(406) 260-8620 brett@ravenwoodolc.org

Volunteer Orientation

How to Use This Training

Thanks for your interest in volunteer at Ravenwood! Your help as a volunteer supports our staff in focusing on mentoring, and keeps a good additional set of adult eyes on the group. Your service enriches camp and lifts our potential to new heights!

We have four content topics for the training: Welcome to Ravenwood, Mentoring Ourselves and Others, Supporting Connective Experiences, and Keeping Camp Happy and Safe. Most of those topics have a few specific things to learn about through videos or text or both, and then a simple quiz to show us that you’ve got the info.  Finally, there are some other fun videos too, if you’d like to get a deeper sense of what Ravenwood is all about.

The videos we’re sharing were made for volunteers at one of our overnight camps, Camp Corvid, so you’ll hear that name from time to time, but the information applies to all our camps. Please read through and watch the videos, and you’ll get to test your knowledge about each topic with a quiz at the end!

Once you have completed all 3 quizzes, our Program Director will reach out to you to complete the process of becoming a volunteer.

Let us know if you have any questions or support needs. You can contact Jay Bresee, Ravenwood’s Program Director, at jay@ravenwoodolc.org, or 510-423-2705.


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What is Ravenwood?

Ravenwood is all about healthy kids, families, and communities. There are many distractions and obstacles to health and connection in our fast-paced society, and an increasing number of negative trends—obesity and health issues, screen addiction, attention disorders, stress, violence, disrespect, substance abuse, you name it—all of which need our attention and action as a community. And Ravenwood is here to help!

Through awareness, free play in nature, songs, stories, survival skills and ancestral crafts, we facilitate a full-body nature immersion experience that grows critical thinking, character, leadership skills, creativity and teamwork. Our programs address nature and culture equally and so they feel like coming home. We use the 8 Shields mentoring model to balance play and work, activity and rest, and honor our needs for both excitement and for quiet reflection.

Ravenwood is a nonprofit, and we rely on having motivated volunteers like you as part of offering the best experince for kids. There are some things, like taking photos in the field, that our staff ofte don’t have time to do but that really help us in our fundraising and documentation needs! We also need outside observers to fill out our assessments and give us feedback about how our programs are working. Fill out the form below to get started with your volunteering journey!

Getting Started as a Volunteer

Mentoring Ourselves and Others

What: Our Goal is Connection

Time in nature makes people healthier, happier, and smarter. Psychologists Rachel Kaplan and Ming Kuo, immunologist Dr. Qing Li, neuroscientist Dr. Marc Berman, primary care physician Ryan Bucholz, M.D., just to name a few, have all conducted studies that show time in nature produces stronger immunity, healthier weight, longer attention span, increased creativity, self-esteem and critical thinking skills.

Nature education and nature recreation can also get kids into nature. Ravenwood’s programs do incorporate activities from both the world of education and the world of recreation. So why does Ravenwood feel different? Because we focus on connection. While the goal of education is to expand a knowledge base and the goal of recreation is to enliven the body and have fun, the goal of connection is to build strong relationships.

Ravenwood’s goals are to build strong relationships between participants and their own inner selves, participants and their community, and participants and the natural world. In support of those goals, we practice mentoring more often than teaching. We ask questions rather than giving answers, and we’re more likely to walk slowly through the woods listening to the birds, than we are to try to make miles on a long hike.

(Connection creates more behavior change as well. In a study by psychologists Otto Siegmar and Pamela Pansini, feelings of connection to nature explain 69% of participant’s pro-nature behavior, while knowledge of nature only explained 2%.)

How: The Art of Questioning

Because our focus is on creating strong relationships rather than disseminating information, we can’t rely on a single set of topics in our mentoring. We use questioning to find out what topics in nature light up our participants, and work to pull on participant’s curiosity to get them to connect more deeply with their chosen topic. The Art of Questioning is one methodology to awaken a participants’ curiosity.

The basics of the Art of Questioning are: finding your own authentic curiosity, letting go of being right, and learning to ask questions. Practice asking questions rather than giving answers. Find curiosity about the little things that you might otherwise overlook. Let go of the need to show that you know something, and be willing to ask the most basic questions to open up wonder for a topic. We use 3 levels of questioning.

Level 1 questions are confidence builders that participants can answer easily. An example is asking a participant the color of the flower they saw.

Level 2 questions are right on the edge of the participant’s awareness, and participants have to stretch to answer them. An example is asking a participant to find their flower in a medicinal plants field guide, and using questioning to help them remember the growth habit, habitat, and other less obvious characteristics of the flower.

