Geoff Tisch opened the Educo Adventure School in 1969. Ten young men participated in the first program, based out of Aldergrove, B.C. Raven Nyman photo.

Educo celebrates 50 years of learning and growing together

‘We’re all here for a very similar reason, which is not money’

On Aug. 10 and 11, the Educo Adventure school will celebrate 50 years of operations at their 160 acres location alongside Little Holden Lake.

In half a century, Educo has opened its doors to countless visitors, most of them children and young adults. The journey has been an adventurous one, but it hasn’t always been easy.

When wildfires threatened the South Cariboo in the summer of 2017, most courses at the Educo Adventure School were suspended, and staff there began to worry that programming may come to an end altogether.

The following year, the region was challenged again with a summer of prolonged and heavy wildfire smoke.

“Basically after 2017, we thought it might be the end,” explained Educo’s Site Manager Dean Oshanek.

Oshanek became a staff volunteer about five years ago following a history of volunteer work with Educo. When the wildfires hit in 2017, he was actually in the mountains with a group of children.

Read more: From volunteer to site manager, Educo veteran reflects on summer camp’s impact

“[With] the discovery program, we were up in behind Mica mountain and we got called because there were so many roads closing. They were worried about us getting trapped up there. We came down into 100 Mile and it was not fun.”

After the summer wildfires of 2017, a lot of changes happened for Educo, explained Oshanek.

“Last year and this year we have been rebuilding and getting things back into shape,” he said. “Putting things back on track and rebuilding the student base. Staffing was really hard hit… We had a lot of people who had a lot of experience and they kind of moved on into other things.”

This year has been better, though, said Oshanek.

“We hope to build on that and expect it to continue to build and gain momentum again and pick things up. We’re making plans to fix some of the infrastructures,” he added, noting his background in construction. “We’ve been chipping away at those projects between doing everything else.”

“It keeps me out of trouble,” Oshanek said of his work at Educo. “It kind of really connects with me.”

Retired schoolteacher Judith Kleinstein has been coming to Educo for over 40 years and shares Oshanek’s love for the site.

“You walk outside at night and there are all the stars,” she said. “Occasionally you can see all the lights from here. It’s amazing wilderness, you’re totally off the grid. Now we have a little bit of internet connection and things like that, but that’s very, very recent.”

In the main cabin where everyone eats, there is a large display that outlines the history of Educo. When the school opened, courses focused on survival skills, work ethic, and construction, but women were not included.

“So it didn’t start really like a summer camp,” explained Brigid Mueller, one of Educo’s former students who is now a volunteer. “But [was] more of a survival thing, and it started only as a men’s camp.”

Kleinstein and other adventurous women actually led Educo’s first girl’s course in 1985.

Related: At Educo, everything is an adventure

The first girl’s course wasn’t offered until about 15 years after Educo got started, but Kleinstein was there.

40 years later, despite undergoing not one, but two hip replacements, she is still helping to lead students and young adults on adventures through the B.C. wilderness.

Kleinstein is happy to see former students, like Mueller returning to Educo as volunteers and leaders.

“She’s the future,” Kleinstein said of Mueller. “I have a feeling she’s going to be doing a lot of work with these people here. We decided that if we were ever able to do anything more with Educo, it’s so valuable to have junior staff who are current and know this thing.”

Kash Izydorczyk, Educo’s Program Director, echoed that this year marks the beginning of their rebuild, and said the staff and volunteers alike are doing this “for the kids.”

She noted that after 40 years, Kleinstein is likely the most committed person in the world to the site and certainly “holds the most history of Educo.”

“We’re all here for a very similar reason,” Izydorczyk said. “Which is not money, because we’re not for profit, and therefore the intention is just good, which is a good feeling.”

As a new team, Izydorczyk and her staff have been using the concept of “growth mountain” to help each other succeed and to guide the children and adults who visit, too.

“You have your ridge of relaxation, you have your growth peak, and then you have your panic cliff,” she explained of the concept. “In different situations, you feel differently. We use [growth mountain] in high ropes, to get kids thinking about what challenge means to them. When they are on the growth peak, that’s a space where they might be afraid, they might be challenged, but it’s actually the place where they’re learning, and where they can get over certain fears. This is also just like growth mountain for the whole team because all of us are figuring it out.”

Navigating the long driveway to the Educo site, you will encounter a sequence of handmade signs in the trees. The signs are marked with words such as harmony, kindness, respect, intention, creativity, and movement.

“The idea behind the signs,” she explained, is that as people drive in, they can reflect on the words they encounter and try to get themselves in the mindset of what happens out at Educo.

“We leave all the bad things outside and focus on all those positive, wonderful [things]. At the beginning of the summer, we actually came together as a new team and we brainstormed the values that we hold dear to ourselves and that we want to hold dear in our community.”

The 50th-anniversary celebration will be held at the Educo site, with festivities starting at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning, and ending at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

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