The Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center’s (BOEC) Internship Program is perhaps one of the most unique aspects of the 44-year old nonprofit organization. In fact, one could argue that it’s this program that really sets us apart from the rest. Each year, 26 lucky interns receive unparalleled hands-on experience in the fields of Outdoor/Experiential Education, Therapeutic Recreation, and Recreation Management, and a great many of them go on to work in the adaptive outdoor education and therapeutic recreation fields in the U.S. and worldwide. So it’s certainly fitting that the person that runs BOEC’s Internship Program has traveled the same road as those she mentors. Kathleen (Kat) Booth, now in her fifth year with the BOEC, began her journey as an intern herself before elevating to a year-round course director/ski instructor and eventually to her present-day role as Internship Coordinator. It’s this irreplaceable experience of rising through the ranks from intern to “chief intern” that epitomizes the BOEC and more specifically the Internship Program.
Kat Booth’s story begins in a small town in the middle of North Carolina where she resided until the end of her teenage years. It wasn’t until her therapeutic recreation degree from UNC-Wilmington required an internship that the now 27-year-old’s story became forever intertwined with that of the BOEC. It hasn’t been as straightforward as one might think, though. Kat completed her internship in the summer of 2015 but in order to have year-round employment with the organization she was faced with the daunting task of doing what most southern girls have only read about or seen on TV … learning to ski.
“Pretty early on into my internship I knew I wanted to continue working with the BOEC but I wasn’t sure if I had the skill set to work in the winter,” she says. “I had never skied before in my life and actually only ever seen snow about three times. I was so fortunate to be accepted into the ski program as not only did I get to continue working with the program I love but also gain a brand new skill set. If you would have told me even a year before it happened that I was going to be an adaptive ski instructor, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
Well, do you believe us now, Kat? When asked what the book title of her life would be, she fittingly responds, What’s the Worst That Could Happen? It seems that she truly is living an important chapter of her book as the BOEC Internship Coordinator, and is loving every minute of it. In fact, the favorite thing about her job is something she sees as nothing short of cliché.
“The favorite part of my job is how much each intern class teaches me,” she states. “I strive to create an environment where they feel, not only comfortable taking feedback, but comfortable giving me feedback. This aspect has been one of the greatest pleasures of my job. We all have something to learn from one another.”
And it’s the formation of these special relationships that is incredibly rewarding to both sides, but it can be kind of bittersweet. They all spend the first two weeks of the internship training together 24-hours a day, 7-days-a-week and naturally form some pretty heavy bonds. However, after this initial training period, Kat is forced to cut the cord so to speak and send them on their way out into the field. But like any good leader, she finds the positives to focus on.
“My favorite part is checking in on their progress towards their goals. I love hearing how they’ve not only accomplished those goals but really destroyed them,” she says. “For example, an intern who has never skied before might have wanted to work on side slipping after training and now they can side slip down the entire ballet hill. Or maybe an intern may have been nervous about making one-on-one connections with students and now they’ve been working with the same student for two weeks in a row and have formed an amazing student-teacher relationship.”
As each intern becomes more comfortable with his or her role, and gains more and more experience each day, like a proud mother Kat basks in the rewards of watching this amazing progress from day one. In fact, she sees this aspect of her job as the most rewarding.
“Like when an intern is nervous about going on their first backcountry trip and they come back a week later excited to tell me every little detail and how it was better than they ever could’ve imagined,” she reminisces. “I remember one intern arriving at training and admitting to me that she had a fear of water. Well, lo and behold, two months later she was teaching kayaking like a pro. I just love seeing this individual progress.”
While the title of this series of articles is “It’s the People Who Make BOEC so Special,” Kat is quick to humbly point out that it’s not necessarily herself that makes the BOEC special but more about the BOEC and its culture. She struggles to put her finger on this distinctive intangible but again points to the give and take between volunteers, participants, staff and interns learning and growing with one another.
“The interns often tell me how much they personally gain from working with our participants, staff and volunteers,” she says. “It’s not as if the clients are here just to benefit from the staff, we are all here to benefit from a shared experience whether it’s growing in confidence or learning a new way to cook bacon, for example. It’s just the way the BOEC is.”
And the three words she uses to describe the BOEC and its internship program? Transformative, unforgettable, and extraordinary. As she looks back on the past five years with the BOEC she finds it pretty easy to encapsulate those three words.
“One of my favorite aspects of the program is how incredibly hands-on it is for all those involved, she says. “Interns get to experience every aspect of programming, from running a rock wall to prepping food to logistics to one-on-one personal interactions with participants. The opportunities to take on more responsibility and to grow both professionally and personally are endless. That’s what makes this program so special.”
It certainly does sound transformative, unforgettable and extraordinary. But just ask anyone involved with the BOEC and they would argue that, yes the BOEC is extraordinary in and of itself, but it’s you, Kat, that is one of the people who actually forms the nucleus that makes it so. What do you have to say about that?
“Just over two years ago I accepted my current position and have thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. The program has grown a bit every year and I have enjoyed seeing the progression.”
And while her professional life has revolved exclusively around working with those with disabilities and special needs at this point, it’s interesting to note that if she wasn’t doing what she’s doing she would like to work as a personal chef for someone famous.
“I would get to cook all day and travel to amazing places,” she says with a glimmer in her eye.
Back off Miley Cyrus, Kat bleeds BOEC blue and green. And she truly is one of the people that makes the BOEC – and its Internship Program – so darn special.
To learn more about BOEC’s Internship Program click here or email Kat at [email protected].