Written by: Yvanna Hammen-Álvarez
The Southern Outdoor Activity Program (SOAP) focuses on connecting students to nature as a form of revival and self-care with little to no cost.
On December 4, the program will be hosting a caving outdoor church trip.
Mike Harris, Adventure Programming director for the School of Education, Health and Wellness, said caving tends to be perfect for the colder months since it’s always about 60 degrees fahrenheit inside a cave. He said organizers prefer students to sign up ahead of time so they can plan properly, and they need at least eight people to register.
SOAP is not a club but a program available to all undergraduate students, according to Harris. The program started in 2008 to help students experience outdoor activities they could take into their future lives, such as rafting, kayaking, caving and rock climbing.
It has exposed students to different activities regardless of their levels of past experience, according to Harris, and introduced them to different classes available on campus, such as the caving and rock climbing classes. He said students also get to know more people in those niche activities. SOAP doesn’t charge for the day trips, but participants pay for food and transportation on overnight trips, according to Harris.
Harris said the upcoming trip will start at about 11 a.m. Participants will load up the vans, drive to the cave and discuss safety and maintaining three points of contact. The participants will stay in the cave for a while, and then sit and have a worship talk.
Harris said caves are “usually really good at bonding a group” because they are tight spaces that do not allow people to draw away or disconnect.
In regard to other activities throughout the year, SOAP offers an open-ropes course once a semester, along with rock climbing trips, one being overnight. SOAP also offers overnight caving trips, overnight backpacking trips and overnight rafting trips. Harris said he is also considering bringing back the overnight horseback trip with Hidden Hills Farm and Saddle Club.
SOAP tries to conduct four to five overnight trips and four to five day trips per semester.
When campus activities opened up last year after being shut down due to COVID-19, Harris said he had to take care of coordination, climbing rotations, gear maintenance and organization with help from Adventure Programming Coordinator Elisha Fowler, who is pursuing a master’s degree in social work, and Michael Vance, a senior accounting major. Harris said SOAP has been able to organize the same amount of trips, just with less manpower.
When asked why students should come and attend a SOAP activity, Harris said, “It’s fun!”
He added that getting out of one’s comfort zone, gaining a sense of community and finding outdoor adventure allow students to get out and even find therapeutic elements within the outdoor activities.
“When you’re caving, you’re not really thinking about the drama in your life,” Harris said. “… You’re in the activity, and I think that is very healthy — just to be in the moment.”
For more information about SOAP, visit www.southern.edu/soap.