Greetings VOBS Friends,
As I write this, our team is preparing for a summer like no other.
VOBS is preparing for a summer without students.
The global Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, and so is our decision to suspend programming for the summer of 2020.
Our values at Voyageur Outward Bound include compassion, integrity, excellence and inclusion. Several years ago, VOBS embraced a fifth value:
The value of safety, like compassion, integrity, excellence and inclusion, informs every single leadership decision we make.
Is it physically safe?
Is it emotionally safe?
Is it financially safe?
We open every meeting with a Safety Moment. We conduct hundreds of hours of Safety Training and Safety Audits every year.
At Outward Bound, we often say, “above all, compassion.” We say “above all” because we believe that to be truly compassionate is to enact our four core values: integrity, excellence, inclusion and safety without fail. At Outward Bound, we believe that compassionate leadership is founded on our core values, including safety.
We also say,
To serve, to strive, and not to yield.
Outward Bound borrows this motto in part from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s famous poem, Ulysses. Compassionate leaders serve, strive and they do not yield when it comes to values. Outward Bound’s vision is a more compassionate and resilient world. As we face the unprecedented challenge of the Coronavirus pandemic, we choose to lead with compassion.
We will not yield our values, including safety, and that is why we are suspending our 2020 summer programs.
The decision to suspend summer programs is extremely difficult, but it is clearly the compassionate choice to prioritize the safety of our students and staff in the midst of what is a truly unprecedented and unpredictable public health crisis.
Safety is our fifth value and we take this value to heart in our work with risk.
Safety informs our decisions for students, staff, community and curriculum. We are an organization that invites the right kind of risk for personal development. We value risk, but only in the context of learning. On our courses, students are invited to calculate risk and to choose challenge in order to grow, but we can only invite student risk-taking in a safe-as-possible course environment.
In our programs, students must always be safe enough to take a risk and to fail. This means that we take staff and student training very seriously. We will not invite you to canoe in the Boundary Waters with us until you have learned how to dump a canoe and swim to shore, and you will always wear a pfd. You will not climb with us until you have geared up safely, perfected your knots and trained to belay. You will always wear a helmet and you will always be hooked in. We won’t invite you to portage or rappel unless we have taught you how to do so in the safest way possible. We don’t do shortcuts. We don’t do lazy. We don’t do easy. We do safety. Safety is such a way of life at Outward Bound, that it has to inform one of the toughest decisions we’ll ever make.
Why is the decision to suspend programs so tough?
Because we know Outward Bound changes lives.
We know that our mission is vital right now. We know that we can make a difference in the well-being and success of young people today. Now, more than ever, we want to serve those who need us the most.
At the end of the day, our mission to change lives was the one thing that challenged our strong safety stance relative to COVID risk mitigation. Staff, Safety Committee, Board of Trustees– we all asked ourselves this question:
Should we take this risk at this time if it means we can change lives?
I believe that this question, the question of changing lives, is a testament to our team and their single-minded dedication to young people. In the end, the decision to be as safe as possible is the most responsible and compassionate decision we can make.
Today, we do not yet feel that we have the ability to create conditions for learning that are safe enough, and we are not alone in this decision.
Our ten fellow Outward Bound schools and peer organizations like Girl Scouts, Campfire and the YMCA have come to the same conclusion. We all want more information about this virus and about testing, and here at VOBS we want something else that is very important.
We want to lead the way in risk mitigation.
We want to practice operating with a new level of safety before we invite students to take risks with us. We want to run simulations and pilot programs with our experienced staff. As a leader in the field of risk management, we have the resources to lead the way. We at VOBS have decided that we have an obligation to keep our students, their families, our staff and our communities as safe as we possibly can, and we also have an opportunity to lead the way in finding solutions and mitigating risk in the field of outdoor education.
The decision to suspend summer programming is right, responsible, compassionate and collaborative.
With your help, VOBS will lead the way forward.
We may not have students, but this will be a summer of learning at VOBS. We will work hard to leverage our expertise to mitigate risk, and we will share our findings with the outdoor education community. We will pilot programs with our staff, adapt procedures and implement new best-practices. We plan to resume programming as of September 1, but we will do so only if we have achieved our goals for risk mitigation. When we are ready to serve safely–and we will be ready–we will invite students back to challenge and discovery.
We will continue to change lives.
We will serve with compassion.
We will strive to be safer.
We will not yield our values.
Thank you to Outward Bound USA, our national network of peer schools, the Voyageur Outward Bound team and to our colleagues in outdoor education. Your expertise and support help us lead the way forward.
Please help us lead the way forward so we can serve safely tomorrow.