Aiming to make a difference

Published in the Argus Observer January 15, 2015.

WEISER—Kids have an abundance of energy. As they grow and explore their world, there’s always a chance that they’ll make decisions that lead them down a rocky path instead of becoming assets to the community, especially if they don’t have positive examples in their lives.

Weiser-based Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps is an organization that endeavors to be that positive example. The camp’s goal is to enrich the lives of young people in the Treasure Valley through challenging outdoor activities and fun, engaging conversation.The organization was created in 2007 by California-native siblings Arianne Zucker and Todd Zucker, and was originally named LifeCHANGE.

The pair tested their program in England and in the United States, and took two teens from the Treasure Valley to South Africa in 2013.“We started with the idea of doing a reality show,” Todd Zucker said. “Unfortunately there wasn’t enough human nasty drama for a show, but we decided what was important was trying to make a difference in kids’ lives.”

After the South Africa trip, the program’s name was changed to Arrow-Heart Adventure Camps, but the mission remained the same: to positively impact the lives of young people in the Treasure Valley and around the world.

“Our niche is kids who have made mistakes and are wanting to change, and kids that have the potential to go down that path,” Zucker said. “Those right now are kids that we’re looking for.”

Youths are asked to commit to the program for 10 months to a year. Arrow-Heart has one program weekend a month, and every month the camp tries to add a community-service project into its agenda as well. Kids are required to fill out an application before admittance to the program, which helps recruit only those who are truly committed to being involved.

Once they are in the program, kids go rock climbing, camping and hiking, climb ropes courses, play paintball and participate in a variety of other activities that challenge them both physically and mentally.

After their activities, group leaders sit the kids down for a 20-minute lesson, where they teach “The Six C’s of Leadership.” Those concepts are character, commitment, communication, critical thinking, credibility and compassion.

“When we’re talking about leadership, we’re talking about self-leadership,” Zucker explained. “If they go out and become the CEO of a Fortune 500 Company, then great, but what we want them to be self-leaders so that they can be leaders in their own community.”

Another goal of the adventure camp is to get kids away from computers and television and provide opportunities for exercise and fresh air. Electronics are checked in at the door, and kids have to engage in play the old-fashioned way.

“These kids may have access to information and knowledge, but their life skills are horrid,” Zucker said. “So many parents use television, video and computers as their baby sitter. That’s what kids know, and you get them outside and they see, wow, I’ve got a whole lot more in me.”

Arrow-Heart also teaches kids cultural life skills, such as how to behave at a sit-down dinner. Nutrition is another important piece of the program; Zucker said many of the kids come to the camp with very little understanding on how to fuel their bodies. The camp buys the supplies for kids to build their own lunches when they go out for activities, and their leaders teach basic lessons on healthy eating habits.

Originally, the adventure camp’s focus was on at-risk high schoolers and teens, but this year its focus has changed to middle school-aged kids.

“Working with middle schoolers was a really good move for us,” Zucker said. “At the high school age, they’re a little more set in their ways. The last couple years, it’s been a lot of work. [The high school kids] were so ingrained in really unfortunate or self-destructive behaviors.”

Zucker said now, working with younger kids, he’s able to have more involved conversations.

“They want to learn and they want to change,” Zucker said. “These kids are really open.”

Arrow-Heart covers all of the expenses for the kids that are enrolled in the program, which Zucker said is essential to the life of the program.

“I don’t want parents or kids to have to come up with a dollar [amount],” Zucker said. “We work hard to raise funds to scholarship kids in to do things that normally they wouldn’t be able to do.”

Fundraising is where Arianne Zucker steps into the picture. A fixture on the soap opera “Days of our Lives,” where she plays Nicole Walker, Zucker uses her position in the entertainment industry as a springboard for the success of Arrow-Heart.

“Celebrities, fortunately and unfortunately, have a responsibility to make where we live a better place.,” Arianne Zucker said. “Everybody has somebody that they’ve wanted to be like, and I wanted to do something like that for kids.”

For the upcoming summer, Arrow-Heart plans on spending much of its time in Midvale, where it has some property donated to the camp.

“We’ve got 7 acres that was donated to us by the mayor of that town on a two-year lease,” said Stephen Fenske, vice president and program director for Arrow-Heart. “It’s going to be a temporary site for us, but we’re going to set up a low ropes course, a campsite, an archery site and maybe paintball.”

Todd Zucker said he hopes the addition of the temporary site will transition into a permanent location for Arrow-Heart.

“I’d like to have a permanent facility that we can run kids through,” Zucker said. “We have some people that are looking into the idea of helping us fund a major facility with an indoor/outdoor component that is in an area like Idaho.”

Until a facility is built, however, Arrow-Heart uses the Weiser after-school program building for a rendezvous point and the great outdoors as its classroom.

“We’re out there spending time with kids, taking them outdoors and getting them confident in themselves,” Zucker said. “Our goal is to keep them busy, keep it fun and attach everything that we do with a lesson.”

Fenske said the organization’s mission is ultimately to change the lives of young people, whether the camp has a dream facility or not.

“You change the belief, you change the expectations.” Fenske said. “When you change the expectations, you change your attitude, you change your attitude, you change your behavior. You change your behavior, and then you can change your performance and the things that you’re doing. “

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