“My name is Ryan. As far back as I can remember I grew up in and out of homeless shelters and schools, living both on the streets and in cars. There were brief moments in my life where we actually had a home, but these weren’t lasting moments. I remember being really young, maybe 8, and wandering around the city from late at night to early morning digging in trash cans and dumpsters in the back of apartments not knowing exactly what I was looking for. I’d see my mom with tears in her eyes every day.
When I was 15 I moved into Toussaint Teen Center, a homeless shelter for at-risk, underprivileged teens. That winter was the first time I met Chris Rutgers and learned about the Outdoor Outreach Program. They took a group of us up to Big Bear for a four day snowboard trip. It was there that I experienced my first time outside the big city and in the mountains, the first time in my life seeing and feeling snow, as well as my first time ever strapping into a snowboard… with Chris’ encouragement was all I needed to accomplish what I didn’t know I could do, the best I’ve ever done. Before this, I didn’t even know what snow felt like, though I knew after that day something was going to be different about my future.
That same season I was offered a position in the Leadership Program to help instruct kids in similar programs, and from similar backgrounds. This double whammy of both snowboarding as a job and helping others with history like mine was the perfect job for me. Every season for the next five seasons I spent most of my winter weekends in the mountains of Big Bear and Mammoth Mountain. I was learning new tricks, becoming more familiar with the sport, perfecting my own style and gaining the respect and gratefulness of other students. The Leadership Program was opening doors that had been shut my entire life. Being in my position was rewarding in so many ways you couldn’t count them with every limb, finger or toe on your body.
After I graduated high school I was given the opportunity to travel outside of California to live, work and snowboard every day in Utah. I’m planning to spend my winters in Utah working and focusing on becoming a professional snowboarder, and my summers back home in San Diego studying Graphic Design and Music, and working for Outdoor Outreach. I knew from the moment I began my work with Outdoor Outreach that my life was only going to move forward and I have Chris Rutgers to thank for that. Without him and his idea for this program I really don’t know where I’d be, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be the best place. Outdoor Outreach has given me, and those like me, the chance to grab hold of something out of our reach-a chance to be someone we had never imagined. Now I look back on my past and wonder if I wasn’t in those underprivileged situations, would I be where I am today? Without the strong fighting will of my mother, the giving heart of Chris and Outdoor Outreach, and the guidance of the Toussaint Academy I would not be who I am. I believe that how we survive is what makes us who we are.”
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