“This is freedom to me,” the woman said to Max Van Vlaenderen.
Van Vlaenderen was assisting veterans learning how to kayak in an adaptive kayaking program during his internship with Three Rivers Park District in Scott County. The woman was blind.
“I will never forget what she said,” says Van Vlaenderen. “It was so inspiring . . . I knew I was on the right track.”
Internships are a required part of the curriculum for seniors in the Recreation Administration Program. During Van Vlaenderen’s time in Scott County, he also led children of all ages and families in camps and projects designed to increase community involvement in recreational activities. He taught firearm safety at a turkey-hunting camp that included archery and allowed youth to qualify for firearm safety licenses.
The internship also provided the rare opportunity to learn the business side of operations with the general manager of Scott County Parks. Van Vlaenderen attended park advisory commission meetings at the county board and went to the state capitol for a meeting with the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources.
“It was so great to see the top level of business in the recreation field,” he says.
A love for nature
Max Van Vlaenderen (van-VLAN-deren) grew up in the Red River Valley community of Moorhead, Minnesota. For as long as he can remember, he has felt a call to the outdoors. As a senior in recreation administration, he is helping others cultivate similar passions for adventure.
As a freshman in 2011, he was searching for what he wanted to study. When the program was recommended to him, Van Vlaenderen applied immediately.
“I knew it was what I wanted to do,” he says. “It’s a major where you can have fun the whole time and still get the best insight into what you want to do. I have learned more in one day of my recreation classes than I have in any general class.”
Van Vlaenderen has learned his trade through leading activities. With a minor in outdoor recreation and education, he is receiving the skills for a career that focuses on the outdoors. His classes are small and create a close-knit community.
“It’s awesome being a student here,” he says. “I love how close everybody is. It seems like everyone is a family.”
One of his favorite classes was Leisure Services for People with Disabilities. Because it was experiential based, he and his classmates took many field trips, including one to Courage Kenney, a rehabilitation institute associated with Allina Health. There the class was introduced to Murder Ball, rugby played on wheelchairs. He met the captain of the USA Para-Olympic team and competed with the players in a game.
This January, Van Vlaenderen will travel to Belize to study recreation tourism and its impacts. Students will work in pairs to make a video on the topic of their choice.
“We’ll learn about local culture and eco-tourism,” says Van Vlaenderen. “But there is a lot of fun mixed in with that, too.”
The group will be SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and zip-lining through a jungle reserve. They will also hike up a mountain to tube down a river through caves and stay on an island the size of a football field.
“Every place we are staying at isn’t a huge resort,” he says. “Who wouldn’t want to experience that?”
Story by Ali Lacey | October 2014