Waterbury Youth Service Bureau Trip to Black Rock State Park

Last weekend Outside Perspectives took youth from Waterbury Youth Services to Black Rock State Park in Thomaston, CT. Tucked into the scenic rolling hills of the Western Highlands, 439-acre Black Rock Park offers a variety of outdoor activities.

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Activity field

Starting the day off with some fun games in the field we started to get to know each other a bit. Next we set our sights on the large protruding, aptly named, black rock at the top of a hill overlooking the field.

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Black Rock

 

The descriptive name for the rock is given because of its’ contrasting darker-colored material known as graphite. A material found in your average #2 pencil. This fact is directly linked to the area’s history, as early settlers to the Naugatuck Valley were given rights to mine graphite lead by the resident Indians as early as 1657.

With the Black Rock as our goal, we set out on a steep trail surrounded by wooded ledges of pine, hemlock and oak. We not only challenged the youth to navigate to the top of Black Rock with a map, but also to locate a geocache along the way. Geocaching is a treasure hunt that can be found in countries around the world, requiring individuals to use navigational skills to find “caches.”

Participants expertly located the rusty old ammunition canister hidden under a rock on the side of the trail and found it chock full of souvenirs. Pushing on, the group supported each other up the trail to the top. With a steep drop to the bottom and an epic panorama up and down the Naugatuck Valley, we stayed for awhile reaping the rewards of our efforts and admiring the grand view. Since we left our cell phones behind, we were able to relax and have uninterrupted conversations with each other.

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Black Rock State Park Beach

Before ending the day, we swung by the Black Rock State Park beach and cooled our feet off in the water. and took time to reflect on the day. Everyone said they were glad that they came, “the day was fun” and they “had a good time.” The big take home message was that sometimes you just need a little time outside to slow down, take in the details, remember what it’s like to be a kid again, and to find out that trying new things can be great fun! Thanks Waterbury Youth Services for a a great day. We look forward to our next adventure.

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Fear of bugs?… This brave participant challenged herself to face her fear.

 

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“CT Youth Excellence Project” Expedition

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YEP youth and mentors taking in the sunset from atop Alander Mountain.

Outside Perspectives teamed up with The Connecticut Youth Excellence Project (YEP) for an action-packed trip to Alander Mountain in Massachusetts. Upon arrival at the trailhead on Saturday, June 11th, the skies opened up giving ample opportunity for mama Nature’s experiential lessons on clothing choices and preparedness. After a conversation about how to stay warm and dry in inclement weather, the group put on ponchos, packed gear and headed out to brave the elements. While it was a soggy start, the weather cleared and the sun shone bright in the afternoon. We powered our way into camp and the students set up our generously donated brand new tents. Click here for an entertaining speedy set-up video.

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Hiking through sweet smelling ferns on our way to Ashley Hill Campsite.

Following camp set-up at Ashley Hill Primitive Campground, the crew headed out to enjoy dinner at the peak of Alander Mountain. While the hike was rugged, the young men pulled together and made it to the summit. There is something extra delicious about eating Tacos at a summit while watching the sunset! While it was a tough hike for many, it was agreed upon that it was totally worth the effort in the end. In addition to the excitement of the summit view, some of the youth had the opportunity to spot several native snakes sunning themselves in their natural habitat. As we hiked back to camp in the dark, some chose to take on the extra challenge of letting their eyes adjust to the lack of light, developing their night vision instead of using a headlamp.

Outside Perspectives is assisting the YEP young men in practicing backpacking and wilderness skills. The year-long YEP program provides monthly overnight camping trips culminating in a week-long wilderness adventure; this year’s final trip is to Yosemite National Park in August. Throughout the year, in addition to wilderness experiences, participants receive extensive guidance in areas relevant to their physical and mental health, as well as, training to become Youth Ambassadors Against Violence in their schools and communities.

YEP is a program for adolescent boys who are in foster care, receiving services from the Department of Children and Families, or who are adopted through the child welfare system.  The program was founded three years ago, and is run by, Damion J. Grasso, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at UConn Health. The organization is operated by Damion and his dedicated volunteers.  The program is funded through a combination of donations the youth raise themselves and grant money. 

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Several YEP youth scrambling amongst the rocks and enjoying the rewarding view from the summit of Alander.

We were joined on the trip by two of YEP’s volunteer mentors, Ryan MacDonogh and Victoria Scranton. Ryan is a clinical supervisor at InterCommunity, Inc., a community health organization providing mental health, addiction, and primary care services to individuals, families and communities; Victoria is a clinical researcher at the UConn Health Center in the Department of Psychiatry. We missed Damion, who was disappointed to miss the trip due to an illness. We are impressed with the immense dedication of Damion, Ryan and Victoria as they work to mentor the YEP youth month after month getting them ready for their big trip. We have found these mentors to be excellent role models of true generosity as they all have families and full-time jobs outside of YEP. Their willingness to give so much of themselves and their time shows the power of working from the heart.

We would also like to give a special GRATEFUL SHOUT OUT to NATE BLISS for several awesome backpacks and BETTA HANSON for our beautiful tents. We are so thankful to them! Without their timely generosity, this trip would not have been possible. We are working hard to acquire a full complement of gear in order to open up more opportunities to serve youth.  If you are interested in donating gently used or new gear to Outside Perspectives, please check out this LINK.

Thanks again YEP for a great trip!! We look forward to future adventures as our partnership evolves.

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Thank you to the young men of YEP!  You guys ROCK!