Thrive Outdoors: Subterranean outreach for those who need it most

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Jake King at work in the basement of the Training Station where he and his partner, Vinnie Haney, are creating a community center called Thrive Outdoors. Photo/Simply Mella

MANCHESTER, NH — I can hear the buzzing of a saw before I even walk through the door of the leadership and community center being built by Thrive Outdoors in the basement of a former train depot on Elm Street.

It’s cloudy, just as it was eight months ago when the first meeting of the Thrive Outdoors vision team took place here. Then, on a cold February afternoon, the crew pulled piles of insulation and debris from the decade-long abandoned space and carried it across the gray parking lot. Over the spring and summer months, dumpsters came and went. Bricks were sandblasted. Walls were erect. 

Logs lined up outside the building on Elm Street. Photo/Simply Mella

Today, there is a crew working together — the saw sends hazy spirals of wood dust and smoke floating up into the space between the ladders and brick walls. Workers paint the ceiling an aptly named shade of blue — Charismatic Sky; the walls, an earthy tone of Wild Wilderness. The office will hopefully resemble a log cabin before Thrive Outdoors managing partner, Jake King, turns off the lights for the night. 

They are creating the outdoors, indoors — trees, mountains, waterfalls, the varied landscapes of New Hampshire all spreading throughout 4,000 square feet of the basement in a concrete building, beneath a kickboxing gym, across from a tattoo studio and down the sloping driveway of a Dunkin’s parking lot. 

Future home of Thrive Outdoors on Elm Street. Photo/Simply Mella

The vision for the center comes from the head and heart of Jake. He and his team are creating a unique space, filled with natural elements and equipped to do everything from teaching survival skills and tree identification, to low-ropes courses, boulder wall activities, and a Ninja Warrior style course. It will be a space for Thrive Outdoors to offer corporate training for small and large businesses, helping with employee health, satisfaction, and attrition. As Thrive also works closely with several therapists and social workers, there is a long-term goal to also use the space for therapeutic groups and especially to facilitate groups for those working in fields of vicarious trauma, first responders, for example — who are in some of the most stressful lines of work.

Labor of love: Lots of work ahead to complete Jake King’s vision for Thrive Outdoors. Photo/Simply Mella

But how does a company whose curriculum focuses on nature and the tools of the wilderness, find themselves surrounded by brick and wood and rubble, in the broken down basement of a building on the main street that runs through the heart of the largest city in New Hampshire? 

It’s actually quite easy — the concept of Thrive Outdoors wasn’t born in the wilderness, and its original intent was never as simplistic as taking people into the wild to teach them survival skills. On the contrary, Thrive Outdoors evolved from dream to reality, in a small office, in the heart of Manchester’s homeless population, where Jake worked as director of the (now defunct) homeless center.  It was there that he began to piece together and make the connection between what he had been witnessing for the past decades in his work, as an army ranger and later a police officer, and through years of working with disadvantaged youth. All of the populations of people that he had been working with, were stressed and were ill-equipped, often through no fault of their own, to manage their stress. As he witnessed the implications of this stress on their day-to-day lives, he was inspired to create something to help.

Vinnie Haney, Jake King, center, with Christina Dow, left, and Terry Dow, right, of the Training Station.

He, along with his partners, formed Thrive Outdoors with the vision that it would utilize the healing qualities and tools found in the wilderness, to help people in their daily lives — in their schools, their office jobs. It was never the intention to move people out of the city but to teach people how to have the calm and focus that comes from time spent in nature, right here, in their busy, urban lives. 

And so, when the opportunity arose at the 190 Elm St. location, beneath The Training Station, it made perfect sense to start plans in motion for a leadership training and community center — right where we find the people who need the benefits Thrive Outdoors offers, the most.

New life for abandoned basement. Photo/Simply Mella

The doors will officially be open in January 2020, offering the community monthly memberships, space rental for birthday parties and other events or programs, Teen Adventure Groups, team-building and survival courses, Nerf clubs and a variety of ever-evolving programming. The desire is that this center will have something for everyone and be a junction for strengthening individuals and the community. 

I pull Jake away for a moment from his log cabin task, to ask him for a quote. He crosses his arms over his chest and rocks back and forth, it takes him a second to switch gears from the intense focus and creativity of building to shaking a concise answer from his busy mind, “So, what do you need me to say, exactly?” Knowing that I have been alongside Thrive for so much of this endeavor, he knows that I know what their goals are, what the hopes are. 

Long hours and a dream. Photo/Simply Mella

Still, I want him to give me a direct quote — and I want to give him a minute to step back from the paint and sawing and drilling and rubbing his eyes from focusing so closely to nail placement and careful measurements. We’re in the front room of the center and I’m sitting on a floor that wasn’t in place just one week ago. He’s standing with his back to a walled-in office that didn’t exist yesterday morning. I want him to marvel with me, for just a minute, how far he’s come since that chilly morning in February when we stood in the dark and carried rubble out in our arms.

“If someone who had no idea what you are building here asked what you’re doing here, what would be the most important thing you would want them to know?”

The pause is so brief, but the answer is perfect and sums up exactly what it is Thrive Outdoors wants to do, and what this place will be.

“We want this to be a place where we don’t just build strong leaders and healthy teams but a place where we know we’re building a healthy community.”

To learn more about Thrive Outdoors and follow the progress of this leadership and community center, visit www.thriveoutdoorsnh.com

Jake King is building a place where his vision is to build community. Photo/Simply Mella