RAW earnestly integrates holistic programming into our clients’ care. We are proud to partner with Thrive Outdoors, whose founder Jake King holds twice-weekly groups at our facility (and well outside our grounds on weekends). Jake sat with RAW to explain his program and to share his infectious enthusiasm for life in spite of struggle.
(Editor’s note: Don’t get Jake started on Facebook…)
RAW: Tell me about your background which led to creating Thrive Outdoors.
Jake King: Just like most people, I went through a lot of different things as a kid. I found the wilderness and learning survival and tracking skills … my parents would buy books by the tracker Tom Brown. And so that was kind of my therapy outside of, you know, all the other things that they tried to get me involved in. It was that way for my brother as well. He was older, but it was our bonding time. We would spend a lot of time hiking, camping, just learning about the wilderness, and it was very therapeutic — whether we knew it then or not.
Fast forward … I was a Ranger in the Army, I was a police officer, and even in those arenas I dealt with a lot of anxiety. Dealt with a lot of the intangible stuff that can really weigh a person down. Left all of that to run a homeless center and learned a lot about people and where our society is in dealing with people while they’re really low. Through all of that my brother and I kept bouncing around these ideas of, ‘How can we teach people a better mindset, a better way to look at themselves, a better way to look at the world around them?
To figure out how to deal with all of the stressors and the things you can’t stop from happening? And we always would come back to the things we learned in the wilderness. I would go back to a lot of the things I learned in my preliminary Ranger training about dealing with conflict. And we just couldn’t find something that spoke more naturally to reconnecting people to a healthy self — whether it’s an outlook or a thought process. So that’s really where Thrive Outdoors started to become something.
RAW: Which shelter were you working at?
Jake King: I was running the Manchester Homeless Services Center, which was a day center. I was the only staff there most of the time. On some days there were up to 180 guests. 180 people in some of the worst places, mentally and physically, you can imagine. If it hadn’t been for my life building up to that — being a Ranger, being a police officer, working at the Youth Detention Center … I worked at Eastern Mountain Sports, I was a salesperson, and interacting with people on that level. Everything that happens in your life, if you allow it, prepares you for the next step.
And I didn’t really have any issues for 2.5 years as the only staff with all these people. I learned so much. And that’s where this whole curriculum started to develop. It was like something inside. It was like, I have to get this out, I have to get this started, helping or teaching, showing people this other thought processes. Because the negativity in our world is so … Blah! There’s no real words for it. And that’s the other big thing I learned there, is that mental illness is probably the biggest cause of everything. Everything that’s going south is because a lot of people don’t even believe in mental illness. ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get going!’ Imagine someone [experiencing extreme childhood trauma].
Imagine this is happening to you as you’re supposed to be developing connections to the world. These people were never given that opportunity. They don’t have bootstraps to pull themselves up by. It’s just that simple. So the fact that some people resort to alcohol, that some people resort to drugs, some people resort to violence, or not talking to other human beings — it doesn’t matter. I’m painting with a broad brush. But a good portion of our society is saying these people don’t deserve our help anymore, they’re adults now.
But they were never taught to be healthy children. They’re supposed to ‘get it,’ and we blame them because they can’t? The 35-year-old who has no hope because of their environment is supposed to ‘get it’ when they’ve been getting no assistance? That’s what has brought us to where we are. And people don’t want to talk about it anymore.
So Thrive Outdoors is trying to work with everybody and make them step back and say, ‘THESE are the things everybody needs.’ Every time we work with new groups – whether it’s people in recovery, or teenagers, or people from the suburbs who have as much money as possible – we learn more and more about what makes people tick. It’s interesting, and it’s amazing.
