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Simply Living Semester | High Desert Center
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DISCOVER WHAT IT TAKES FOR YOU TO THRIVE

A semester of adventures, community, & sustainable living

Simply living feels a lot better when you’re thriving, and at the HDC you will put your focus there, on helping each of us to thrive.  Sometimes thriving while living simply is easy, like when you’re sitting with your friends around a campfire under the stars eating pizzas you just made on a rock.  Other times it’s harder, like when you’re packing up your tent in the rain or when you find yourself washing other people’s dishes. You don’t get to thriving by avoiding what’s hard or uncomfortable.  You don’t get there by doing what you “should”.  You get there by finding that spark that lies in each of us and courageously saying “yes.”   Community, adventures and sustainable living all follow.

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Community Living

Do you crave the feeling of belonging and connection? Does growing your self awareness and your ability to navigate sticky situations sound exciting and a bit scary? You will create a tight-knit, magical community here. Together you will live in cabins, cook your meals from scratch, take on ambitious projects as teams, and learn about the practices and principles that create a deep and rich community. When things get challenging, you can count on someone checking in with you, listening to you, and asking questions that broaden your perspective. Over the semester you might find yourself surprised how close you feel to a group of people who were strangers only months before.

Adventuring

Adventure is a frame of mind.  It can happen anywhere and anytime when you say “yes!”    You can expect to climb mountains, explore canyons, or purposefully get lost without a sleeping bag only to spend a night around a fire eating cactus fruit.  You can also expect to be surprised and find adventure in unexpected places, like the kitchen or under a bridge.  With adventure comes not only learning about things like primitive skills, orienteering, birding, and the night sky, but also the chance to practice designing and leading news adventure.  Most importantly, there comes the adventure mindset, and with that, even when you’re not in the mountains, the everyday challenges of work and home life can feel like adventurous fun.

Sustainability

One of our biggest modern-day challenges is living in a way that feels like a solution rather than part of the problem.  To us that means minimizing our negative impact while growing our resilience and adaptability and willingness to make courageous choices.  At the High Desert Center you will grow greens and make bread; build with recycled and natural materials; conserve water by using a composting toilet; and minimize fossil fuels use by taking showers with solar heated water.  You will also meet and learn from people who are happily living the simple life. And you will practice the process wherein all great things begin–a small group of people choosing something big that matters and then making it happen.

WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT THEIR GAP YEAR

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KIERAN SMITH

Grass Valley, CA

If you are looking for a Gap Year program where you expect the unexpected, this is it. Be prepared for something that will change you in ways you never anticipated. This program is an amazing combination of outdoor leadership skills, emotional growth, and community building, which makes for an amazing Gap Year that could never be repeated. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, filled with quirky, creative adventures, and the affordability compared to other programs was also a huge benefit. If you are considering it–DO IT!!

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SOPHIA WAHANIK

Rohnert Park, CA

During this gap year I have grown into myself. I first joined the High Desert Center (HDC) feeling unsure about the future and nervous about my responsibilities in it. Throughout this year I have become grounded in my sense of self and excited to go out into the world. I attribute this to the spaciousness of the program. Its leaders are inspiring, authentic, supportive and always ready to launch into epic and meaningful experiences . This is a beautiful place, perfect to start investigating the true meaning of community and adventure.

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TOWNER SCHUNK

Atlanta, GA

I don’t think any number of words could accurately capture the magic that is the HDC. I applied to the program unsure of who I was as a person or what I wanted in life and found a community that not only accepted me, but celebrated me for everything that I am. From day one, it felt like everyone wanted to tear down their walls and be as authentically themselves as possible. I formed strong connections, grew emotionally, and mentally as I overcame the doubts I had about myself.

For more read the Simply Living Semester FAQs below or contact us with any other questions.

The Simply Living Semester FAQs

WHAT’S OUR DAILY SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?

The answer depends on where we are and what we’re doing.  Most days we’ll be up with the sun, either going to a farm or biking to a mountain trailhead or canning peaches.  In the afternoon there is some individual time while the cooks make dinner.  After dinner there might be a meeting and check-ins followed by dance or a campfire.  At least once a week we’ll have adventures and two days a week will be free days to explore the town, do laundry, and generally take care of yourself.

CAN MY FRIENDS OR FAMILY COME TO VISIT?

Yes, visits are possible.  Normally we ask people to only stay for a day or two and to not sleep in our cabins.  Finally, it is important that visitors get themselves to and from Paonia.  Generally we are too busy during the semester to be picking up visitors at airports or bus stations.

ARE THERE ANY ADDITIONAL COSTS?

The program fee includes all food, housing, transportation and activities while the group is together but does not include your individual transportation to and from Paonia and optional spending money for personal purchases or activities. You will need to provide your own health insurance.  You will also be asked to come with some of your own outdoor equipment, like a sleeping bag, hiking boots and a water filter.  An equipment list will be provided after you are accepted to the program.

WHAT IF I HAVE SPECIAL FOOD NEEDS?

We are  accustomed to meeting the needs of vegetarians and vegans, although you should expect to eat local beans and walnuts rather than avocados and soy cheese.  We can also minimize gluten, although it has proven challenging to serve those who are strongly celiac (we have done it).  If you have special food needs that aren’t easily met with a local, whole foods diet, you might need to supplement with your own snacks.  Please talk with us well in advance about your special needs.

WHAT KIND OF PHYSICAL CHALLENGES SHOULD I BE PREPARED FOR?

 Participants should already be in decent shape by the time they arrive, able to comfortably walk six miles with a pack in two hours as backpacking in steep country will be a significant portion of this semester.

WHAT POLICIES & PROCEDURES WILL I BE ASKED TO AGREE TO IN THIS PROGRAM?

We will ask you to sign an agreement form that includes:

  • No use of drugs (including tobacco and marijuana) and alcohol.
  • Doing your share of cooking and cleaning.
  • Abiding by fire and general safety procedures.
  • Participating fully in program activities unless there is agreement otherwise.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

  • Participants, and their parents if participants are not legal adults, will be asked to sign a release form before the program starts acknowledging the risks associated with this program.  They include the risks inherent to backcountry travel in rough and remote county, traveling in Mexico, working on farms, and travel in vans and cars driven by staff.
  • Participants are often unsupervised by staff during days off and certain adventures.
  • Participants, by consent, may also engage in dumpster diving, skinny dipping, and other unconventional but safe adventures.

WHAT FORMS ARE NEEDED AS PART OF THE APPLICATION?

After the interview, if you have been offered enrollment, we will hold your spot for two weeks and ask you to make a $1000 payment and complete and send in medical history and consent forms as well as an acknowledgement of risk form.  When we receive these, we will formally accept you and give you a spot in the program.

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