Volunteer Voices- "even the most unadventurous feel supported to build their confidence"- Penny

Penny on her bike on a mountain trail

Alexandra volunteer Penny Smale loves adventuring in the wild places of Central Otago.

Her role as an Outdoor Instructor for Journeys Charitable Trust means she gets to bring young girls along on these adventures and she sees them become more inspired, connected and confident in the great outdoors.

In 2020 the cofounders of Journeys noticed that there were a lot of opportunities for boys to develop through outdoor adventures but there was much less available for girls. “We wanted to inspire girls from Year 7 onwards to get together, connect and explore the abundance of wild places we have on our doorstep” says Penny.

They started with two-hour mountain biking adventures once a week in the Summer and moved on to on foot adventures including orienteering, hiking and generally scrambling around in the hills in Winter.

Now approximately 60 girls attend the weekly sessions. All the programmes are free and all gear is supplied including bikes where needed.

Penny says “I'm not a hard-core adventurer and that's not what the Journeys programmes are about. Our adventures are designed to make even the most unadventurous feel supported and to build their confidence. We want to reach girls who don’t see themselves as adventurers but who might need it the most.”

Penny’s initial career was in computing. After ten years she travelled and then had a career change gaining a Doctorate in Geography and Antarctic Science. “I met my husband Dan in Antarctica while working towards that Doctorate” Penny laughs. She now works full time as a Science Technician with NIWA. She and Dan parent two sons Tom and Eddy.

Her Journey’s role isn’t Penny’s first volunteering rodeo. She has many community roles under her belt including governance roles with Mountainbikers of Alexandra,Omakau School and Community pool, Omakau Districts Playcentre, Toy Library, Plunket and the University of Canterbury Canoe Club. She is a co-founder of Journeys and the Central Otago Orienteering Club.

As a co-founder and Trustee, Penny has a special relationship with Journeys and its people. “We basically operate out of my garage,” she laughs. “And we have become this lovely community - the leaders, the girls and the supporters. Many of the girls go on to become leaders themselves and they never want to leave so we are looking at a programme for young women aged 16-24.”

The Directors of the Trust have put in many hours of work behind the scenes ensuring that Journeys has a watertight health and safety policy, robust operating procedures and is committed to ongoing training.

Penny says “This isn’t entirely selfless. I get huge benefits myself. After a cold Winter's night spent scrambling around with the girls, I come home feeling truly alive. I’ve been with wonderful young people exploring in nature. It's the best feeling.”

Penny sees many young girls arrive feeling anxious and self-conscious. “When they get into the outdoors with us they become different people. It’s so rewarding.”

Penny and the other Journeys volunteers are role models for the adventurous women of the future. They are living breathing examples of the Journeys philosophy - inspired, connected and confident.

For more information about opportunities to volunteer at Journeys see www.journeys.org.nz

Written for Volunteer South by Juliette Hicks