We took the Big Five Principles of Survival, which, any survival school or emergency responder will tell you that, for the most part, there’s really five things that human beings absolutely need to survive: Mindset, Shelter, Fire, Water, and Food. It’s not a new thought process. We’re trying to make this a thought process that anybody can understand and get involved in. We all come from the same place in the beginning we’re all going to the same place in the end — forget about philosophical or religious beliefs, I’m talking about our bodies. So the key components of wilderness survival are the same components of what we need in everyday life. And now we’re just building a curriculum and a program around that.
RAW: Who are the others involved in Thrive Outdoor besides you?
Jake King: There’s my brother [Ed King, Partner/Instructor], he’s a pediatrician who studies childhood anxiety and ADHD. That’s really important to him, to figure out a way to get to these children while they’re children and help them to develop a coping process. There’s my wife [Jenny King, Consulting Content Editor/Curriculum Designer] who has a degree in Philosophy but she’s a social worker. She’s getting her Masters in therapy. There’s our friend Vinny [Haney, Partner/Instructor/Admin] who has worked in hospitality all his life but also works with youth at a church. There’s Geralynn [Salomone-Ciance, Partner/Instructor/Curriculum Designer], she was a public school educator with a Bachelor’s degree in typography.
She’s got a pretty extensive background dealing with kids who struggle — that’s kind of her forte, that’s who she gravitates towards. And then there’s Vinny’s wife [Melanie Haney, Photographer/Marketing/Teen Adventure Instructor] who is a professional photographer and has been all around the world on aid missions. And then there’s so many more. There’s so many people who were involved in the conception of this curriculum. But those are the key players.
We all knew each other for a long time and are really close. We know that everybody involved are not in it because they want Thrive Outdoors to become Big Business. They’re involved because they want to help people. And that makes it so much easier to develop programming and curriculum, and to reach out and say, ‘Hey! I want to do this — to reach out to this population.’ You know that the people involved, their first thought is: ‘How is this going to help people?’ And that makes Thrive Outdoors wonderful.
RAW: Do you contract with a lot of organizations?
Jake King: We contract with a few. We started this knowing that we didn’t want to grow fast, because that’s when a lot of organizations lose sight of their mission. Knew we wanted to get it right, so we didn’t want to spread ourselves too thin. We do contract with a few different agencies — right now there are three recovery-based agencies that we’re working with. Doing a lot of homeschool teaching and classes, teen and veteran groups, and we have partnerships with several nonprofits to do stress-management programming with their clients and staff.
RAW: So what does Thrive Outdoors do with RAW clients?
Jake King: The Five Principles of Survival is the heart and core of what we’re doing with RAW. We’re all people. We’re all basically the same, but because of our backgrounds and environments, and the things we’ve been through, and the things we’ve seen, we react differently. So we do have to tailor our programs to the people we’re working with. But it’s all basically the ‘Big Five’. Its all …work on your mindset first. That’s true in any situation, whether you’re talking about professional football, or the rugby team who crashed through the Andes, or a business meeting. Work on your mindset first.
If you can control your own thoughts, if you can figure out a mechanism — and that takes work — to not let your mind go to those negative places where you’re making assumptions. Or even if you’re right, that people are being mean or vindictive, you’re not allowing that to dictate how you respond, even in your mind. Mindset is paramount. We work it into every lesson that we do. It’s not a coincidence that the number one killer of people in the world is accidents. It’s when people’s minds are not where they should be. So mindset is Number One because we want to avoid accidents.
And then we talk about Shelter — and these are all supported by basic scientific principles. Do you want me to run through all of these?
Jake King: Shelter is Number Two because the second-biggest killer of people in the wild is exposure. Whether it’s heat, cold, adverse conditions — you need to shelter yourself from those. So in a treatment setting, you’re sheltering yourself from the environment, from something that is going to kill you. You have a basic shelter from the environment, but we need to start thinking about sheltering ourselves from the negativity and the toxic environments, from the people who will try to bring you down, the people who will try to get you back to your old habits.
