WHY Pacia Life? Randy Oakley shares some history that led to the creation. Each chapter has been shortened for the sake of reader enjoyment. Longer versions with more details are available.
Aspiro and more - 2004 - 2013.
My passion for founding Aspiro started at age 14. I had earned my Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America and had chosen to participate in a leadership program of the Tribe of Mic-O-Say. The program was ten days long each summer in Osceola, Missouri. One of the rites of passages included a multi-day solo, being with my blood brother Danny Garcia, spending a day in complete silence, giving service, and making agreements to serve others. During the solo experience, I thought I was alone and doing it all on my own. Later, I realized that we were all being safely watched by skilled masters. I had some simple but powerful experiences throughout the whole experience that stuck with me for years to come.
In another experience as a 14-year-old, one of my spiritual leaders had shared with me that I would always want to serve others and help them solve their problems. It turns out that his prediction has always been true.
In 1987, I took a job as a starving college student being a home parent with twelve adjudicated youth. Eleven of my boys were from Las Vegas and one from Utah.
One expectation of my job was working with Ray Mendenhall in multiple 12-day wilderness survival expeditions. Each trip was in different locations from the High Uinta Mountains to the deserts in Escalante Utah.
Each of the youth was given a choice to participate or not. However, they all opted in every time!
The experiences were highly effective and impactful. Even though I was an employee, the trips were also highly impactful on me as well.
I learned the power of making shelter, fire, collecting food all while taking care of each of our students in the process. I also learned the wisdom of having a thumb drill as a backup!
From 1989 to 1991, I was recruited by Dr. Lee Burham and Ross Olsen to work in Maui Hawaii in a large work-study program called Youth Developmental Enterprises (YDE). YDE served thousands of young men and even though it is out of business due to the pineapple industry moving from Hawaii to the Philippines, there is still a huge Facebook following of men who constantly tell their stories and share their gratitude for the experience.
YDE had been around since 1964 but for whatever reasons, I was promoted into management four months after beginning my employment, and three months after that was promoted to Head Coordinator (COO position).
Upon occasion, some of our teenagers would struggle so I would take them on outings where we would do everything from rappelling to busting a fire on the beach with no matches, spearfishing, to hiking through the rain forest in places that it felt no one had been before. Mostly, these outings were designed to build relationships, talk, and build self-efficacy with the hope that negative behavior would disappear.
I used the same principals that I had learned in college in various theories of recreation along with the self-efficacy, self-determination theory, and other principals I had learned from Ray Mendenhall in my limited wilderness survival experiences.
There is a lengthy story about why I switched from a nomadic wilderness model to an adventure therapy model, but the short version is the transformation began in Maui Hawaii. (Just for the record, while an adventure model has more real-life transference of skills in today’s world, a true nomadic model produces deeper personal growth. But, that is an opinion for another day).
The three years in Hawaii were powerful. Two of my life mentors or geru’s, Ross Olsen and Doug McCluer were impactful in my life. And, my two oldest children, Sarah and Matt were born on Maui. But, it was time to return to Utah to finish school. It was also time, after a total of 4 ½ years of living with teenage boys, to have some sort of normal life.
From 1992 to 2005, I worked as the Program Director in the non-profit world of the Utah Boys Ranch (today named West Ridge Academy).
During those 13 years, I spent an average of 90 nights a year in a sleeping bag. Eric Alred and I also got the school officially accredited and I was appointed principal for a few years. We fundraised like crazy, did landscaping as the campus kept growing, built a ropes course, sports fields, greenhouses, etc. The campus slowly grew from a 48 bed facility for boys to a 144 bed co-ed campus.
Over the years, I had also felt inspired to create my own outdoor program. Something about my 14-year-old self kept telling me over and over that, I was to take on this project.
My first attempt was in 1995. It was called Camp Redrock. Brochures were printed and I was out trying to get it off the ground. Students were enrolled and payments were collected. But, I made a mistake and didn’t run past my boss, Chris Buttars, that I wanted to run both male and female groups. At the time, he was opposed to girls being in the wilderness and shut it down.
