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Non-Profit Happenings May 2014

Outward Bound: Building Leaders, Benefiting Communities

“Outward bound” is actually a nautical term that means a ship is leaving the safety of a harbor and committing itself to the unknown challenges, hazards, and rewards of the open sea.

Outward Bound is more of a process than a concrete thing. If you’re a Star Wars fan, think of it like The Force. Once you’ve been trained in it, it’s always with you.

The Colorado Outward Bound School, founded in 1962 was the first Outward Bound school in the United States. Building and operating out of a remote basecamp near Marble, Colorado, the program grew. The natural next step in continuing to offer epic wilderness courses was to expand to the iconic frontier of Southeastern Utah.

Operations began in Utah in 1967 and it is estimated that since then, the Colorado Outward Bound School (COBS) has served more than 12,000 students in the state of Utah alone!

Colorado Outward Bound School courses teach students values like grit, tenacity and leadership. We teach all the basics needed to competently participate on an expedition as a member of a crew – not just a passenger. The ultimate goal is not just to learn how to run a rapid or rappel a canyon, but to develop key character traits that translate into skills for life.

Chris Benson, Program Director for the Colorado Outward Bound School’s Southwest Program, elaborates: “Think about a rafting program, where students learn the ins and outs of whitewater rafting on a multiday wilderness stretch. At the end of a course, students walk away not only knowing how to captain a raft, but how to take their increased confidence, teamwork and leadership skills back to their life at home – and apply those to the “rapids” they will face in the future.”

Outward Bound is truly a way of life. It’s not necessarily the knot-tying or map-reading that makes students successful after course. It’s the discovery, through challenging ourselves to step outside of our comfort zone, that there is more in us than we know.

But how does it all work? The basic ingredients are simple: challenge and adventure, a supportive group culture and a progression of skills and responsibility. But the magic happens when we focus on reflection and transference. How do we take the skills we learn in the wilderness and apply them to our frontcountry lives? What did we discover in ourselves that will change how we face future challenges? For each student, the answer is different – maybe they go on to complete college with honors because they’ve developed broken a daunting task into small steps; maybe they grow in their career because they have learned how to become an effective leader. In all cases, there is a fundamental shift, a strength of character, that emerges.

Additionally, Outward Bound courses focus on inspiring our students to serve. On almost every course, we partake in a service project in support of specific individuals or an entire community. Since 2003, the Colorado Outward Bound School has completed more than 10,000 hours of service in Southeastern Utah, helping with projects like invasive weed removal, trail building, and support of other Moab non-profits like the Youth Garden Project.

The Colorado Outward Bound School runs courses ranging in length from 8 to 81 days, with some of the most beautiful and remote wilderness areas in the region as our classrooms. From the mountains to the rivers to the canyons, our mission is to change lives through challenge and discovery.

For more information about joining us on course, visit and make sure to mention you read about it in Moab Happenings.

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