It’s not just people, it’s also your thoughts. You have to shelter yourself from YOUR negative thoughts. And it’s all about practice. Some people have been to a setting like [RAW] twelve or thirteen times. That’s not a failure — each time is a step and a learning opportunity for building that ‘Shelter’ mentality. And one of these days, something is going to click for a lot of them.
‘Fire’ is next. Fire gives us warmth, light, a great way to signal for help. It boils your water so you can drink it, it cooks your food, it keeps pests away. In the wild, fire is really important. But one of the things most people don’t think about in the wild is that fire’s biggest value is its morale-boosting capability. Have you ever seen Castaway with Tom Hanks?
Jake King: That scene when he finally gets the fire going, and he’s like, “Aaargh, FIRE!” and he’s dancing around? So that’s where we translate the Fire principle into everyday life. And especially in an environment like this, the question becomes, ‘What is your fire? What gives you passion? Makes you want to get out of bed in the morning? Is it beyond the things you’re sheltering yourself from — the negative thoughts, the quick fixes.?’ Yes, shelter yourself from things that will bring you down so you can create a sustainable fire, a sustainable reason to move forward.
And then we move onto Water and Food. It’s almost as obvious as it sounds. We need water, we need food. We can go three days without water before we perish — in the wild and in everyday life — but we need to think about what we’re taking in. There are some more philosophical components to it, like – think about the flow of water. Water gets where it’s going, it doesn’t need to rush. Everything we do that’s physical in the wilderness is physical in everyday life, but there’s also a philosophical component to it.
Food is less philosophical. You need food. But once you can get the other components down, you can go without food for three weeks. After the first week and a half, you’re in rough shape. Some people die before then. But in everyday life, if you’re not thinking about what you’re taking in, if you’re not thinking about how the things you take in affect you, it’s going to bring you down in one way or another.
RAW: So we’re not just talking about food…
Jake King: No. We’re talking about sustaining ourselves. It’s not just food that we’re putting into our bodies. It’s anything else that we may or may not choose to put in our body, and it’s also part of that mindset, that thought process. ‘Is this something I need, or is it something I want. And if it’s something I want, is it something that’s going to bring me down?’ When you’re in the wild and your life depends on your decisions, it’s easier to cut out all of the extra stuff that bogs us down. We’re trying to get people to start thinking about that in an everyday life setting. That doesn’t mean we want people to become preppers and move out into the woods and forget about life. I like my X-Box. But it’s all about finding balance.
It’s scientifically proven that people can go about three months without human contact, without a positive human interaction, before we really start to slip mentally. If you think about Castaway — I mean, the guy’s best friend was a volleyball after a few months! That’s not sane. But it was necessary. It helped him move on. In everyday life that might not be the best coping technique. Maybe figuring out a way to be social — even if it’s on an ‘I’m going to be honest with my therapist’ level — is better.
The ‘Big Five’ are based in evidence — there are anecdotal stories and studies to support them. And now we’re trying to show people that these are the things you need in everyday life. You don’t need to go into the woods and do the ‘Naked and Afraid’ thing for a week. In fact, we’re kind of opposed to that. We’re not a one-shot, like, ‘Let’s go out and teach you how to survive with primitive life skills’ operation. That’s awesome stuff to learn and it’s great to enhance your life, it gives you more confidence.
But if you’re taking people, putting them in the woods, you’re learning all this stuff, and you say, ‘Good job! You’ve learned it. Go back to your toxic environment’, you haven’t taught them how to bridge the gap. If it’s not something you can use in everyday life, then what’s the point? And that’s really where we’re different. This process is something that can help you in everyday life.
Again, this is not going to help everybody. Everyone is different, everyone learns differently. This might resonate with 10 our of 15 or 20 people. But that’s 10 people who it resonates with who might not have been getting anything they needed from anything else.
RAW: Can you talk about Thrive Outdoors’ adventure component specifically?