Level 3 questions are mindblowers and cannot readily be answered, and should be used sparingly. An example is, after finding that the participant’s flower is Arnica and learning about the medicine we can get from Arnica, pointing out that getting medicine for the human body from a plant is a little miracle of biology, and asking what other small natural miracles have gone unnoticed in our lives.

Not all sessions need all three levels of questioning. In fact, most do not. Ask questions appropriate to the intensity of the event, the development of the participant, the time container available, and the level of trust you’ve developed with those present. A simple “what did you notice” is better than a barrage of confusing questions!

Why: The Importance of Role Modeling

Everything in a Ravenwood program is designed to role-model nature connection to participants. When we role-model our own connection to nature as mentors, participants naturally begin to connect as well. Building relationships with nature, each other, and ourselves also gets us to think about our own conduct. We move away from self-centered thinking toward understanding our greater ecology of relationships and acting with integrity and respect.

Our days are designed with what we call the “Natural Cycle,” incorporating periods of activity and rest, excitement and reflection, so that what participants want to do is often also the healthy, helpful thing to do. We start with inspiring words of gratitude, play together, take time to focus on a project, move our bodies, and take time to rest and reflect. This way we role-model different ways to connect to nature throughout the day.

The question that comes up when we connect to nature is often, “who are you?” Who are you being in this moment? Are you being a self-centered disruptive force or a humble regenerative force? Will the birds fly away from you or hang out in the trees and sing their songs? Can you sit and watch the chipmunks gathering berries or will the chipmunks just hide and chip at you? Can you notice that tiny, beautiful wildflower or have you already accidentally trampled it?

One tangible way that we can role model conduct and nature connection is by refraining from using cell phones at camp. Each staff member has a cell phone on at all times, but these are only used when staff need to be in contact for safety or program-related reasons. So we thank you as a volunteer for keeping your phone off except for vital communications, and keeping those vital communications out of sight of the participants!

Mentoring Quiz

Supporting Connective Experiences

Core Routines

The Core Routines are our core curriculum. Each Core Routine is a tool for setting up a particular kind of connective opportunity. Since the goal of using these routines is connection, not the training of a particular knowledge base, we may or may not use all the routines with each group. This list represents our best tools for the job of connection!

Sit Spot: A sit spot is a special place that each camper adopts, and goes there to sit and observe nature. Taking time during our busy days to just be in nature forms the foundation of our nature connection curriculum. Hiding games and quiet time in nature are small versions of this. How does it feel to sit quiet and still in nature?

Story of the Day: After we notice things in nature, telling another person brings the learning full circle. We often do this in a circle at the end of our day. What stories do you want to share at the end of the day?

Expanding our Senses: Taking a moment to check in with each sense, and bring awareness to all senses together, helps us see each moment in a new way. We often use a sensory check-in moment if a group of participants needs some time to settle, and this is an especially effective tool if participants are starting to spin out of control. What do you notice when you pay attention to touch, taste, smell, hearing, and finally vision all together? Can you expand your senses in all four directions and above and below you?

Animal Forms: Imitating and pretending to be animals, plants, and other life forms helps us learn about them in a more embodied way than if we simply stand back and observe creatures in nature. Can you imitate an animal you see at your sit spot?

Questioning and Tracking: Tracking and asking questions about the natural world help us to see every situation in a new way, and to hone our pattern recognition skills. What tracks and signs of other living things do you see around you right now?

Wandering: Wandering without a schedule or agenda opens up unexpected opportunities for connection, and helps us take a more flexible and open attitude in nature. Can you wander somewhere without any agenda or plan?

Mapping: Drawing maps connects us to our places in new and sometimes surprising ways. What does a bird’s eye view of your immediate surroundings look like?

Exploring Field Guides: Field guides are dense with knowledge gleaned by the many generations of naturalists that went before us. Using field guides in our programs can accelerate our learning about the natural world. What kinds of treasures can you find in a field guide?

Journaling: Taking time to reflect quietly to ourselves about events in the day brings new insights and learning. What events from today would you want to share with a journal?

Dynamic Sensory Memory (also known as Storyteller’s Mind): Using dynamic sensory memory when telling our Story of the Day helps us re-live the event and learn more of what it has to teach. When you tell a story, can you imagine, touching, smelling, tasting, hearing and seeing all the things in the story?

Survival Living: Practicing survival skills reminds us that we’re part of a very large and powerful natural system, and that we can relate to that system in fun and life-supporting ways. What would the land give you right now to help you live and thrive?

