Interview with Greg NebekkerTrailseekers Program Coordinator & Retired Mental Health Counselor By: Susan Penhallegon What is Trailseekers? A non-profit and completely volunteer-based program in the Yakima Valley. Provides preventative services such as pre-natal resources, basic household necessities, clothing, help with bills, etc. and advocacy to high-risk kids and their families. Trailseekers was founded by Greg Nebekker 23 years ago. There is approximately 150 volunteers in the program. The program seeks to get kids out of a stressful home environment and away from media/entertainment sources by allowing them to be involved in outdoor activities. Trailseekers provides relief for parents, as well, by helping to eliminate the stress of parenting by giving children a safe, healthy environment to turn to. There are approximately 150 families and 500 at-risk youth who are involved in this program. How does a child get involved… Teachers from 3 schools in the Yakima Valley (BargeLincoln, Adams, & Ridgeview) refer roughly 42 kindergarten-2nd grade students at the beginning of the school year to the Orcas Encampment outing on Orcas Island, which takes place near the end of the summer. The siblings of these children (especially very small children/infants) are automatically included in the Trailseekers program if the parent so wishes. The program is big on early prevention, therefore, getting involved with infants and very small children are an important aspect of Trailseekers. How Does A Child Get Involved Continued… The children have to meet one of three criteria to be accepted into the program. The criteria includes: Economically disadvantaged Non-traditional home setting Involved in social services or criminal justice system Other Key Facts… Greg stressed the fact that most (not all) of the families he works with do not abuse the system. They work hard and try to get by without reaching out for help. Gregg sees these families as slipping through the cracks, so he is always providing them with knowledge about resources that can help them. Greg also stated that about 100% of the children he works with have witnessed some form of violence. The violence often times involves shootings, DV, fights in the neighborhood, the sound of gun shots at night. Gregg also stressed the issue of children getting too involved in video games, music, and television that all depict violence as the norm. This has been a key factor in Gregg’s desire to get the children involved in outdoor, nature-related activities. Some of the Activities Trailseekers Kids Get Involved In… A week-long experience at the Big Camp-Orcas Encampment on Orcas Island. The children get to swim, take yacht rides with the Orcas Yacht Club, hiking, biking, and play in the outdoors! Greg owns a piece of property on Orcas Island with a home that he has donated to Trailseekers. Weekend trips to Mt. Raninier just for tent camping and hiking. Visits to the Seattle Center Visits to the Space Needle A Day in Greg’s Life… Gregg’s day revolves around the children and families of Trailseekers (Remember, it’s on a completely volunteerbasis). Gregg’s day may include 5-6 unscheduled home visits that allow him to scope out the needs of the families and look for any potential abuse. Bringing any necessary items to families who do not have the money to purchase these basic necessities. Gregg gets involved, at the parent’s request, by talking with and assisting the kids and school personnel when schoolrelated problems or adjustments arise like suspension, skipping school, hanging out with potential gang members, etc. A Day in Greg’s Life Continued… Greg takes care of all bookkeeping and other administrative duties. Greg also works with and reaches out to a number of homeless kids on a daily basis. If there is a birth within one of the families, Greg immediately goes to the hospital to get involved in the baby’s life in hopes of providing support and early prevention of abuse/neglect. Provides training for High School students in becoming mentors with Trailseekers. Works with training volunteers who provide extra support with the outings. What Greg likes about his work… Greg’s greatest enjoyment comes from helping children discover healthy alternatives to life and showing the children that there are people in this world who are nurturing and loving! Changes Greg would like to see with the program… Although Trailseekers works with whole families, boys are the only ones who can go on the camping excursions. Greg and the Board of Directors are working on providing more programs within Trailseekers that will include more activities for girls. Right now, girls can go to a Trailseekers function on Monday nights at the 1st Presbyterian Church in Yakima.