I was in the audience for a presentation lead by a panel of veterans when I first learned of Soul River. One by one, these brave humans spoke to us of the extreme and numerous challenges they face as they attempt to navigate the complicated world they came back to after serving on active duty. The creator of the organization, Chad Brown, told stories of his own battles, and of his smoldering desire to unite veterans and youth, two groups of people who struggle to have their voices heard, by empowering them to be environmental ambassadors.
Late that night when I returned home, with the words of our nation’s heroes still echoing in my mind, I switched on my laptop and opened up my browser. I watched every video associated with Soul River, read every article. This, I remember telling myself, is the good that exists in the world. This is something worthy, something that will change lives. I wanted to help change lives, too. I submitted my application to volunteer for Soul River that same night.
When I had the great honor of joining Soul River as a volunteer for a deployment this summer, I had it in my head that I would be setting up tents, helping with food prep, and loading fishing gear into trucks. The reality of my experience was much, much deeper than that. I wasn’t just setting up tents with youth participants, we were problem solving to build each others’ shelter for the night. I wasn’t simply cooking food, I was preparing a meal that would be shared alongside soul-stirring, honest conversation. I wasn’t setting up rods and reels, the entire team was using open communication and patience to teach each other a new skill.
As a volunteer, my place was to support Soul River’s mission, but I learned that to be of service, I had to thread myself into the group. This isn’t a position for a bystander, volunteering with SRI means fully immersing yourself in the action. You’ll be the first one up to make coffee for camp, and the last one to bed after putting away the chairs from the sharing circle, and you will do all of it while your heart swells with the joy only obtained through feeling, no…knowing, that you are a part of something truly great, far beyond yourself.
I signed on as a volunteer to help change a life, and while I believe that my service will positively effect the participants, I know that the life I changed by joining this community…is my own.
Soul River ignites fires of change from embers of hope, and it is my greatest honor to help fan the flames.
By: Liz Coll
2020 What a year it has been… As an 18 year old going on 19, I have faced many challenges. In the beginning of the year, at about the end of January I was introduced to Soul River by my high school’s Environmental Resource Mangager, Leigh R. She helped me go on a school backpacking trip that summer. I fell in love with backpacking and living outdoors. When she told me about Soul River and the opportunities they offer, I was amazed. If I wanted to be a part of their organization, I had to act fast and I did! I signed up and scheduled an in person meeting so we could get to know eachother. I got accepted, Oh was I ecstatic! SRI got in contact with me and informed me of the deployments I was scheduled for.
Then the pandemic hit! Soul River had the hard task of postponing all of the deployments and letting the participants know. I waited on the edge of my couch, they reached out via email in May. They informed all participants that they were working on a new plan that would follow the safety guidelines of the pandemic. This made me very worried that all the deployments would be canceled and postponed until next year.
As time went by and infection rates went up, SRI had to make some more difficult decisions. They decided that any upcoming deployments would be held virtually and all the future summer deployments were to be determined. On June 27th – June 28th, I participated in my first SRI deployment from the comfort of my home.
Even though the Gila River deployment in New Mexico was shortened and held virtually, we made the most of it! Marianna the Soul River Field Educator gave all the youth a research topic to present and a volunteer veteran as a mentor. My mentor’s role was to advise me on how to organize the information that I had collected for my presentation. I was very nervous to present.
The two days that we had for our Gila River deployment were great. Yes, it would have been awesome to be out on the Gila River, developing great connections with everyone. Even though the deployment happened virtually it was still awesome, I learned alot. I was able to overcome my nerves, learn how to do a presentation virtually and I learned alot from everyones presentations. I made connections that I will build on in future deployments, I also have a bigger community that I can reach out to for support! I couldn’t be happier to be a part of such a unique, creative and welcoming community.
Thank you SRI for letting me grow and learn in so many ways and thank you for welcoming me into your community!!
