Success of the WashCo youth leadership adventure | Recent News

SHELL LAKE, WI – The 2nd annual WashCo Youth Leadership Adventure was held in July 2022. This three-day event was the culmination of months of planning, focusing on concepts that help each participant grow in of leadership and resilience.

Last spring, high school students from across the region were invited to apply to help lead this event with 15 young people, representing 4 school districts, selected to be crew/mentors for the adventure. These students underwent over nine days of training in various areas of leadership, empowerment and resilience skills. The book “Together is better” by Simon Sinek was used to support and generate this training. Several concepts were taken from the book to support crew members. Middle school students were nominated by teachers, community members and parents to become explorers (participants).

During the crew training days, community members and organizations were invited to join in and share their expertise with the students. Cara (Spooner Health) gave a presentation on communication and soft skills. Emily and Kassie (North of Eight Design & Marketing) helped explore how passions can lead to action through vision boards. Jess and Liza (Embrace) presented the bystander intervention and its impact on the community. These community partners bonded with the crew and provided them with a broader understanding of how leadership plays into day-to-day operations and how critical it is to meeting needs within the community.

The crew built two community garden beds during their training. The students were thrilled to give back to our community in a tangible way. Later in the training, the crew was asked to share their vision of our community. Throughout the discussion, some striking similarities emerged. The crew created three group projects related to their similar interests and visions of community. A group built and painted Aldo Leopold benches to be placed throughout the county. Another group is working to create a place for public community artistic expression. The final group works on how young people can be empowered to share their voice and views with the community. Once the Adventure training was completed, the crew members had the opportunity to continue working and focusing on their projects.

With all the newly acquired knowledge and skills, the crew was ready for the adventure. The training was modeled on a 3-day conference with keynote speakers, breakout sessions, networking opportunities, and more. The youths arrived at the Washburn County Services Building just after lunch on Friday and returned Sunday at around the same time.

The adventure began with a keynote speaker, Kelly Hirn, who discussed strategies for managing and coping with current stress/stressors. The crew and explorers were divided into teams and tasked with building the tallest tower. During this time the rules/guidelines continued to change which added additional stressors for the groups. It was interesting to see how the teams handled these added pressures which led to a rich discussion of individual reactions.

To learn more about individual characteristics and traits, the crew led a large group session based on the Know & Love personality quiz for kids. Everyone who answered the quiz was assigned an animal. These animals give a little more information about how to understand us and what motivates each of us, as well as how to work in groups, resolve conflicts and communicate more effectively. Upon returning from the adventure, one explorer’s family shared that their entire family took the quiz so they could better understand what their explorer would be talking about.

Explorers also participated in many breakout sessions. The first series of escapes included Mindfulness and Meditation, Gratitude and Appreciation, Perseverance and Growth Mindset, Connecting Music and Emotions, and Puzzles, Mind Work team and communication. These were led by community volunteers: Shannon Starr, HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, Deputy Olson of the Washburn County Sheriff’s Office, and Adam Bever, Band Manager of Rice Lake Middle School.

Recess was an event for which crew members and explorers alike were thrilled. There were plenty of activities to meet the needs/requests of members and explorers such as swimming, fishing, crafts, archery, giant slingshots, canoeing. Spooner Police Department Officer Dorn took explorers fishing and some even caught their first fish! Knocker ball was also a big hit. (Dumper balls are large bubble-shaped suits that participants wear. Think of them as bumper cars, the suit is the car.)

Later in the day there were more opportunities for experiential escape options provided by many community members/organizations: Lakeland Family Resource Center ran a low ropes course, therapy assisted by horses with Kayla Veness, zine-making with Spooner Memorial Library, Canoe Flip with Hunt Hill Audubon Society, and communication/leadership skills with Anna Demers. Anna also taught the crew and explorers how to use a compass for orienteering.

No training in an outdoor setting like this would be complete without campfires and s’mores, nighttime hikes to see the stars, and the chance to experience nature.

Leader Moments were designed as a way to connect with Explorers in the moment to recognize their individual growth. Throughout the event, when staff or crew members noticed explorers stepping in to help without being asked or stepping out of their comfort zone, “leading moments” paved the way. . Explorers were recognized with a slip indicating why they were recognized. The slip was then entered into a raffle for local prizes offered by the Red Cross Pharmacy, the Spooner Outlet, Aloe and Jade, River Street Family Restaurant, Northwind Book & Fiber, the Dock and the Spooner Police Foundation .

In addition to awards for Leader Moments, this project also received local financial support from Larry and Karen Daniels and Spooner Health. Kwik Trip, Burnett Dairy and Spooner’s Bakery provided the adventure with some amazing snacks.

As the training drew to a close, the crew members introduced the explorers to ways to get involved in their communities. The CITY (Change in the Youth) Youth Coalition was formed after the 2021 Adventure Explorers wanted to continue to be involved in helping the community address youth substance use. This organization has been active throughout the past year and met weekly throughout the summer. Additionally, the crew invited explorers to join their community group projects.

Appreciation Bingo was our last event before loading the buses back to Shell Lake. Explorers, crew and staff were given bingo cards with various characteristics listed in each box such as “made me laugh”, “showed respect”, and “took a risk”. Youth were asked to reflect on the adventure and then recognize people who enriched their experience. When collecting signatures, participants explained why they chose each signatory for the specific boxes. It was heartwarming to see and hear how much of an impact their experience had throughout the weekend.

What were the impacts? The crew and explorers completed an assessment reflecting their experiences with the adventure. What did they learn? What would they take with them? Here are some responses from young people.

  • I learned that there are many things that go into being a good leader and how important it is to work together! 12 years
  • I learned to respect others. 13 years
  • I learned how to deal with stress in a healthy way. 14 years old
  • I learned that I am not alone in my problems. 14 years old
  • I learned that many more people than I thought were going through difficult times. 12 years
  • I’ve learned that it’s okay to express yourself in a silly way. 12 years
  • I would recommend anyone to come here if they want to learn while having fun. 13 years
  • I loved seeing so much growth in such a short time. 18 years old

The young people who participated gained leadership skills, new experiences and increased resilience. With adventure as the foundation for learning and becoming leaders, Washburn County will see impacts within the youth and community, not just in the coming months, but in the years to come.

If you would like to learn more about Next Adventure, CITY or other programs and opportunities for youth in Washburn County, please connect with our local coalition: Community Alliance for Prevention of Washburn County ( or @WashCoPrevention on Facebook. )

Last Updated: September 23, 2022 8:26 a.m. CDT

Dino J. Dotson