Trip Finder

Why We Lead: To Transform

May 2, 2019
on horseback | Moondance Adventures

This week of the “Why We Lead” series features fourth year leader James Kelley. He has led our Big Wild, Cataract Canyon, Hawaiian Islands, and Ecuador + Galapagos trips, and reflects on the transformative effects of being a Moondance leader.


I never thought I would be grateful for having a sinus infection, but one fateful visit to a doctor in Dadeville, Alabama in the summer of 2014 led me to Moondance. From the time I started my first trip in Utah in the summer of 2016, I have been amazed with my students, co-leaders, and overall experience. I am hooked.


Arrival day of every trip, my stomach is turning somersaults. I am a mixture of emotions: nervous, excited, amped, to name a few. Two weeks later on departure day, my heart is always full and I am so grateful. It is nothing short of magical what leading a group of young adults is like. I realize that I am supposed to be the leader, but I feel as though I am taught much more than I teach. My Moondance students are the most unique. They are intelligent, kind, and passionate and they no doubt make me want to be a better version of myself.


When one leads for Moondance, they are not just a leader for a summer; they are their students’ leader for life. I admire the honesty of my students, I now realize maybe I am cooler than I thought I was, maybe I do have the hair genes of Sasquatch, and maybe I just so happen to have a post-college dad bod (whatever that may be), but I would do anything for my kids and they know that.


If I could lead for Moondance year-round, I would. My family and closest friends would tell you that I have gained more confidence, maybe gotten funnier, certainly gotten weirder, but, most importantly, become happier since beginning my journey with Moondance. I have my students,fellow leaders, and staff to give thanks to, for they have made the differences in my life.


I find ways to come back and lead because after that first summer, I knew my life would never be the same. I walked away a different person than when I started the summer. I lead because of my students and the way they motivate me and make me feel. I lead because I will be forever bound to my co-leader(s). I lead because after staff orientation I am confident the world will be a better place because of these people.


Moondance, I would not be near the man I am today had you not found me. Leading for Moondance has transformed my life and continues to do so. Every year, a few weeks before summer starts, I find myself reading my student’s entries in my journal and am overcome with happiness, excitement, and such gratitude for having the opportunity to be a part of their lives. I am beyond grateful for the Moondance students, leaders, and staff that have propelled me forward to truly understand this world and myself better.


– James Kelley