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Search The Fig Tree's stories of people who make a difference:

Risk and adventure help at-risk teens find themselves, realize potential

By Josiah Brown

Since starting in 2006, Peak 7 Adventures has gone from serving 137 youth on about 12 rafting trips and one backpacking trip to providing an outdoor adventure for 2,237 underprivileged, at-risk inner-city, urban and rural 13- to 19-year-olds.

Ryan Kerrigan, Peak 7 Adventures

Ryan Kerrigan on a whitewater rafting adventure with a group of youth.

The nonprofit, faith-based ministry takes teens into the wilderness where they take risks—under the supervision of trained guides—find solitude and gain adventure skills that help them handle life problems and realize their potential.

The program is often the first experience the teens have in outdoor adventure.

It developed when co-founder and executive director Ryan Kerrigan sought to mesh his skills and faith.

When Ryan graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina with a degree in parks, recreation and tourism, he was not sure what he wanted to do with his life.

He had been working for REI and was on track to become a manager, but when that opportunity closed, he needed a new job.

Someone he had taken rock climbing offered him a job with Thriva, a new software company in Spokane that provided online camp registration and management.

In 2004, Ryan moved to Spokane.  When the company moved to Seattle in 2005, he decided to stay in Spokane to start a camp.  Thriva asked him to design an adventure program.

During his childhood in Kenya and Ecuador, where his parents were missionaries, he had learned to love the outdoors.

“I climbed every tree I could find and chased monkeys in the jungle,” Ryan said. 

 In college, he started climbing with gear and doing other wilderness activities.  He also worked with summer camps.

Ryan is a certified whitewater kayak instructor, a raft guide instructor, and a climbing and backpacking guide.

He wanted to use those skills to do “kingdom work.”

“Growing up a Christian in a missionary family, part of me always wanted to be doing ministry,” Ryan said. 

Thriva decided to support his decision, giving him a year’s salary as start-up capital.

Peak 7 Adventures, which now has branches in Spokane, Portland and Seattle, started with whitewater rafting and backpacking.

The organization is expanding to include single-day rock climbing and multi-day rafting.  They also offer whitewater kayaking, winter camping and snowshoeing.

Peak 7’s single-day experiences help groups connect and build relationships. Its goal is to interest the youth in going on a multi-day trip.

“We use God’s creation to challenge teens physically, emotionally and spiritually,” said Ryan.

“Some of the teens have never been out of the city or even their neighborhoods. We take them outside their comfort zone and their barriers break down. They open up,” he said.

Although Peak 7 is a Christian ministry, staff and volunteers do not force the gospel on anyone.

“These youth have had bad stuff handed to them in life, so we choose to focus on loving them first,” Ryan said.

They are upfront with teens that they are a Christian organization.

On single-day adventures, groups pray beforehand and have an optional Bible study related to debriefing at the end of the experience. About half of the groups participate in that study.  Other groups have a non-Bible centered processing time.

Multi-day trips provide more opportunity to talk about faith. 

Every night the group has an optional Bible study, but only one teen has not engaged and that was only for the first night, Ryan said.

With the adventure experiences, the focus is on having the guides engage the youth and love them.

“If the youth aren’t asking the questions then they usually won’t listen,” Ryan said.

Peak 7 is also a resource for other groups.

“We are not trying to be Youth for Christ, but to provide a tool for other ministries at a low cost,” he explained.

Peak 7’s guides are trained in safety and wilderness skills.  They are also trained in communicating with youth.

“We serve many different types of youth.  With a church youth group, we may be able to talk about God as father, but with others we need to realize that if someone’s father beats him, he doesn’t want to hear about God as father,” Ryan said.

In addition to funds from fees for trips, Peak 7 is subsidized by donations.

Participants pay based on their family’s financial situation.  If they can only afford $25, then that is what they pay.  If they cannot afford anything, then the group will do community service sometime before the trip.

“We started doing free trips, but looking at the Bible and its guidelines for helping the poor, it says farmers are to leave some crop for the poor to glean,” he said.  “It doesn’t say to harvest the entire crop and give some to the poor.  They have to work for it.

“We try to have people pay something,” he said.  “It gives them more buy-in.”

For information, call 467-5550 or visit www.peak7.org