The Wetfoot Blog

Monday, January 25, 2010

At the Mic with Matt Leibfried


Matt has been a Manito-wisher since 2003 where he started as a canoeing counselor and returned the next year as well. He moved onto backpacking for his next years as a leader of two Westerns and two Alaskans. He lead both Alskans with his "fellow red-bearded friend Karl Welter." Matt served each of his positions in two year increments and he says that he would "highly recommend this... the first summer you learn the job and the second summer you thrive!" The winter of 2009, Matt was one of our Staff Recruitment Coordinators and spent the summer as our Trips House Director.

A little more about Matt...

Matt is a Case Manager with Community Offender Reentry Program in Duluth, MN

How did you choose your current profession? -

I have worked with the adjudicated population for a few years because of my desire to help a population that cannot always help themselves. It is true that at some point a person needs to be in charge of their own life and decisions, but it is unrealistic to expect people to accomplish important things without help.

We all can use a guide, whether it’s in the mountains or the courthouse. Helping adult ex-offenders is a lot like being a guide. We help them navigate through a confusing set of resources, and like any good Manito-wish leader, always have time to be a human being and listen to them talk.

What have you learned at Camp that you apply to your current life?
Aside from that sort of cheesy ‘guide’ metaphor I just used, I have one big message for anyone at Camp wondering how to transition from a seasonal Camp job to a real adult big-person job. In almost every position you hold at camp, a part of your job description will include being a mentor. Take that part of your job seriously.

I currently work with adult ex-offenders, many of whom walk out of prison with nothing; a lot of people are waiting for them to screw up so they can be sent back to jail. It is my job to help these ex-offenders to obtain a job, apartment, etc. Statistics point out that the people that are the most likely to stay out of jail are those that receive and keep a mentor. Isn’t that stunning?

Obtaining a job and a place to stay are necessary components to a good life; having a good mentor is equally important. It is a positive community member who will treat a criminal like a human being that helps keep him safe. Working at Camp helped me to be a positive mentor to our participants, and it is the single most important part of my job today.

People may tell you that your summer camp job is easy compared to working in the ‘real world.’ This is nonsense. The real world is everywhere. If you work hard at Camp and find success in camp or on trail, you can find that success elsewhere. This has certainly been true for me.

What does leadership mean to you?
Asking what leadership means is sort of like asking for a definition of outer space or the perfect toothbrush. But I usually narrow good leadership down to what most of us want in a good teacher. When you learn a new subject, it is easiest if your teacher tells you the absolutes about your given subject, and it's really nice if they give you the answers. Then you can memorize stuff and get an A on the test. It is comforting to have this answer-driven model, but only for a while.

Most people get bored with this style because, at some point, you will want to work out a problem on your own. A good teacher guides students without telling all the answers, because they know that a sense of discovery is hugely important. Guide your participants to the discovery of a good paddling stroke and camp site. Do not just give them all the answers; allow them to discover answers to the group’s problems. I personally believe that self-discovery is the most important feeling in the world.

Who cares if a billion people have already figured out how to stern a canoe? When you figure it out for yourself, you feel like you have discovered a new planet. Discovering a new skill, with the help from a teacher or guide, is the most rewarding feeling I have been a part of, either as a teacher or student. A good leader, then, only tells her participants the absolutes for a safe trail experience, like wearing a life jacket. For everything else, the leader helps and guides and sets a good example, so that each participant can discover, with some help along the way, how to stern their own canoe.

Tell us about your favorite adventure?
I apologize, but I cannot answer this one easily. I have many unforgettable memories of many unforgettable adventures. My most memorable adventures have taken place with my closest friends and family. I used to categorize my trips by length, thinking that the longer trips were always better, but that is not true. My favorite adventures are trips undertaken with my closest friends, even if it is a trip to the gas station.

Favorite Quote or Inspirational Thought:
The night before departing on a trip, your head will usually be spinning with thoughts of that one item you forgot to pack. The little things-toothbrush, nail clippers, contact solution-should be written down and checked off and crossed off and then written down on a new list. They are important. Pack and repack your food and gear meticulously, concentrating on every detail you think will matter. Because after all the detailed planning, you get to the start of your trip, and you should do this: never worry about any of that stuff again.

I have forgotten almost every item on any given trip, including: tent poles (strung peacord through the sleeves), a spoon (used a stick), rain pants (had wet legs), rain jacket (wet body), stove (started a fire), and a camper (just kidding). All of these trips were a blast. I have great memories from all of these trips-great memories that I remember more vividly than any inconvenience over a forgotten item.

The Trail Tip of the Day: As soon as you begin an adventure, waste no energy thinking about what you left behind. Think only about how you will use what you have. In the end, if you have a pile of food, a tent, a good book, a frying pan and a friend, you'll be fine.

Matt's in the red sleeping bag with the orange hat. This is the morning he flew to Denali base camp May of 2009.

Thanks Matt for the update and your wise advise! - Karen

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