In 1999, Lockheed-Martin sponsored two Cobb County teachers to attend Key Issues Institute in Summit County, Colorado. I applied for the sponsorship and was pleasantly surprised when my principal informed me that I was chosen for this professional development opportunity. When I first arrived in Keystone, I was overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the mountains, crystal-clear streams, and the non-threatening tone of the environmental workshop. Awe turned to determination when our group visited the Keystone Science School – I knew right then I needed to find a way to send my son to Summer Camp at KSS one day.
At the time, Jesse was too young to attend, but I was not deterred. For the next two summers I continued to come back to KSS to work on their Educator Programs. When Jesse was finally introduced to the Keystone Science School I was ecstatic! Jesse…not so much. He was a pudgy little city boy of nine, off at camp in a very unfamiliar land for the first time in his life. This was also the first time he had been away from family and friends. I was so excited and worried for him. It turns out my worries were justified. Jesse spent that first week at Camp mostly in his cabin reading a Harry Potter book. In fact he read the entire book in the five days he was there. When I picked him up, I felt deflated. He didn’t have the time of his life as I had anticipated.
The story, however, does not end there.
The following year, Jesse returned to camp. And this time he started to grow. It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen in one summer. But Jesse learned the lessons taught by Keystone Science School layer upon layer, year after year. By the time he was 14, Jesse wanted to push himself and attended the Keystone Mountain Adventures, KSS’s backcountry experience for teenagers. He spent 10 days hiking, camping, rafting, climbing, and cooperating with his peers. I was amazed! I couldn’t believe this little city boy was voluntarily climbing up and down 14,000 ft. mountains carrying all he needed to survive on his back!
His growth did not stop there. At sixteen, Jesse became a counselor’s assistant. The KSS staff took him under their wings and taught him how to help little children understand the lessons he had learned so well. He learned to dry tears, calm fears, encourage, and generate excitement for the joy of life in the mountains. Jesse’s last (to date) association with Keystone Science School occurred the summer of his 18th year when he joined the staff as a counselor for the entire summer. He led groups of children during both day and overnight camps. At the end of that summer he was exhausted, but he felt so accomplished! As he headed to work at a local pizza restaurant, I asked him if he could handle the job. His response: “Mom, I took care of little kids all summer. I think I can handle this.” And he did.
Keystone Science School took a young city boy and turned him into a charming, rugged mountain man. He is self-sufficient, kind, non-assuming, productive, hard-working, willing to help others, appreciative and protective of nature, a lover of dogs and other animals, confident, and generous. While my friends are experiencing “boomerang kids” returning home to live in their basements, my Jesse is embracing his independence as he continues to grow from the lessons he learned at Keystone Science School during all those wonderful summers.