TREK: Gap Year Program Interview

TREKThe TREK gap year program is located at the YMCA’s Snow Mountain Ranch of the Rockies. The program runs September through April of each year. Participants experience faith development, character development, greater self-awareness and understanding, and direction for their lives. What follows is an interview with program Chaplain Steve Peterson:

What is the mission of your program?

The mission of our program is: “To assist students in achieving a better understanding of self, a better understanding of God, and a better understanding of what God might want to do through them”.

How many students participate?

This past year we had 10 students participate in the program. Our goal for the coming year is to have 15 graduate.

What are the basic elements of your program?

The basic elements of our program include: weekly small group gatherings, weekly large group gatherings, ongoing personal preparation (including lessons, and Bible readings) monthly reflection papers on the assigned Bible readings, monthly social gatherings, one on one’s with a mentor, and three retreats.

The material is divided into 4 stages:  Stage 1: Biblical Foundations. It is the goal that by the end of stage one each participant will have written a Biblical Mandate for their life. In other words, what are the Biblical foundations which will guide your decisions, priorities, etc.? Stage 2: Personal Foundations. In stage 2 we take them through a process where they begin to see how every relationship, every experience has shaped how they see the world, how they see themselves, and even how they see and understand God. By the end of this stage each participant will have written a personal narrative which is shared with the entire group on a retreat. This is always such a powerful experience in which the participants experience healing, and begin perhaps to redefine some of their misguided or hurtful understandings. Stage 3: Relational Foundations. In this stage we begin to examine to learn that we are not on this journey alone but in community. We attempt to create some cross cultural experiences, service experiences, and be intentional about community. And Stage 4: Practical Foundations. During this stage we take the participants through Strength Finder assessments and again go away on retreat to share the results with one another. It is a great time of affirmation, but also an opportunity to begin to learn what kinds of things I can do to build on my strengths and what are some things I might do which will give expression to my strengths.

Why are you passionate about your work?

I am passionate about my work because I am passionate about my faith and desire to help young people live into their faith and I am passionate about young people. I spent over 20 years in youth ministry before becoming the Chaplain at YMCA of the Rockies. I know that young people today are looking for more to give their lives to than just a good job that provides a good income. Although that may be enough motivation for some, many others are looking for greater purpose and meaning. I have an opportunity to help them discover that.

What do you tell parents who might be reluctant to have their child take a “year off” before going to college?

I would tell parents that I am confident that for most young people taking a year to go through a Gap year Program before college is a good thing to do. I am confident that your son or daughter will begin college with greater clarity and stronger resolve in their academic pursuits following a Gap year Experience. They will have an opportunity to mature and learn to live away from home and the direction of their parents in a more guided and safe environment. Most will achieve higher academic standards after a Gap year experience. Some may discover that college is not for them, but rather another career path is better suited for them before spending a great deal of money on tuition. In our case, it does give the young person an opportunity to save some money before beginning college.

Why do you think most students are attracted to your program?

I think young people are attracted to our program for several reasons. One, the cost of our program is lower than most that exist today. Two, the opportunity to be gainfully employed in mission-driven work while they are going through the program. Three, where we are located-being at nearly 9,000 feet above sea level in the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains provides limitless opportunities for outdoor recreation. And four, the content and direction of our program really meets a need in many young people today.

What do students who have completed your program say was the most meaningful part of the experience?

Most students having completed our program would say that the most impactful part of their participation in this program is the relationships which they develop. They tend to get really close going through this process together. The participants have also indicated how they value diversity and the things which they have learned about themselves and how they have grown in their relationship with God.

Related Resources:

Article: “God in the Gap Year: The Benefits of Taking Time Off Before Going to College” by Derek Melleby

Link: (a list of similar gap year programs)