Becoming a Mentor: How it begins

by Thomas Smith
Mentor for Class of 2020 Explorers

I first heard of Explore Austin from a friend. I had gathered that it was some sort of volunteer program that works with certain schools in the Austin area. When I heard about the week-long hiking trip that the Mentors take with Explorers, my interest was piqued. I recalled a hiking trip my father and I took years ago, where we hiked a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. I remembered how after spending five days hiking and four days driving around the Western States, we ended the adventure not at each other’s throats, but with a more developed relationship between father and son.

When I reflect upon my life, I feel that I have been fortunate to have figures in my life that made lasting impacts. My mother and father and my grandparents made an effort to teach me about life, to take me to places I wouldn’t have visited otherwise, and to listen whenever I wanted to talk with someone. I have spent much of my life in the outdoors, so it seemed obvious that this would be a good place and a good time for me to give back. I decided I wanted to share my time and effort like others had with me; to help the next generation of young people along through the journey of life.

My adventure started at an introductory meeting at St. Andrews school, where Hillary Kunz, Randy Judycki, and Mike Braeuer spoke to a group of people who gathered to learn about mentoring at Explore Austin. There was a bit of Q&A, some storytelling, and plenty of free food. I left that meeting inspired and filled out the online application. In mid-January, Explore Austin rounded up nearly a dozen guys and had us meet at their East Austin office for a group interview. There was more storytelling, some thematic questions, each person went over how ACES (Action-Oriented, Courageous, Excellent Teammate, and Strong Communicator) is defined in their everyday life, and then we were told if we were what they were looking for then we’d hear from them soon.

A little time later, I got a call from Mike. He told me that Explore Austin would commit to me if I would commit to Explore Austin. Mike told me not to answer him then, but to sleep on it and give him my answer the next day. The next day was the first ice-pocalypse to ravish Austin this year, and I called Mike after my hour long commute North on Mopac to tell him I was on board.

After a brief mentor orientation lunch, the 2020 KABP Austin new male and female mentors met at one of the KIPP schools to begin our New Mentor Camp Eagle Orientation. The morning was a bit chilly, but we warmed up with coffee and breakfast tacos, played a few games, had a few discussions about what we were getting ourselves into, and then the lot of us loaded onto a school bus. The three hour bus ride to Camp Eagle (which I imagine I could not point to on a map), was anything but dull. We had group discussions, we listened to Mike's and Hillary’s personal life stories, and then we ate more burritos.

Arriving at Camp Eagle, everyone was ready to get their feet on solid ground. We were introduced to Camp Eagle’s staff members, Adam and Allison, and they gave us a quick lay of the land. After a brief introduction to Camp Eagle we moved on to the gear shed, where we were issued the equipment that we would need to carry with us; the kind of equipment we would be using with our Explorers soon.

Then the long and arduous hike began. With our 40 pound packs on, we hiked for 10 minutes before stopping for our first water break and group accountability cadence. Adam had already become lost, but quickly found his way back. After a quick break and pep talk to reassure us of our survivability, we continued.  Approximately one minute later, we reached our halfway point in the journey, where the females would use their map and compass skills to determine which direction to guide the hiking party. The excursion took a surprising turn as we went off trail, looking for our camping spot for the evening. After some cactus dodging and a nice trek through a shaded dried up creek bed, we arrived at our destination.

Adam and Allison, the Camp Eagle staff members that were guiding our troop, began to demonstrate to us the variety of tents we will have at our disposal, and how one might pitch these tents. We quickly had deployed nearly every style of modern camping tent. Then we were on to our next task: cooking. This was a detailed subject, but for the sake of brevity we added Bisquick to boiling sodium soup noodles laced with chicken meat. This created a hearty and moist cake like meal, which I believe we called chicken noodle cake. 

While we ate, we divided into our mentor groups and half the team told their life stories. It was a nice experience. I feel that all the Mentors really opened up about their lives and who they were and where their lives had taken them. The atmosphere couldn’t have been any more comfortable. We circled up as night was settled in and the speaker was given our undivided attention. After the first round of personal stories, it was campfire time.

The temperature had dropped, so we all gathered about the camp fire with the anticipation of warmth. Haley, one of the new female mentors, demonstrated to the rest of us how to spark the quickest full burning fire I’ve ever seen (without the use of chemical fuel). We gathered around the fire, talking until the embers died.

That night, we were graced with a significant drop in temperature, a nice increase in the wind, and a light rain. I was able to take note of these weather patterns first hand, as I requested to sleep under the open air tent and kept my head out from underneath because I wanted to admire the stars before sleeping. The next morning came early, and everyone set to the morning’s tasks of fixing breakfast and breaking camp. Within an hour, camp was disassembled, stomachs were full of coffee and oatmeal, packs were on our backs and we were ready to hike

Everyone was quite eager to get moving due to the unexpectedly cold temperatures and strong winds. After half an hour and reached our early day destination: the climbing wall.  The climbing wall was a large sheer rock face with 6-foot overhangs, above a huge wooden patio that acted as the base. It was here that the new mentors became Camp Eagle climbing certified. During the summer trip with the explorers, the Mentors will oversee the activities but Camp Eagle still certifies us on their technical activities. After an hour or two of bone chilling climbing instruction, the arctic winds had not subsided, and the group was ready to get back on the hike. An hour later we finished de-issuing our Camp Eagle equipment, headed to the kitchen for BBQ Chicken Salad, and then began our last rounds of personal stories before boarding the bus back to Austin.

The experience of the Camp Eagle New Mentor trip was a memorable one. Meeting and getting to know the gentlemen that will be mentoring alongside of me gave me great confidence in our team’s ability and future at Explore Austin. I am confident that our collective backgrounds will be effective in adequately mentoring the future Explorers Class of 2020. And now we Mentors wait to meet our future Explorers and to help them along through the journey of life.