We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Wilson and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, how do you think about risk?
I do a lot of volunteer work with kids, so the question of risk taking is always at the forefront of my mind. Any time you’re taking responsibility for another person’s kid, it’s something that needs to be carefully considered. When you’re taking responsibility for over thirty teenage boys over the course of a weekend spent camping and exploring the outdoors, there’s a lot to think about. We can fill our minds with endless scenarios of tragedy. But we can also fill our minds with endless scenarios of opportunity. The moments from my childhood that I recall most fondly are those where there was some element of risk. Camping during a thunderstorm. Exploring the woods with a friend. Sledding in a forest. Learning to canoe. In my role as a volunteer scout leader, those are the experiences that I’m trying to help open up to this next generation of kids. The other adults and I tend to be “anti-helicopter adulting.” We give the kids the freedom to go explore and have those experiences. Are there risks? Of course. But I always remind my fellow volunteers to think about real versus perceived risks. What’s the riskiest part of any campout? The drive to and from the camping site, of course. According to the most recent data I can find, motor vehicle accidents account for twenty percent of youth deaths in the USA. Guess what’s the next most common cause of death? Firearms. Guess what doesn’t appear on the list? Getting lost in a forest. So if we do everything we can to get the kids to and from the site safely, and keep firearms out of our programs, we’ve already mitigated the biggest risks to these kids for that weekend. The real risks are the ones that the kids don’t see. The perceived risks – lions and bears, oh my! – those are what the kids see and that’s what makes the program fun. And that’s what’s going to give them the courage to take appropriate risks throughout their lives, just like what I learned as a youth going camping with the scouts.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a scout volunteer, which is not atypical. There are millions of people across the world that have volunteered with the scouts. What sets us apart from others is that our scout troop is focused exclusively on serving refugees. There are very few scout troops like ours in the world. Running a troop like this is extremely rewards but certainly not easy. It was started by Dr. PJ Parmar, who wanted to create a scout troop designed for immigrants by an immigrant. He knew all too well the challenges faced by non-white immigrant kids and wanted to create something special for kids experiencing a similar situation. He had started a medical clinic for refugees and started “prescribing” the scout program to patients that met the age requirements. Shortly after he got the group started, I was introduced to them by a friend and quickly signed on to help. Within a few months it had become a huge part of my life. Over the past five years, I’ve seen firsthand the challenges that these kids face. Prejudice, xenophobia, and racism are still far too prevalent in our society (yes even in progressive Aurora, Denver, and Boulder). The biggest thing I’ve learned that I want to share with others is that it isn’t enough to stand back and support from the outside. If you want to make a difference, you have to view things from within that community. As PJ would say, you have to inconvenience yourself. Don’t try to get refugees to join your predominantly white middle-class scout troop – they’ll end up having to conform to the existing culture. Go start a new troop for refugees, building it from the ground up with a refugee-focused culture. You can’t do it from the outside. And always keep in mind that true service is not about you (ahem, easy on the Instagram pics) – it’s about those you’re serving.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Right after I pick up my friend at the airport, we head over to Mango House to grab lunch at the refugee-run food stands. There’s so much to choose from – Asian, Syrian, Sudanese, Burmese, Ethiopian, and Nepali options! We then head back towards my place in Jefferson Park, take a walk along the S Platte River trail and finish the night with a few beers and a food truck at Little Machine Brewery. Since we’re both outdoorsy, we’re going to spend most of the rest of the week out hiking. We start the next day with coffee from 2914 Coffee and breakfast burritos from Araujo’s. Then we head out for a day hike in the James Peak Wilderness, getting there via the Jeep trail up to the James Peak Lookout trailhead. The next day we head up to the Rawah Wilderness for a backpacking trip (in my version of reality the wildfires are no longer a thing). We start at the West Branch Trailhead and set out for our favorite secret spot. It’s secret so I can’t divulge exactly the spot, but it’s a couple miles off-trail and has a beautiful little waterfall. After we return from our backpacking trip, we grab some Blue Pan pizza and call it a night. The next day we jump on bikes and ride around Sloan’s Lake, grab some beers at the new Odell tap room (in my story the new tap room is open), and then hit up US Thai Cafe for dinner. The next day we load up the mountain bikes and go riding all day at Buffalo Creek. The next morning we grab Chicken Fried Eggs and Buffalo Hash at Sassafras for breakfast and I drop them back at the airport. A great week!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d like to give a shoutout to all the other adults who selflessly dedicate their time to getting our scouts out camping – PJ, Avery, Bill, Phil, Anthony, Keith, Nate, Brian, Micah, Matt, Emily, Shelly, Raz, and all the others that I’ve inevitably forgotten on my list.