Bird Language: Practicing bird language offers a way of reflecting on what attitudes and body language we are projecting into the world. Bird language also helps us quiet our minds and notice the subtle patterns in nature. What are the birds reflecting back to you right now?

Thanksgiving: Giving thanks cultivates a positive attitude, and it helps us remember that nature provides everything we need. Can you find something to be grateful for in every part of life, and every part of nature?

Errands: Sending people, especially children, on errands in nature creates an opportunity for service and builds a sense of belonging while strengthening mind’s eye tracking through following directions. Errands also create spontaneous adventure, require independent problem solving, and re-enforce wandering as a worthwhile activity

Storytelling: Sharing personal and traditional stories (with permissions) creates a mind’s eye landscape for both the storyteller and listeners within which we can explore important questions, relate to challenges and limitations, learn from others’ mistakes and celebrate our shared humanity. Stories can create a rich inspirational opening to a new project, help us heal and grieve, and give us direction from the lessons of our ancestors. At Ravenwood we only tell stories that we have permission to tell, and for which we know the cultural origin.

Children's Universal Passions

Reading through the list of Core Routines, you may be asking yourself, “how do you motivate kids to sit still in their sit spot or write a journal entry?” We want participants to engage in all the Core Routines, but some may be less motivating, on the surface, than others.

When participants truly make these practices routines, they find enough reward that the activity is intrinsically motivating. I never cease to be amazed at how many of our participants get intensely attached to their sit spots and mourn the loss of sit-spot time if we skip that routine. But how did they get there? We use a motivating principle called Children’s Universal Passions.

Remember the things you did spontaneously, naturally, just because they were fun, when you were a kid? We remember those things too! And we build our activities around those intrinsically-motivating pursuits, hiding Core Routines inside them. A hiding game gives ample opportunity to practice sitting still and quiet, as if at a sit spot. A treasure hunt motivates the use of maps. Drawing fun pictures motivates field guide exploration and journaling. Often, the difference between an intrinsically-motivating activity and a chore is just the framing. If we as mentors remember our own Children’s Universal Passions, we can use them to motivate others.

Here is a very short and incomplete list of just some Children’s Universal Passions:

Hiding, seeking and sneaking
Hunts, errands and adventures
Helping others
Building things
Listening to and Telling Stories
And countless more!

50/50 Principle

Each day at Ravenwood is a new opportunity for creativity. Nature is always changing, and no matter how well we know the area and the participants, things will change unexpectedly in program and our plans will require adjustment. Some of the most magical times at camp have come about because of unified adjustments made on the fly. Similarly, a staff out of unity can bring on disaster when they try to adjust on the fly and wind up going in different directions. We strive to be like a flock of birds, moving in unity in our unpredictable world.

The Core Routines and Children’s Universal Passions are tools that we keep in our back pockets for when they are useful. We also have another tool, called the 50/50 principle, that we use to remind ourselves that not every tool is right for every job, and we have to use our artistic, improvisational minds to know what tool is needed at any time.

Whatever we plan, we know nature (both wilderness and human nature) will probably throw us some curve-balls and we’ll have to adjust our plans. Therefore, when we plan, we use the 50-50 principle. This principle states that we’re planning for 100% of the day, but expecting to toss out about 50%, and we won’t be attached to which 50%! The 50-50 principle gives us the flexibility to watch birds, admire wildflowers, track deer, and do all the rest of our deep nature connection practices that rely on natural synchronicity for their opportunities. Be willing to let go of your agenda when nature gives you a great opportunity for connection.

Program Support Quiz

Keeping Camp Happy and Safe

First Aid

All our staff are certified in first aid and CPR. Many of our staff have additional certifications, such as Wilderness First Responder. All staff bring well-appointed first aid kits into the field and are familiar with how to use all of the first aid supplies. If you have questions about where the first aid supplies are, or what degree of training the staff has, feel free to ask!

If first aid is needed in the field, the staff member administering the aid may ask you as a volunteer to keep your awareness on the rest of the participants. The staff member will not leave you alone with the participants, but may have their attention devoted to just one participant while rendering first aid, and so your help to watch out for the safety of the rest of the participants is important. Most first aid needs in the field consist of band-aids and splinters, and are tended to very quickly.


We have some agreements that we ask volunteers to adhere to, to keep camp running smoothly and keep everyone safe and happy.

Role Modelling
Participants look up to our volunteers as examples! When you are volunteering, remember that participants are going to follow your lead. We encourage volunteers to participate in games when they are physically able to, and to engage in the other activities of camp as either a participant or an assistant mentor, whichever is most appropriate. In general, if you are both engaged with camp and aware of the kids, you’re doing a spectacular job! One thing you can do to role-model nature connection is to keep your cell phone off!

