‘My experience at Wilderness Adventures changed my life in the most positive ways. It made me the person I am today.’
These are the words of our incoming owner and director Tom Holland. He and his wife Catherine, are joining our community as the new stewards of the Wilderness Adventures experience after having spent their whole professional careers dedicated to youth development. Originally from central Illinois, Tom received the Wilderness Adventures catalog as a freshman in high school and became excited about the possibility of adventure in the outdoors.
‘I was fascinated by the pictures in the catalog of the Grand Teton and the state of Wyoming. It was my dream. I wanted to go west and go backpacking in the mountains.’ His dedication to the trip was so profound that he mowed lawns for a year to have the opportunity to make it a reality. ‘I was pretty motivated,’ he says. And the trip ended up leaving a lasting impact.
‘I remember waking up the first morning… coming out of my tent and staring at the Tetons and thinking how much I wanted this to be my life. I remember my trip leaders and how I looked up to them, wanting to be them. My next goal was to be walking in their shoes– I mean they got paid to be there!’
At 18, Tom called Wilderness Adventures to find out what it took to work for the company. Sharing that he needed to be a few years older, WA pointed him down the road to a residential camp program and told him to come back a year or two later with that great camp experience.
‘Well, it has been almost 20 years since that phone call, but I am finally coming back.’
His experience at the camp led Tom to get a degree in education from Washington University. He was a high school social studies teacher, and eventually went on to work full time for that same camp program, Teton Valley Ranch Camp in Dubois, Wyoming. Tom eventually became the Executive Director of that program, a role he held for six summers. During that time, he met and married his wife Catherine who has plenty of passion for youth development and the outdoors herself.
Catherine is proud to share that ‘A defining moment of my young adult life was a wilderness trip I took with the National Outdoor Leadership School in Idaho. I loved the challenge, the leaders and the adventure of the journey. In fact, Wilderness Adventures goes to the same places I went as a student.’
Following their time at Teton Valley Ranch Camp, Tom went on to work for the American Camp Association (ACA) where he served as the Chief Foundation and Funds Development Officer and most recently as the Chief Executive Officer. In that capacity, Tom served as the spokesperson for the camping industry which involved frequent trips to Washington, DC advocating for experiences like those that students have at Wilderness Adventures.
Tom has spoken to national and international audiences about children in the outdoors and the camp experience. He has also been quoted in many national publications and news journals about the power of this experience.
‘My time at ACA has given me the opportunity to see many programs in action across the country. I also worked to share the value of this sort of experience all over the world. Always, when speaking about the experience, my own time at Wilderness Adventures as a student would come to mind.’
A registered dietician, Catherine’s passion for youth development has often played out in her concern for the health and dietary needs of children. She and Tom also believe in a strong commitment with parents– a commitment that has grown from being the parents of four children of their own.
‘We view our role as directors to be that of a partnership with parents in their child’s growth,’ she says. ‘As parents ourselves, we know the feeling of turning your child over to someone else with the expectation of growth, happiness and fun. We take this role very seriously when parents put their trust in us.’
In reflecting on the path of his life Tom says, ‘My Wilderness Adventures experience led me down a professional path that has become my life. More importantly, the trip offered me a chance to grow my leadership capabilities. It taught me teamwork. It taught me how to communicate and it taught me resilience. Twenty years later, the Wilderness Adventures brand continues to do those things. And we are proud to be a part of the story.’
‘Years ago, I remember flipping through the Wilderness Adventures catalog and dreaming of the adventures that I would have. I wondered how I would grow and I looked forward to the friends I would make. Now, we (Catherine and I) love flipping through the catalog and planning the adventures our students, and our children, will one day have. Our programs teach students to be ready for life’s great adventures, and to play this role in the lives of so many is a dream come true.’