Off The Beaten Path With Sam Dick

Changing lives at the Life Adventure Center

Published June 28, 2024 on NPR 88.9 WEKU

The sounds of children jumping off a dock and swimming on a warm June day fill the air. They each wear life jackets as a lifeguard keeps watch on the dock.

The small lake is part of 575 acres in Woodford County at the Life Adventure Center (LAC).

The children come from Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass. Program Director for the organization, Ben Heinlen, sits in the shade nearby and watches the children splashing and laughing.

He says the center is a good fit for Big Brothers Big Sisters. “The Life Adventure Center has generously offered twelve of our kids a free week of camp, which is amazing, and this is the second year in a row, and we had twelve kids come last year. We identified twelve new kids this year so other kids could have the opportunity to be here. A lot of things that these kids are getting to try this week, a lot of them they’ve never done before, horseback riding, archery, some things like that. It’s a really good opportunity for them to experience some new things that they might not otherwise get a chance to do.”

There’s also another part of the camp that goes deeper.

The Life Adventure Center works with groups of people, ages six and up, who have experienced some form of trauma.

Heinlen says, “The majority of our kids are facing some sort of adversity or experienced trauma, and it ranges from anything from chronic poverty to the opioid epidemic, incarcerated parent, and death of a loved one due to gun violence or drug and alcohol substance use, and those things are impactful to anybody. But when you have those types of adverse life experiences as a child during your developmental stages of life, it’s going to have a profound impact on you, not just as a child, but it’s really going to impact you as an adult as well.”

The center’s Program Director, Megan Patrick, says today’s theme for the children is confidence.

“Hopefully they’re feeling empowered and gaining some confidence. Over the lunch hour, we did a Strengths Assessment. They all got to decide what their top strength was. Some of the things that I heard today were like curiosity, open-mindedness, bravery.”

Patrick says, “We know that they’ve experienced something challenging in their life, and here, we empower them to be the best version of themselves. The way that it looks here is like these kids having fun, right? Like some of these kids come from a place where they aren’t often celebrated. They might be kids that have some behavior referrals in school, so they kind of come with these assumptions about themselves. We get to flip that on its head here and empower them to make good choices. We set the expectation that you’re a great human, and here’s what that looks like here, and we let them meet that.”

The Life Adventure Center’s Executive Director, Julie Breitigan, says they served 3500 people last year.

“Some of our longest partnerships are with Amachi. These are all kids that have been impacted by parental incarceration. We also work with Sunrise Children’s Home. We have a very strong partnership with Mentors and Meals, which is a mentoring program right here in Versailles. We have worked with Greenhouse 17. We have Big Brothers, Big Sisters, this week for camp. So, we have a lot of great partnerships.”

The center is funded through foundations, grants, and donations. Breitigan says they can help groups that need a financial boost.

“We never let finances be a barrier. If we know a group that’s trauma-affected really wants to and needs to be out here, we try to find a donor. We try to find a grant that will fund it, and if not, we partner and we still find a way.”

As the nonprofit center’s name implies, adventure activities are a key part of helping the clients. There is horseback riding, canoeing, archery, a climbing wall, bike trails, and swimming.

Program Coordinator, Jenn Fore, is giving some instructions at the archery range.

She says an activity like archery “can be very empowering, especially if a kid has either never done it before or did it in the past and didn’t feel like they were able to really figure out how this works. No child is going to leave here an expert in what we’re doing, but we at least try to leave them with some education around this, some encouragement, some affirmation and speak into the good things that we see them doing. So, we try to be just very intentional about that.”

Positivity and building self-confidence are important parts of the center’s mission.

Patrick says, “a really beautiful thing about Life Adventure Center is that we get to be trauma-informed, meaning people get to show up as they are, and we can assume that anyone in the world has experienced some sort of trauma, whether that be a worldwide pandemic abuse in the home, neglect in the home. But the cool thing about LAC is we don’t actually have to know each individual story. We know that they’ve experienced something challenging in their life, and here, we empower them to be the best version of themselves.”

The center also serves as a place to unplug, relax, meditate, and learn about yourself. Atop the highest point on the property sits a labyrinth. Rocks of different shapes form rows and paths that eventually meet in the middle.

Breitigan says of the labyrinth, “It’s intentionally facing east to represent hope and to remind us that there’s hope in challenging situations. We use it in a lot of different ways. One of my favorite ways we use this is with Camp Hope, and we’ve worked with them in the past through Bluegrass Care Navigators. We’ve had the kids that have lost someone special in their lives create luminaries and to represent their special person. And so, we line the hilly walk up with luminaries, and then we’re able to have a fire in the heart of our labyrinth, and they can write notes to their special person. We have tiki torches all around. It’s a really beautiful, beautiful evening.”

All part of the Life Adventure Center experience.

To learn more about visiting the center go to

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