The 20 students of the leadership program at Crossroads Alternative High School climbed the steep incline of Waipio Valley, made rigorous preparations for a seven-day camping trip at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and met with Dog the Bounty Hunter all as preparation for facing the bigger changes in real life during and after high school.“The class is a metaphor for the trip, and the trip is a metaphor for life,” Leadership Program Leader Marcia Nelson said.The 10-day trip to Hawaii from June 12 through 21 was the year-end celebration of the leadership program at Crossroads that Nelson developed eight years ago. Students participated in a variety of activities throughout the trip designed to push them physically, mentally and interpersonally, bringing all of the leadership lessons they learned in class to the forefront of real life.“I really challenged myself… got through what I would never do… in the end I loved it,” Ariel Orench said.Many students said the hardest part of the trip was the hike up Waipio Valley, a trip most visitors usually take in a rented four wheel drive vehicle. The day after the hike students were given the choice between going on another hike or taking a break.“It takes initiative. Do I want to sleep in or experience something more than myself? Do I want to limit breaks and challenge myself?” Will Warner said.As students described the achievements throughout the trip they had never expected, Nelson frequently reminded them of the life applications.“This trip had things you trust, along with things that were foreign and scary,” Nelson said. “College will be the same way.”Along with camping, students participated in many other activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, visiting Pearl Harbor and a meeting with Hawaii Sen. Mike Gabbard. Each year students in the leadership program write stories called “Darkness to Light,” in which they describe changes they’ve made to make their lives better. Gabbard knew these stories and presented the students with certificates from the Hawaii State Senate congratulating them on their choices and their committment to the leadership program.Gabbard also arranged a surprise visit from Dog the Bounty Hunter who burst into the room with no warning, surprising all the students and shaking up a few.“I thought we were being robbed,” Evan Dixon said.Dog the Bounty Hunter shared with them his own story and reminded them of the ability they all have to make changes in their lives. Taylor Sowden said he was encouraging.“People make the mistake of holding you back at the first curve,” Sowden said.The student’s meeting with Dog will be shown on A&E in a “Dog the Bounty Hunter” episode featuring the community work he does. Nelson said Gabbard and Dog the Bounty Hunter exemplified a key quote in the leadership program from Napoleon Bonaparte: “A leader is a dealer in hope.”Students were reminded of life’s challenges even at the end of the trip, as they were on the same plane that brought the remains of World War II Minnesota Army Air Force Soldier Harry Lester Bedard back to his family. Bedard was from the Elk River area.“We got to stand on the plane and watch the remains return… I almost felt like I could say to Bedard and his family: ‘It matters. What you did matters,’” Nelson said.The trip was paid for by donations to Nelson’s non-profit Darkness to Light Education Project, designed “to provide and create educational opportunities that help to decrease the high school dropout rate and encourage youth to become successful, independent, productive members of society,” according to the website. More information on the project can be found at www.d2lep.org.