Dean Oshanek grew up in 100 Mile House, but he now spends much of his time amongst the forest, working as the local site manager at the Educo Adventure School.
As the 50th anniversary of Educo’s operations draws near this August, Oshanek is looking forward to another 50 years of adventure at the South Cariboo’s arguably, most unique summer camp.
“You’ve got climbing, you’ve got first-aid, you’ve got outdoor survival, Kate’s got her lifeguard, we need a lifeguard down at the water for kids to go swimming. These are all things that have sort of come along over the last few years,” said Oshanek, explaining just some of the features of the camp and the various ways in which they’ve progressed in the past five decades.
Many things have changed, such as the certifications, for example. When Educo originally built their high and low ropes courses, certifications weren’t required, said Oshanek, but because outdoor education is becoming more prevalent throughout the country, a lot of educators have realized the value of getting kids out on the land, he believes.
“They’ve discovered that if you get kids outside the learning curve goes way up. Plus you get to teach a lot of skills that you wouldn’t in regular schools,” he added.
Kids who visit Educo come from places all over the province, like Clearwater, Quesnel, Prince George, and elsewhere.
“It’s nice to see some of the changes over the years,” said Oshanek. “Kids are a lot more inclusive of people with differences now than they seem to have been. I sort of grew up in a different time I guess. For me, I’ve had a personal tragedy in my life.”
Oshanek lost one of his best friends to a struggle with anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. He recalls that a lot of the things his friend dealt with in his life are now considered more acceptable in the world. He has often seen that acceptance modelled in the children he works with at Educo.
“It was a tough thing and that was kind of a turning point in my life as well,” Oshanek said, referencing the loss of his friend. “That’s a large part of why I’m here, to be honest. I was into the party scene as a younger guy, basically the last time I drank alcohol was at my best friend’s funeral. It made me realize some things about myself. I just really notice that kids are a lot more inclusive, in the past we’ve had to work a bit more with some of the kids [than we do now].”
One of the more courageous acts that Oshanek ever recalls experiencing at Educo happened during one of the camp’s school programs.
“We had a young guy up here, he had autism. One of the bravest things I’ve ever seen, [was when] he got hung up there and couldn’t move forward. Isabella was there talking with him and we sort of kept the other kids moving. I was on the zip line, staging for that, and all the sudden this boy comes climbing up there and you could literally see him shaking like a leaf, and to watch him find the courage to push off that platform and go, that was just really gratifying for me to see that.”
Oshanek often gets to experience children and adults overcome things they might not have thought they had in them during their experiences at Educo.
“One of the ideas that we have here is, we want kids to push their boundaries, to find out what they’re capable of. Part of it is to talk to kids about learning who their self is, being authentic to themselves, finding those places where you know, everybody’s got a gift and it’s just a matter of finding it. A lot of our leadership programs are designed around building those kind of skills that aren’t necessarily always done in the school programs.”
Oshanek has been volunteering at Educo since the late ’90s, long before he became a staff member. He has witnessed past student participants and staff enter the world, and is pleased to see Educo’s influence on their lives.
“They’re going into the world and making choices with their heart instead of their bank book and things like that. To see people get into careers that are satisfying, it’s been a real thrill for me being part of something like that. I think that’s one of the real advantages these kinds of programs offer, making kids understand that they’re capable of anything and that it still takes work and you have to overcome challenges, but you can do that.”