Jake King: The adventure component is really important to us because, instead of just sitting in a group and talking about all of these principles, we can actually take people out and show them the different ways these principles can be applied in the wilderness. So they are learning real-life survival skills. But a lot of people are uncomfortable with being removed from their comfort zones. We’re taking them out of their comfort zone. And once we start teaching them all of the stuff we’ve been teaching them in the wild setting, showing them, ‘Hey! That tree has edible bark. Hey! That tree has edible roots.
This water is drinkable’ — people start to see that it’s not as scary as they thought. And now their comfort zone has just grown. And the bigger we grow our comfort zones, the more capable we are. The person whose comfort zone is their room, if they need to go out for a job or an interview, they’re stepping so far outside their comfort zone that typically it’s not a good thing that happens in that interview.
Whereas, somebody who has pushed themselves to be out of their comfort zone often, they’re more comfortable. They can go in with more confidence. They can say things that need to be said and not have to freak out. And that’s where our adventure program brings the whole curriculum together. We do hikes, we do ropes courses, we do camps, we do boating, winter survival shelter building. And while we’re doing it all, we’re talking about the process. So it’s not about the shelter that we just built.
We don’t have to live in it for two weeks to understand the concept of the shelter. It’s about the process of what we did to build the shelter and why we’re building the shelter. And if people can bring that back and start thinking about, ‘Why do I need to remove myself from this situation? Why? If that process becomes second-hand and part of their intuition instead of something that they need to struggle with, then they’re just in a better place. All of us are.
RAW: So you and the clients will take a couple weeks to plan the adventure. And each adventure is in a controlled setting?
Jake King: Yes. All of our adventures are in controlled settings. There are some trails and mountains in the White Mountains that if you stray, you can stray for a long time. We wouldn’t be taking beginners out on any of those trails. There are some trails that really give the feel of being removed, of being immersed in the wild and nature, that if you stray — and this is the stuff we teach people — it’s about knowing what you’re getting into, about not panicking.
If you stray from those trails, you’re going to hit a road. It might not feel like it, but if you walk for three hours, you’re hitting a road. All you have to do is walk straight. On the off-chance that things go awry, because the world isn’t 100% controllable, we plan for those events. If you’ve lost your group, just pick a direction and go. Just do it. Go. You’ll find a road.
Now, that’s not what we would teach people who are in the wild. We’d teach them, ‘You should have an emergency whistle. Hunker down, start thinking about your shelter. Start blowing your whistle and find a clearing’ — it’s all different. Just like life. Every scenario needs a slightly different reaction. And that’s what we’re doing. We’re teaching people to be reactionary without letting stress and anxiety and panic dictate their process. I hope that made sense.
RAW: It did! Thank you so much.
Jake King: No problem! The last three years have been some of the best years of my entire life because I’ve been through a lot. I don’t think i’ve been through more than other people. I’ve been through different things. But for me personally, I’ve been through a lot. And I’ve made so many mistakes, and struggled on so many levels, and done so many dumb things. I’ve always been able to rise above it — with struggle, and with pain, and with tears –I’m telling you, it comes back to the things I learned hiking up a mountain, sleeping in the woods terrified, like, ‘What’s going to get me?!’ And then waking up, and it’s the same woods I went to sleep in, and it’s all the same.
I’ve been blessed — I had my brother, who was older and really smart, to bounce things off of. We were learning a lot of this together. A lot of people don’t have that. So the fact that we have come up with a way to help people to find a way to do what I was able to do in kind of a blessed setting, it’s such a good feeling. To be able to do something you believe in, to be able to do something that you find fun and to be able to get a great feeling out of it — it’s like, what did I do to deserve that? And the answer is, I just worked my butt off and I’m surrounded by good people. It’s not that I deserve it, it’s just what’s happening. And it’s great.
Learn more about Thrive Outdoors: http://www.thriveoutdoorsnh.com/
See Thrive Outdoors featured on NHPTV’s Windows to the Wild: http://video.nhptv.org/video/2365936378/