Online COIVD deployment experience Gilla River
Over the last weekend I was taken on an interesting “visit” to the Gila River. It was interesting in the sense that I didn’t actually go there, but was still given the experience of this amazing place. Last weekend me and the organization I am a part of, Soul River, had a virtual deployment to the Gila River in New Mexico and it was a great opportunity to learn about the river. Usually we actually go to the destination set out for us, but the recent COVID-19 outbreak sadly stopped us from actually going to the river. I’ll be honest I was a bit skeptical about the virtual deployment mainly because it was so different to what I am used to from Soul River and I didn’t know if i would get the same learning as I did actually being there.
The virtual deployment has happened since then and while it wasn’t the same as regular deployments, it let me learn just as much as if i was there. We usually give presentations while we are out on deployments and I often make a stack of papers and just present them there, but being at home gave me and others much more creative freedom. When we started we were shown a small video of the Gila River and since my sleep schedule was a bit spotty, I slept in and missed about half of it sadly. Even though I arrived late I was still given a pretty good view of what exactly the river was like and it was actually quite different. When people think of the southwest United States, they think of arid deserts and little to no water, this is simply not the case for the Gila. It is a vibrant lush river that still has aspects of desert intertwined with it, from the sandstone cliffs to the sagebrush lining the river’s edge. It’s biodiversity was nothing to scoff at either, such a wide array of reptiles, mammals, birds, fish, and insects call this place home.
We were also given an in depth look into how the Gila has been protected over the years, through proposals for dams, diversions, and other water development projects. To this day it still stands as an example of the beauty of the southwest, but that doesn’t mean it is free from danger. Another element of the Gila that must be protected is the rare Gila Trout, a fish species that only lives in the Gila River and is currently on the endangered species list. Declines in its population can be pointed to agricultural development and habitat loss. They are currently listed as endangered and efforts have been made to help restore their numbersCurrently conservationists are trying to get the Gila River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act so it can be federally protected from development. I believe we must protect the Gila because it a prime example of beauty in a place you wouldn’t expect, as i have said before no one expects this from the usually assumed arid deserts of the southwest, so it is important we preserve it’s, and many other river’s, beauty and biodiversity for as long as we can.
The main idea that Fr. rPedro Arupe was trying to convey is that the Jesuit mission is to mold students into leaders who are compassionate and concerned about the wellbeing of all in our society. He wants leaders to be selfless and to work towards achieving a greater good. These are important qualities and one of the mentors in my life who lives by these qualities is Mr. Chad Brown. Chad is the founder of Soul River Inc., a nonprofit that focuses on leadership and conservation. In Soul River, inner-city youth and military Veterans are paired for adventures in camping and fly fishing, but there is so much more to the program, including community leadership opportunities for the students who participate. Chad is a decorated Navy Veteran who found a unique way to cope with his own PTSD and he has since shared his passion with other Veterans and youth like myself. He teaches us not only how to fly fish, but also he also instills leadership qualities, wilderness survival skills, indigenous ways of knowing and living, and conservationist knowledge including methods of how to combat climate change. He is one of the main people who inspired me to break out of my shy shell and step up as a leader in my community. He teaches and models how to be aware, responsive, compassionate, and someone who reaches out to others, especially those in need. Through Soul River, I have been given opportunities of a lifetime! I have travelled to remote places like the Alaskan Arctic Circle and those experiences are a big part of why I am the person I am today. I try my best to live by the principles and qualities Chad shares and I can also thank my mother for giving me these same qualities early on. People like Chad who have gone through countless struggles in life but still work to help others, while sharing their own experiences are people who motivate me.
Chad has taught me how to stand up for others as well. When visiting the Gwich’in people in Alaska I learned of and witnessed first hand the troubles and struggles in their community. Through my work with Soul River I can help this community and others by accepting a responsibility and commitment to inform others about the ecological challenges in their communities and our ability to help bring change and sustainable living. I have been able to meet with Senator Ron Wyden’s representatives and speak to them directly about policies on climate change. A group of us teen leaders also spoke about the dangers of the seismic exploration and how the deep vibrations will scare away the native caribou population (a main food source for the Gwich’in people) leaving the animals with no safe breeding grounds. These experiences have helped me grow as a leader and also helped realize my calling to do work in electrical engineering. In addition to finding the field of engineering fascinating, I hope to one day find more accessible means of clean energy in order to help our planet as a whole and communities like the Gwich’in whose daily well-being and survival will depend on it.
