Teaching Girls the ABCs of Life at Outback

In January of 2017, Outback Therapeutic Expeditions launched a unique way of working with young women in the wilderness. After much collaboration between Kendra Van Abbema, Primary Therapist for the girls group, McKay Deveraux, Executive Director and several key members of the staff team, Outback was able to begin L.I.F.E, Leaning Into Female Empowerment. L.I.F.E is an intentional curriculum designed with young women in mind.

L.I.F.E. allows for emotional support animals to be a part of the daily structure of the group and acts as an integral role in increasing engagement, highlighting parallels and discrepancies within their lives, and critically analyzing how to see and maintain healthy relationships. Pepper and Finn are two rescue dogs who rotate shifts and are a part of the milieu 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are a part of the group, a part of the therapeutic process, and a part of the girls’ lives throughout their stay with us at Outback.L.I.F.E. offers a curriculum that walks our girls through a path of empowerment with the help of these canines. It focuses on 3 core concepts known as the ABCs of L.I.F.E.: Acceptance, Boundaries, and Courage.


One of the many reasons I was personally drawn to being a part of the Outback Team was the intentionality around the L.I.F.E. curriculum for girls. I was immediately taken by Outback’s passion and commitment for creating spaces for the voices of our young women to be heard and to allow them the freedom and time required to begin understanding and accepting all the parts that make up who they are.  It did not take long for me see that there was a strong desire to acknowledge the various messages the world can convey to adolescent girls about who they are to be, how they are to show up, and how their lived experiences can shape their ideas of what they can achieve. It is a process of understanding how and why we, as young women, formulate the various beliefs about ourselves in order to develop appropriate ways that allow us to take steps away from fear and begin taking steps toward empowerment.

Throughout my career within the field of outdoor behavioral healthcare and high adventure based wilderness programming I noticed a lack of seeing myself reflected in the spaces in which I navigated.  It was years before I realized how this impacted the way I formulated ideas about where I belonged, how I was to show up in the world, and how easily FEAR had taken up parts of my life. Although I presented an exterior of confidence and courage, it was not until I began to take my own steps away from fear to have my inner self finally match what I was outwardly portraying to the world. Representation is a gift and as I slowly began to connect with others who reflected parts of me, I gained an understanding of the power of being vulnerable and sharing my story.

This is where REI and the Force of Nature campaign come into play. On May 6, 2017, I had the privilege of being a keynote speaker for Asheville REI during the kickoff of the nationwide Force of Nature initiative by REI. REI has launched this campaign in the hopes of helping rewrite the narrative for women and the outdoors. Girls and women come in all shapes, sizes, ethnic backgrounds, and capabilities. In order to have all versions of us reflected, it is imperative to have young women walk through the pathway of empowerment so that we are able to break down the barriers that have been acquired along the way. There is a great deal of gratitude that I hold for the opportunity to be a part of a wilderness therapy program dedicated in helping rewrite the narratives of young women on their journey through LIFE. The wilderness, in and of itself, is healing. Knowing that Outback is part of this massive movement in helping young women rewrite their own narratives is an incredible honor.

Tracy Hopkins, MSW
Business Development Director
Outback Therapeutic Expeditions




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