OTA Origin Story: Part One

      "And we realized that there was no place for queer people to gather and share their stories. So, we made that space."

          It was the spring semester of my junior year at the University of Wisconsin and I was listening to two guest speakers during a Communication Arts class entitled "Queer Theory". The guest speakers were graduate students who had started a writing workshop space for queer identified people to gather, write and share. Depending on what part of the country you are in while you are reading this the idea may not seem all that exceptional. However, in 2010 and in Madison this was a resource sorely needed for the local queer community. As I sat in the classroom and tried my best to listen to the speakers recite some of their work, a thought began to percolate in my head: what other gaps in resources are there for my community?

            Time spent in nature has always been a critical component of my life. I took my first canoe trip down the Wisconsin River with my parents at the age of four weeks. My summers have always been filled with the meditative sound of canoe or kayak paddles dipping in and out of the water, the excitement of catching a glimpse of a bald eagle and arguably not enough sunscreen. In fact, there has been only one summer in my entire life that I was not recreating or working outside almost every day between May and September.

            Being a junior in my spring semester of college, I was looking beyond upcoming finals or even the next Badger football season. I was ready to graduate with a degree in Communication Arts and Gender and Women's Studies, but neither led to a distinct career path. One thing I did know was that I wanted my career to bring me outside, but besides that nothing seemed just right. As I thought back to that moment in the Queer Theory class, it brought together two worlds of mine that had previously been orbiting in discrete capacities.  It was then that I realized my calling: working with queer young people outside.

            Easy enough, right? I would simply Google organizations doing such work, apply, [obviously] get the job, and the next 30 years would be set! How unfortunate it was then to realize that absolutely nothing encompassing this intersection existed. At the time the only results my searches produced where a few residential camps that would offer some variation on "Gay Week". This was not exactly the work I was looking to do, nor did it sound like a good way to accrue income twelve months a year.

            As was true for most decisions that felt massive in my life at the time, I paid a visit to my mentor and boss at Adventure Learning Programs on campus. After I explained my idea and the results of my Internet searches, the reaction was more or less, "Well, why don't you start something?" "Excellent!" I thought, "This will be fun!"

            Cue Rod Stewart belting, "I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger!" 



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