When I think about Fr. Arrupe’s vision of leadership, I think of how Chad and our work with Soul River has helped me feel more comfortable serving others. I currently mentor a local middle school student. I have another close friend who is the only black kid in the eighth grade and like me, he moved with his mom to Oregon before his 7th grade school year. Hanging out with him each week means I have to sacrifice my time hanging out with friends, or stay up a little later that night doing homework, but the sacrifices are worth it. It has been impactful to share my advice and
help him navigate through the school year. I always wished that I had an older brother growing up and I’m glad I could be one for Mason. He started the year feeling alone and frustrated and was acting out in school. Since we’ve been meeting he has made tremendous changes in his behavior and now his teachers are even suggesting that Mason should become a mentor for some of the younger Black kids in the school. Without people like Chad, who have shown me the qualities of a great mentor and man, I may have never had the courage or compassion to enter Mason’s life in the way that I have. Sometimes justice work leads you to fight for entire communities, and sometimes it leads you to slow down to show one person just how important they are and how much they matter. For elementary school I attended a private Christian school where they taught us the importance of our character. For college, it is important to me to be at a smaller school where as a community, we are able to have a shared focus on personal leadership, compassion, and justice.
Apply today to Soul River Inc Today!
Applications – https://www.soulriverinc.org/applications
Deployments – https://www.soulriverinc.org/deployments-2019
August 30 – Soul River Inc, was recently named a 2018 SHIFT Awards Official Selection in the Non-Profit Leadership category.
This year’s SHIFT (Shaping How We Invest For Tomorrow) Festival will take place Oct. 16-18 in Jackson, WY. Entitled “Public Lands, Public Health,” the program will highlight the ways pioneers, early adopters and thought leaders from around the country are integrating time outdoors in nature into our health care system and our daily lives.
The program’s goal is to showcase the work of organizations like Soul River Inc. who are meeting the challenges at the nexus of outdoor recreation and conservation in communities around the country
For this year’s Awards, SHIFT researchers began by looking at more than 400 initiatives that are leveraging outdoor rec for conservation gains. They then evaluated 160 nominations on the basis of impact, innovation and replicability.
As one of the final 40 Official Selections, Soul River Inc. will have the opportunity to present its work at this year’s festival and will be in contention for a coveted 2018 SHIFT AWARD.
View all of this year’s Official Selections.
Known as one of United States of America’s most iconic landscapes and considered an imprint on the rich cultural history of America, Bears Ears is at the threshold of politically charged discussions and threats to our Native tribal communities. Soul River Inc received was welcome into an warm opportunity for youth and veterans to come to Bears Ears by through the blessings of the Navjo Nation Mrs. Charlotte Morris, Oljato Veterans Organization Secretary-Treasurer, Jonah Yellowman, Spiritual Advisor for Dine Bi Keyah, Bears Ears Coalition & ABNDN President Oljato Chapter. Bears Ears, is an ‘outdoor museum’ with dense concentration of Ancestral ruins and rock art, it is a destination that offers many opportunities for recreation, exploration and discovery and very very sacred to the Navijo people.
In June, veterans and youth with Soul River Inc. embarked on a cross-cultural science expedition to Bears Ears National Monument and the surrounding community. Upon arrival to the Navajo Nation, the Oljato Veterans Organization welcomed Soul River Inc. veterans into the community celebration to participate in the raising of the colors: “We stood together in this moment of emotional and life transforming experience as we marched together with Navajo veterans. We stand together as one from the battle to the community on to our land.”
