a lot of skills here that I could use with children and with helping them develop. This course turned out to be one of the most positive courses I’ve ever taken at Fresno State.”
Third-year nursing student, Diana Gomez, echoed Phelps’ remarks, saying that the leadership, teamwork, and goal-setting skills she attained can be applied to any job field, but especially for her as she prepares to go into the healthcare field, where teams regularly come together to provide care to patients.
The E.D.G.E. Challenge Course got its start on campus in the late 90s and has been serving over 5,000 individuals annually, including campus and community groups and even those who travel from other parts of California. Each year, over 140 groups take on the E.D.G.E. with each program specifically designed based on their individual needs and goals. Serving both Fresno State students and the community, the course is essentially serves as an outdoor lab or classroom and the benefits are rewarding, said Ryan Soares, director of the E.D.G.E.
“Fresno State is ultimately here to serve the community and that comes in form of serving our students,” said Soares. “A lot of work goes into making the ropes course happen, but its all worth it when you work with a group and you see the smiles on their faces and the appreciation they feel. People come back and say this was a meaningful experience and they wished they had done it sooner. That’s why we’re out there. There’s a huge intrinsic reward from seeing people live through the experience.”
When the program came to a close, the RA 106 students gathers the youth group into a circle to reflect on their experiences throughout the day. As each youth member talks about what they learned through the course, proud smiles erupt from the faces of the Fresno State students.
Through RA 106, this bright group of Fresno State students are impacting tomorrow’s leaders and that is definitely something to smile about.