Tori’s Gap Year Story: Coming Full Circle

In starting work at Glen Brook, I’ve done a lot of reflecting on the journey that led me here. In a way, coming to Gap at GB feels like coming full circle: from my own gap year in 2010, through my experiences with experiential outdoor education since then, first as a participant, and then as an educator. My “year on” included some work in the service industry in my hometown in Maryland, two apprenticeships at farm-based intentional communities, and then the beginning of my time at a two-year nature connection mentoring program in California (now called Weaving Earth).

Since those years, I’ve been guided by a few key questions. How do we create authentic community in a culture of isolation? What do we lose when we lose our deep connections to the natural world? And what would modern-day rites of passage, that bring people of any age and stage into wholeness, look and feel like? Asking these questions has led me to some diverse and interesting experiences in the last ten years, from leading music and gardening with elders with dementia in the Washington, DC area, to being in the startup team of a community apothecary and teahouse in North Carolina, to spending three years directing a summer wilderness program for girls and non-binary youth at Farm & Wilderness Camp in Vermont.

Following this golden thread of questions has also led me to Gap at Glen Brook. Helping adolescents transition into an adulthood of meaning and purpose is something that’s largely missing in today’s world, where many young people are shepharded from school to college to career without pause. When I first heard about Gap, I immediately sensed that this program was about giving that pause to young adults – from its thoughtful pacing, to its place-based curriculum, to its focus on self-development through community living. (And to that 17 year-old inside of me who wanted to learn practical outdoor skills, it also looked… fun!)

I’m so looking forward to supporting and witnessing the growth of the next cohort of Gappers this fall. As I get to know the beautiful fields and forests of Glen Brook, I’m excited to root this growth in connection to place and land. I’ll be bringing my love for wildcrafting, natural history, intentional community, and music to the Gappers. I’m also excited to be stewarding Gap at Glen Brook’s first year of college coursework, by bringing more intention, reflection, and critical questioning to the program’s core curriculum.

I’m strongly inspired by Rites of Passage scholarship, which asserts that transformation can only happen when it is seen by the community. This is something that has struck me as the most unique part of Gap at Glen Brook: the focus on knowing ourselves through our interdependence with others (and the earth). This is something that I didn’t understand when I started my gap year – that not only did I need to learn skills and try new things beyond academia, but that I needed to be a part of something bigger than myself. Since I can’t go back in time, I hope to help the next generation of emerging adults discover this for themselves.


– Tori Heller, Gap Program Director


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