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“This is our critical moment. We have earned a great deal of healing on our journey, and now we must return the favor. Bears Ears has the ability to reground ourselves, have moments of serenity in nature, + to heal the broken bond between us and indigenous peoples.” Riley Brooks
“Bears Ears National Monument is a place where community is created and where memories will last forever. It is a land that heals everyone who embraces its presence. It is a place that needs to be protected, not just for the people and the land, but for the community it creates. It is my job to advocate for the protection of Bears Ears and I will continue to do so until change happens.” – Kiran Weasel
“Because Bears Ears is being taken care of by Native tribes it is important for them to know and participate, or be included in all management or decision making of the land they live in, the land they take in so sacred and dear to their hearts and culture.” – Kenia Claros Martinez
“By welcoming us into the community, the Navajo Nation took the first steps towards what America needs as a nation: healing. I experienced their generosity first hand and I know that they are willing to share more of their culture with those who want to listen.” – Andre Tharp
“Anyone who is willing to open their heart and mind will be forever changed by the outstanding culture and history Bears Ears offers. Going on this trip with Soul River Inc. I really had no clue of what to expect. I never thought in a million years that I’d walk away with lifelong connections and a whole new view on life and my priorities.” – Ayanna Beaudoin
“I feel it is our responsibility to make sure people can have the same experience I did…Rather than destroying Bears Ears we should invite people with mental and emotional pain to come get healed like I and the vets did.” – Gabriel Bliss
“Native people hold a vast amount of knowledge about this land as well as how to care for it properly…Their love for this land extends to everything that lives off of it. We have nothing to fear if all we want is harmony and health.” – Sofina Gilbert
“In a sweat lodge I participated in, a Navajo woman prayed for Bears Ears and for Donald Trump. She prayed he could just pause for a moment and think, clear his head and really think about what he is doing. How powerful is that, her praying for the person she is fighting against?” – McKenna EricksonSweat Lodge
SRI Group shot
Your support was the glue to our process, intertwine into the lives of veterans and youth. You gave the platform for all of us to stand on and the back bone that propel us to move forward successfully and your youth to grow into leaders.
A few letters from our youth!
SRI YOTUH LEADER Kenia Claros Martinez
SRI YOTUH LEADER Kiran Weasel
SRI YOTUH LEADER Sofina Gilbert
SRI YOTUH LEADER McKenna Erickson
The first deployment of the season was an success! Here is where we start to bridge the gap between inner-city youth and military veterans through an incredible river system that is part of the Oregon life and the heartbeat of Portland, Oregon. Youth and veterans together took on an educational advocacy leadership deployment on the Willamette River watershed connecting the dots of partnership of partners whom live and work on the Willamette River to maintain its healthiness and its recreation for all walks of life. We were very grateful to partner with Middlefork Willamette Watershed Council – Executive Director Sarah Drydah and her excellent team (Brian, Tim, and Justin) who spent half of the day with us all learning the headwaters of the Willamette River, including the history, ecology, hydrology, and threats. We also participate in Public Lands Stewardship through the restoration of habitat (removing invasive weeds). Sample and identify fish species in the river. Access and care for Public Lands.
And back to back with an awesome date on the Willamette river we met up with Benton Soil & Water and learned from Melissa Lemein Program Coordinator River Restoration & Invasive. Very cool and engaging with youth and veterans as Melisa lead us into an outdoor interactive class covering riparian ecology station activity learning the basic definition of a riparian area and how the condition of any riparian area dramatically affects the water quality and aquatic habitat of the water body it surrounds. And how the Riparian regions provide functions or ‘jobs’ in the watershed, but only if they are in healthy, functioning condition. Youth and veteran learned to name the four primary tasks and keep a scientific journal through the whole process.
By understanding our local river and the surrounding area, we then begin to know how this plays in our community and effects us all. Our first deployment deepens our minds and souls along the river while exploring the art of fly fishing and building a knowledge-base in conservation for our young ambassadors of the natural environment learning about so many levels and dynamics of the 180 river stretch.
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Be a hero and support – http://ourheroes2018.org/