Helping Teenagers to Find Their Inner Guide with Kelly and Tom Shelstad

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Adolescence is a time of great ferment and change. When messages abound that tell a young person they are not enough, they tend to concentrate their energies on being prettier, smarter, or more popular. What does this leave out? Kelly and Tom Shelstad offer wilderness programs and other activities that have proven to be of help to young people and their families as they traverse the treacherous waters from childhood to adulthood in a way that supports self-esteem and self-knowledge. Each wilderness experience includes a built-in “purposeful challenge” of alone time. This is a time without the “normal” distractions of our addiction to electronic input, friends, Facebook, Twitter, TV, or car. It is a time when the participant can start to feel bored. Tom describes this time: “When we start feeling bored we try to do something to distract ourselves, to not feel it. But, if we are willing to sit in those feelings, there’s much wisdom, personal understanding, and empowerment that arises from that level of self inquiry.” This conversation highlights the benefits of how the exploration of wilderness can shift the need for outside validation. It helps teens to be more confident in their own skin, recognizing their authentic selves from the inside out. They will have met the challenge and recognize themselves for who they actually are instead of who they put themselves up to be on their Facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Kelly Shelstad has more than 16 years experience working with youth in the classroom and in wilderness settings with a major in Elementary Education and a minor in Environmental Education. She has been teaching at Siskiyou School, a Waldorf school in Ashland, Oregon. With 3 other adults, she has sailed 1000 miles in open water from Fiji to New Zealand in a 39-foot boat. And has also co-created a four-day, three-night camp for girls based on the principles of self-awareness, expression, and connection in a wilderness setting through the Rose Circle Mentoring Network. 

Tom Shelstad has a background in teaching in both public and private schools. He has worked in wilderness therapy, juvenile corrections organizations as well as personal and athletic coaching. He has run leadership development programs for teens and is a faculty member at Southern Oregon University. He is the founder and director of Inner Guide Expeditions.

Kelly and Tom Shelstad co-lead and create transformational experiences for youth in their organization, Inner Guide Expeditions.

To learn more about the work of Kelly and Tom Shelstad go to

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How sailing the South Pacific was a rite of passage for Kelly and Tom
  • What do they hope for young people to learn from a wilderness adventure
  • How each wilderness journey includes the “purposeful challenge” of alone time
  • What happens when there are no distractions from our “normal” addictions to electronic media, friends, and TV
  • How the participants find their own inner wisdom through the wilderness experience
  • How the power of the circle is an invitation to authenticity
  • What are Guide Councils and how can they augment good parenting
  • How does sitting in circle build the skill of deep listening
  • How trees can take our tension, the sky can absorb our longing, and the ground can hold us
  • How we can move our perspective more easily when the body is in motion
  • How Tom worked with the breath of a young woman who was having a panic attack
  • How being hard of hearing has helped Tom to develop his intuition

Host: Justine Willis Toms            Interview Date: 8/23/2016            Program Number: 3592

Music Playlist

From Album: Origins
Artist: Radhika Miller, David Darling, W.A. Mathieu
1989 Radhika Miller Music #RMM 1108 

Opening Essay: Track 03 Net of Gems
Music Break 1: Track 03 Net of Gems (reprise)
Music Break 2: Track 01 Origins
Music Break 3: Track 02 Shepherd's Joy