In 1996, I had all the permissions to do Camp Redrock again. A couple of months later, I was hit by lightning while hiking in the High Uinta Mountains. I lost interest and just focused on my own recovery.
In 2004, I created a full business plan. And, I had an investor by the name of Lenard Driggs. By the time I was getting details in line, it was going into winter already so I decided to sit on it all until 2005.
In the early months of 2005, a second investor, a small company called Proficio, learned of my plan and offered what I thought was a safer deal. In hindsight, I would have stuck with Lenard.
On October 14th, 2005 our first female student arrived. A week later, a second female student joined her.
My program director, Dave Ward who had worked with me for many years at West Ridge Academy, was instrumental in the foundational creation of Aspiro.
In fact, if I were to ever say someone co-founded Aspiro with me, it is Dave Ward that gets the credit.
But, there are others that also were instrumental!
Our first guides were Cassandra and Ken Murdock. Cassandra is a CTRS and her husband Ken, was an avid outdoor enthusiast. Cassandra and Ken were also employees at West Ridge Academy and I needed dedicated guides.
Other first dedicated Aspiro guides included four guides that all had all worked at the National Outdoor Leadership School (N.O.L.S). One of the four guides, Mick Wolf, had also been an outdoor student of mine about ten years previous so we already had a strong bond and relationship that had come from outdoor expeditions in the High Uinta's and the deserts of Southern Utah. Mick’s skill sets in the outdoors had developed to a much higher level than my own. Mick and Jackie were essential guides in the early days.
A few months later, Bridger and Farrah Jensen joined our team. Bridger and Farrah both came with experience from their time of working together at Outback with Tim Thayne, Rick Meeves, and Shayne Gallagher! Bridger is an amazing entrepreneur, quality field guide who later became a therapist. Farrah has a quiet magic healing power with young adults. Bridger and Farrah also played a significant role in the early growth of Aspiro.
By April 1st, 2006, we had a full set of guides in training. At this point, Dan LeMaire, another key person in developing Aspiro joined the team. Over the years in Aspiro and in Pacia Life, Dan was instrumental in developing systems, programs, giving leadership, and working with some of the toughest young adults. When Dan joined the Pacia Life team, he also helped take Pacia Life to a whole new level.
Later in 2006, Mike and Jodi Escalante also joined the Aspiro team as guides. They came with significant experience that included the Anasazi Foundation and Walk About. Mike is one of the most inspirational, gifted, master teachers that I have ever rubbed shoulders with.
While Dave, Bridger, Farrah, and Dan were foundational, I would have to say that it was the combination of Mike’s leadership in the field combined with Justin Robinson’s clinical work that took Aspiro to a whole new level at that time.
I'll share more about Justin and Janet Robinson and their impact later when I share the history of Vantage Point, Daniels Academy, Momentum and Pure Life! Their real impact was not in Aspiro but in the other places that Aspiro went too!
Somewhere around July of 2006, Brian Church joined the Aspiro team to do outreach marketing. Josh Watson joined in November of 2006 as an admissions director which took a huge workload off of me as up to that point, I was wearing a lot of hats.
The history of Aspiro goes on and on! But, here is the take away for Pacia Life.
I already knew how to do programming for young adults in both the outdoors and in residential boarding schools.
I was raising my own kids and foster kids.
I knew how to grow a program with my experience in Hawaii and at West Ridge Academy.
In the days of Aspiro, I had to learn how to run all aspects of a business. Not just the program side.
Aspiro grew! Daniels Academy, Momentum/Pure Life, etc.
At the time of this blog, Aspiro continues to thrive, expand and serve a broad range of young adults!
With all of the success of Aspiro and companies, I still feel something is missing. And, having worked now in Pacia Life, I get to see the work of many different wilderness programs, hospitals, boarding schools and more. I don't have all the answers, but there are some simple things that we as an industry can do better.