TWA, Then and Now: Alums reflect on Teen Wilderness Adventures’ 25th year

April 19, 2016
Teen Wilderness Adventures
Liz Frierman, Ryan Smith, Alexandra Brown, courtesy of Morgan UrelloFrom left to right: (top) Alexandra Brown, Morgan Urello; (bottom) Rachel Freierman, Walker Ellis.

Many hikers who complete the 2,000-plus-mile Appalachian Trail say they aren’t the same person as when they began. Talk to any AMC Teen Wilderness Adventures (TWA) participant after they wrap up a trip, and you’re bound to hear the same sentiment. Typically entering the program with little to no outdoor experience, group members, ages 12 to 18, waste no time learning wilderness and leadership skills and bonding with each other. Living and traveling in a group for 5 to 20 days leads to plenty of teachable moments and transferable life lessons that stick with participants into their 20s, 30s, and beyond. Now in its 25th year, TWA continues to have profound effects on teenagers—so much so that some return years later as leaders. AMC Outdoors asked a few alumni to reflect on their TWA trips.

What do you do these days?

Alexandra Brown, 25: I am the wine club coordinator for Laurel Glen Vineyard and about to start a graduate program in museum studies at the Institute of Archaeology, at University College London.

Walker Ellis, 26: I am a leadership development corps member for American Conservation Experience.

Rachel Freierman, 29: I run a health and wellness initiative for AMC in the communities of Berlin and Gorham, N.H. I also ski patrol at Wildcat Mountain.

Morgan Urello, 27: I am a chemical/biomolecular engineering Ph.D. student at the University of Delaware.

Did you learn any lessons in TWA that helped prepare you for your career?

Brown: I got a lot better at finding my own way in the world—finding the things that I enjoy and going for them.

Ellis: You can learn just as much from teens as they can learn from you.

Freierman: Being in the wilderness with a group requires you to be flexible and work collaboratively to solve any problems that might arise. These skills have been useful in every job I’ve had and in my day-to-day life as well.

Urello: TWA helped nurture my love for the outdoors and inspired me to become the safety officer for the labs I work in. Part of my job is to ensure we comply with environmental regulations. I also helped build the university’s first rooftop garden. TWA boosted my confidence in the outdoors and encouraged me to try out new hobbies, which have helped to keep me sane in graduate school.

Any memorable moments from TWA you’d like to share?

Freierman: I really enjoyed the other people on the trips. I stayed friends with some of them for many years after. During a TWA trip, I learned it was possible to go to college to study outdoor and environmental education. One of my instructors was majoring in this field at the time, and from that point on, I wanted to do the same.

Urello: I remember the skills I learned and the friends I made. TWA introduced me to my current favorite hobbies, backpacking and kayaking. I don’t know if I ever would have had the confidence to start backpacking without these experiences. A few of my favorite memories include learning to play the harmonica; eating pink pasta after a thru-hiker asked to share our stove to cook his Red Snapper hot dog; and seeing a moose for the first time.


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Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a former managing editor of AMC Outdoors.