2014-15 Gap Year Program Description

Paonia, Colorado

When: September 6, 2014 — May 31, 2015

Where: Paonia, Colorado

Who: 8 – 12 students ages 17-23 plus program leader Dev Carey and guest instructors Cameron Lovejoy, Blake Boles, and more

How Much: $6,500 program fee includes all food, housing, and activities while the group is together

Priority Application Deadline: Closed

Program Itinerary

Harvesting veggies on a farm in Paonia


September 6th to Nov 18th: Farm Work, Dance, Communication, Writing Retreat

The first 10 weeks will be spent on a variety of activities that emphasizes group work, group communication, and interpersonal skills. Based out of Dev’s property (the High Desert Center for Sustainability Studies) in Paonia, Colorado, you’ll spend your days working with your hands, feet, and head. Activities will include:

  • Harvesting fruits and vegetables on neighboring farms
  • Canning peaches
  • Becoming skilled at partner dancing (Blues and Lindy Hop)
  • Attending short communication workshops
  • Taking a backpacking trip
  • A month long intensive writing retreat

As you learn, you’ll begin documenting your challenges and accomplishments with a personal online portfolio. You’ll also start brainstorming for your upcoming winter adventure and begin designing an independent project. Come mid-October we will head to a youth hostel in Crested Butte and join with up with the 2014 writing retreat.  There we will write while continuing to dance and preserve and prepare local food.  We’ll end the fall with our own early Thanksgiving made from local food we’ve harvested.

Backpacking in the mountains of Western Colorado



Partner dancing in Paonia


Nov 15th to January 6th: Holidays at Home

The next month and a half you’ll spend at home for the holidays–but don’t worry, the group connection continues! While at home you’ll:

  • read a few books and articles as part of the Gap Year curriculum
  • polish your online portfolio
  • chat regularly with Gap Year members via email and videoconference
  • receive one-on-one guidance in order to prepare for your upcoming winter adventure

Students cover their own living expenses during this time.

January 7th – February 7th: Winter Adventure (Solo or Small Group)

The Winter Adventure a month-long adventure of your own design. You’ve been preparing for this since September, and now it’s time to fly. What can you do on your Winter Adventure? You’re limited only by your creativity. Here are a few options to consider:

  • Backpack around Central America with other group members
  • Build a business and attempt to make your first sale
  • Intern for a company or individual you admire
  • Work or volunteer for an organization you discovered in Paonia

Students choose their own partners and pay their own way during the Winter Adventure. Gap Year staff (including Blake Boles) assist you in planning, budgeting, fundraising, and staying on track toward your adventure goals.

Where will your Winter Adventure take you?


February 7th -April 7th: Travel in the Southwest & Mexico

For your next 8 weeks, you’ll travel across the Southwest in a van with the entire Gap Year group, dipping briefly into Northern Mexico to live and work with with Dev’s friends. The itinerary includes:

  • Visiting iconic National Parks and Monuments in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico
  • Backpacking in the Grand Canyon
  • Working alongside a family in Northern Mexico
  • Learn to speak basic Spanish

During this time you’ll gain a big perspective on how our lives affect others and looking at whole systems of water, food, immigration, and culture.

Searching for wildlife in Northern Mexico



One of the many fun stops on the Southwest Roadtrip



April 7th – May 31st: Design & Build

The Gap Year ends with a fun, hands-on, and practical experience: learning how to build and design your own small house. Using strawbale and natural building methods, you’ll learn how to create a well-insulated building for very little money. When not designing and building, Dev and the Gap Year staff will help you complete your portfolio and think about the next phase of your life—whether that’s college, work, or more self-directed learning—and launch you into it with confidence.

Installing solar panels



Plastering a strawbale house


What to Expect Day-to-Day

Through the Gap Year, routines will vary, but some things will remain constant. What you can expect every day is (1) a mix of physical work, intellectual learning, conversation, fun and relationship building; (2) daily check-ins; (3) cooking and eating together; and (4) an individual project or practice—maybe exercise or writing poetry or building a bee box—something that is important to you.

Autumn in Paonia

Mornings will be full of picking apples, harvesting kale, maybe slaughtering some chickens or a goat, digging potatoes. Afternoons might involve some canning and solar drying interspersed with workshops on communication. Evenings will be dancing, conversation, sunset hikes and listening to coyotes.

Southwest Adventure Travel

Imagine an Outward Bound Course combined with hobo adventure skills. You’ll practice living out of a backpack and hike the Grand Canyon and other wild places of the Southwest. You’ll sleep under pines and under bridges. We’ll eat food we gather from the landscape and ponder 1000-year-old potshards laying in the dirt under a sagebrush.


Picture a small town and dirt streets with chickens and little kids sucking chili mango lollipops. The schedule here means doing what the locals do. Sometimes that’s getting up early in the morning to work in the onion fields or mist net birds. Other times it means sleeping in and playing soccer with the local kids. You’ll eat with families, get by on sign language and your growing Spanish skills, and practice rolling out tortillas. There will be workshops too to help you understand the local culture, economy and ecology. The little bit of water that makes it to small town Mexico comes from the same river that passes by Paonia, so we’re all interconnected.

Spring in Paonia

On building days we’ll be up early, turning salvaged pieces of plywood into homemade roof joists or stuffing old tires with dirt to make an earthship foundation. It will be hard and rewarding work and you’ll walk away with carpentry skills and a sense of achievement and inspiration. In the afternoon we’ll take breaks, tour innovative houses, and visit people who have figured out how to balance their checkbook while doing what they love. Then we’ll settle down over dinner and figure out how we’d like to build our own lives and what we want to do next to make it happen.

Gap Year Staff