Traditions Outdoor Mentoring helps at-risk teens

From left: Mentees Caleb and Zack pose with author Dana Benner and some of the day’s hunt.

From left: Mentees Caleb and Zack pose with author Dana Benner and some of the day’s hunt.

By Dana Benner

When I was growing up, 50 some odd years ago, hunting, fishing, and working outdoors were a part of life. We showed respect for our elders and for the world around us. Life skills were taught to us by our parents and extended families. My, how things have changed. Fancy electronics, drugs, and social issues have replaced hard work and family unity. Thankfully, there are people out there like the volunteers of Traditions Outdoor Mentoring that try to keep what really matters alive.

Traditions Outdoor Mentoring, a non-profit organization that is part of, is geared towards helping at-risk young men, ages 12-16, learn all of the skills they need to know when going out in the world. These skills are not only needed in the outdoors but also in day-to-day life. Many of the young men involved in this program have limited parental influence, for whatever reason, and have problems with social interaction in general, including respect.  Some of the mentees come to Traditions Outdoor Mentoring as referrals from teachers, social workers, and others who feel that this program may help a particular young man where other techniques have failed. The entire program runs 46 weeks and is taught by dedicated volunteers.

As the name implies, most of the work that the mentees do revolves around the outdoor world, but it is not limited to hunting and fishing. With the goal being to teach these young men how to respectfully interact with others, they spend a great deal of time helping out within the community. For example, the mentees and their volunteer leaders spend a great deal of time helping local farmers with everything from plowing and planting, to bringing in and stacking hay. This serves many different purposes: it shows the mentees what hard work is really like; it teaches them how to work as a team; and it allows them to interact with people, in this case the farmer, in ways they never would have before.

I first became aware of this worthy organization when I hunted early-season Canada geese with Champlain Valley Guide Service this past September. Bradley Carleton, owner of Champlain Valley Guide Service, is also the executive director of, and it was he who introduced me to Traditions Outdoor Mentoring. On that trip, I had the pleasure of hunting with two mentees, Zack and Caleb. Since then, I have made it back to the area to hunt fall turkey with both young men. On this trip, Zack really impressed me when we came upon a cow with its head stuck in a feeder. Without hesitation, Zack jumped up into the feeder and freed the cow. He wasn’t looking for praise or any reward. He did it because it was the right thing to do. These are the things that Traditions Outdoor Mentoring teaches.

Without groups such as and Traditions Outdoor Mentoring, many of the skills and values that we hold dear – and frankly, take for granted – could be lost. For those interested in finding out more, please contact Bradley Carleton at 238-6176 or visit

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