Instructor Spotlight: Jaimie Kerka

Written By Mena Ayazi
June 13, 2023

Seasonal Instructors play an integral role in bringing the BCM experience to life. Tasked with leading trips and expeditions, Instructors not only ensure the safety and well-being of participants, but actively play a hand in supporting their growth in the backcountry. BCM Instructors come from all walks of life, but share one key element – passion for exposing youth to the outdoors. 

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Jaimie Kerka, a returning Instructor with BCM this season, to talk about why she is coming back to take participants in the field with us this summer. 

What does nature mean to you? 

“Nature invokes a huge sense of peace for me. I often feel like I am constantly taking in new information and feel like I have a hard time being present in the ‘real world’. Separating myself from the overwhelm by getting off the grid allows me to really focus on the present and appreciate the incredible things the outdoors has to offer. Even if only for a few days, it is so powerful, special, and healing to spend time in nature, and I love getting to share that experience with others as well.

I also feel empowered and more confident in myself when I’m outdoors. As a woman, society puts so much value in the way our body size, and unfortunately, I am guilty of judging and critiquing my own body due to these unrealistic expectations that I’m bombarded with via all forms of media day in and day out. However, when I’m outside, I think to myself ‘how dare you say these things about this body when it just carried you up a mountain’. The image that I have of myself and my body shifts, and I become proud of everything it can do for me in the outdoors. It is also a reminder of the immense privilege that I carry to possess the ability to move my body in the ways that I am able and causes me to appreciate it that much more.”

What motivates you to work with BCM?

“I enjoy working with youth, and being able to take them outdoors and create a space for healing through experiences that have been similar to my own is so unbelievably powerful. I never hiked or went camping myself throughout my adolescence, so being outdoors in this capacity was something very new to me as of 2018 when I moved out to Colorado. I graciously learned how to navigate the outdoors by some incredible women in my own life and recognized how intimidating it can feel to break into an industry that can feel very unwelcoming at times. Being able to facilitate an experience similar to my own, filled with learning, curiosity, and patience, is incredibly important to me as the youth participants at BCM gain confidence in the outdoors. We should all be allowed to make mistakes and go at our own pace, and I hope to provide an outlet outdoors that feels safe for youth to do just that.”

As a returning instructor, what are some of your favorite memories with BCM?

“One of my favorite memories comes from leading my first expedition last summer. We had crazy weather throughout the trip including heavy rain and even some bouts of hail, and I have distinct memories of hiking through super exposed fields with trash bags on our backpacks to keep our gear dry. We set up a tarp at our campsite that afternoon and, with hail pelting the tarp overhead, had a really intimate moment where we started sharing what we would tell our younger selves given the opportunity. It started out silly, but soon the youth participants opened up and shared their insight. Not only was that particular moment one that I will never forget, but it also reinforced how much respect I have for youth and their perspectives and reminded me that we should never underestimate young people.”

In what ways do you see you see youth grow on trail? 

“There is a lot of pressure with this generation of young people to constantly have a presence on social media. Although it took a few days for youth to come around to time away from their phones, the growth and positivity that resulted from the separation was very special to witness. They often reflected on the negative impacts of technology and social media while on expeditions, and some students didn’t even want their phones back by the end of the trip!

I also noticed growth when it came to confidence and ownership in outdoor spaces over the course of an expedition. Many participants stepped far outside of their comfort zone by taking on the challenge of a BCM expedition, and they ultimately felt incredibly proud of themselves knowing that they could accomplish something that most people will never do in their lives. They walk away knowing that they did something challenging and meaningful, even if it was the only time they will ever backpack and pushed them to their mental and physical limits. These trips have a profound impact on youth participants’ self confidence and self esteem and act as a reminder that they are more than capable of doing hard things. I love being a part of that journey alongside them.”

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