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Adventure Guides Program Gives Fathers Creative New Ways to Bond With Their Kids

Adventure Guides Program Gives Fathers Creative New Ways to Bond With Their Kids

Ah, those golden “middle years” of fatherhood!

Diaper-changing and the Terrible Twos are thankfully in the past, and the bumpy road of adolescence is still years away. For a brief, fleeting moment, you’re the center of your kids’ lives. They want to spend all their time with you, and they’re increasingly receptive to new adventures and expanding their horizons, as long as you’re close by.

Don’t waste that precious window of opportunity. The YMCA’s Adventure Guides program is designed for parents to get the most out of their relationships with their children. Spending well-planned one-on-one time with them now will nurture a strong bond of trust and create memories that will last several lifetimes – yours and theirs.

Tom Johnson of Mission Viejo was looking for just such an opportunity for his three kids in 2012. “I wanted to find an organization that would allow me to spend quality time with my 5-year-old triplets, Rachel, Rebecca, and Ryan … I remembered my time in the Indian Guides (as a kid) through the YMCA.”

Those happy memories prompted Johnson to contact his local “Y” and sign up for the successor to the Indian Guides program, Adventures Guides. “I had no idea we were about to get on the ride of our lives,” he admits.

The Johnsons’ 120-plus adventures over the last six years have included some things that might deter more fainted-hearted souls: camping in every conceivable kind of weather, from 100-degree heat to 14 degrees below freezing; scrambling up rock faces and careening down zip lines; dealing with waves of rain and snow; sleeping in a museum and waking up to the icy stare of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

They’ve been richly rewarded by their experiences. A couple of Tom’s favorite Adventure Guides outings:
– “Sleeping on the field at Angel Stadium – playing games during the day and watching movies on the Jumbotron at night.”
– “Watching my daughters fall in love with horses as they got to ride and take care of them at Rawhide Ranch.”
– “Sitting around campfires with them in my lap as we played games or told stories … until they fell asleep and I had to carry them to the tent to put them to bed.”

One of the secrets to the program’s success is that it pulls you away from the distractions of daily home life, Johnson says.

“I have had precious one-on-one time with them that I probably would not have been able to have without the program. I was either busy with work or with stuff around the house. But the Adventure Guides program got us away from the distractions and excuses of (home and) work and let us focus on spending time together and having fun.”

C.J. Pearl of Ladera Ranch says there are many benefits to Adventure Guides beyond bonding with your kids and having some fun. One of the program’s greatest strengths is its ability to persuade shy kids to step outside their personal bubble and participate socially, Pearl notes. His two children, Jack and Ava, have blossomed since joining Adventure Guides.

“Both my kids entered the program a bit shy and have come out with a number of very close friends and the confidence to do things they might not have done otherwise … (They) have developed their public speaking skills being onstage at campfire events, which has translated to school and other activities.”

Fathers, too, derive benefits from the socializing, besides enjoying some recreational time with their kids. They make new adult friends, and many of them become involved in the Adventure Guides program as leaders.

“My first year I was the new guy,” recalls Scott Huguenin of Coto de Caza. “Trying to figure out this program, learn the culture, figure out how to camp and return some of the good that we were taking away with us.

“My second year I was asked to be our Circle Navigator, where I helped to plan and coordinate activities.

“Next year I’m going to be the Sunshine Expedition Navigator, where my daughter and I have the privilege of leading five circles. (We) plan the event calendar, coordinate expedition details and outings, and improve our culture and boost the fun and memories where we’re able, among other things.”

Those who are familiar with the YMCA and its work know that Adventure Guides is just an extension of the organization’s longstanding efforts to bring families together meaningfully. And the organization has a long history of nurturing the father-child relationship.

An important chapter in that history concerns the legacy of a Civil War veteran named William Jackson Smart, a widower who raised six children. To honor her father, his daughter Sonora Smart Dodd organized the first Father’s Day celebration in 1910 at the YMCA in Spokane, Washington.

President Woodrow Wilson sanctioned Father’s Day in 1913 and visited Spokane to join the celebration in 1916. President Calvin Coolidge supported the idea in 1924 as well. It quickly became an indelible part of American culture.

Dodd’s act of generosity set the tone for a century of multi-generational giving and long-term family participation, and paternal legacies continue to play an important role at the YMCA.

In San Juan Capistrano, the Giraldin family is an example of the practice. In 1982, “Fast Buck” Giraldin joined Adventure Guides and steadily expanded the Orange County program over the next 15 years. His son Greg joined Adventure Guides in 2013, and with his oldest daughter Grace embraced the Adventure Guides program. This year, the Giraldins plan to honor the contributions of Fast Buck, who died in 2010.

Johnson also carries on the tradition of honoring Adventure Guides by generously supporting it. In 2015 he spearheaded a fundraising campaign to raise money through silent auctions, bake sales, raffles, lemonade stands and corporate gifts. In 2015, its first year, the campaign smashed expectations by raising $37,500.

Most of us would be satisfied by such an accomplishment. To Johnson and his Big Thunder Spirit fundraising team in Mission Viejo, it was taken as a challenge. The next year they raised $107,000, almost three times as much, to support YMCA programs.

William Jackson Smart would have been proud – and amazed.

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