Rule of Three
Please do not be alone one-on-one with children not related to you. For the trust and safety of all involved, our policy is to always have at least two adults and one child, or two children and one adult, as a minimum group size for any activity.

Volunteers may become aware of confidential information, such as participants’ contact information, in the course of working with Ravenwood. Confidential information should be help private. Under no circumstances should confidential information be shared with anyone other than Ravenwood staff. Use common sense to know what else might constitute confidential information.

What If There Is A Big Animal In Camp?

Adult volunteers are invited to bring their own bear spray to camp. All staff wear at least one canister of bear spray at their hip at all times. In the interest of keeping all our responsibilities clear, volunteers shall follow the lead of the staff in determining when and how to implement this protocol.

In the event of an aggressive animal encounter in the field, the staff member who observed the animal calls out our code word, “Gummy Bear!” loudly enough for participants to hear, and points at the animal. Staff and chaperones shall direct campers to walk quickly (no running!) to stay in a tight group behind all adults as the animal moves.

Bears: do not look directly at the animal. Look down and to the side, and back away without turning your back.

Moose: do not look directly at the animal. Place an obstacle such as a large tree between yourself and the animal.

Mountain Lions or Wolves: staff members and chaperones should make themselves appear large and make lots of noise. Thrash large sticks around, yell, wave your arms above your head. Do not encourage small children to try this, as their high voices and rapid movements could trigger the predator’s hunting instinct.

What Do We Do In Severe Weather?

Lightning: In the event of a lightning storm with strikes accompanied by thunder booms less than five seconds later, the entire group shall seek shelter in a lightning-safe building or in a uniform stand of short trees and spread themselves out 30 to 100 feet apart. If possible, campers and staff shall stand on a non-conducting surface such as a sleeping pad and squat in the lightning safety position (as coached by staff) until the lightning storm passes. Staff shall direct campers away from any large trees (“cone of safety” is twice the diameter of tree height) , rock overhangs, open meadows, and water sources.

Strong Winds or Hail Storm: Shelter in a hard-sided structure, or if none is available avoid trees in the case of wind, and shelter under tarps or tipis in the case of hail.

Extreme Heat: In the event of extreme heat (95 degrees F or more), staff shall require campers to take a 10-minute break in the shade with mandatory water consumption for every thirty minutes of activity in the sun.

Wildland Fire: In the event of a wildland fire at a Ravenwood field site, staff shall first evaluate the possibility of evacuation and call 911 to report the emergency (if out of cell range, use radio communication). If evacuation is not feasible, staff shall direct campers to the nearest water source. If fire is imminent staff and campers shall enter the water to a walking depth that allows for maximum body immersion while maintaining body control without the need to swim. If no body of water is accessible, staff shall use any natural firebreak or manual control available to reduce risk.

How Do Bathroom Visits Work?

When participants need to pee while out in the field, staff will call for a pee break and designate three pee zones: one zone of nearby cover for people who squat, one for people who stand, and a third area of thicker brush for people who feel particularly private about their bathroom habits. Because transgender and nonbinary youth do attend Ravenwood programs, it is important to be sensitive with your gendered language, and to remember to provide that third area. Staff may request a chaperone to help supervise campers in their zones. If only one camper needs to pee, staff may ask a gender-appropriate volunteer to walk with the camper and their chosen potty-buddy (to keep to the Rule of 3) to find a safe and private pee spot.

When participants need to poop while out in the field, staff will call for a potty break and send a volunteer with a group of campers back to the porta-potty. If only one participant needs to go, have the participant pick a potty-buddy and hike to the potty as a group of three, two participants and an adult.

Camp Safety Quiz

More Details on Ravenwood’s Values, Goals, and Methods


Hear the stories of the people of Ravenwood. Without community we can’t find out who we are. Being fully alive and in relationship with nature, others, and self is deeply valued here. Watch this special video and find out why.

Our purpose at Ravenwood is to cultivate health, passion for learning, and stewardship of ecological and human communities through nature-based mentoring of youth, families, and community members.

This video takes us into the heart of Ravenwood’s incredible work in Montana’s Glacier Country, illuminating the magic of connection with nature, others, and self.


In order to honor and respect nature, we must first love it. Ravenwood’s community based mentoring programs bring kids, families, and school groups into nature and make everyone healthier, happier, and smarter!

This video explores our special relationship with our home in Montana’s Glacier Country. See how sense of place helps us create vibrant community with powerful mentoring across all the generations.