Club brings adventure to special members

Adventure Club SLO goes surfing in Cayucos: David Bunn, Director Johnee Gange, Ryan Crough, Wesley Harvey and Kevin Manzanarez

Courtesy of Johnee Gange
Adventure Club SLO goes surfing in Cayucos: David Bunn, Director Johnee Gange, Ryan Crough, Wesley Harvey and Kevin Manzanarez Courtesy of Johnee Gange

Since joining Adventure Club SLO two years ago, Devin D’Ornellas has broadened his horizons.

He’s donned a wetsuit and body-surfed. He’s scooped gooey guts out of a pumpkin and hiked through dusty trails and mossy creeks on nature walks.

“These are things he just never would have done before,” Devin’s mother, Rebecca D’Ornellas, said.

Her 13-year-old son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2004.

Created three years ago, Adventure Club SLO is aimed at helping people like Devin branch out.

Director John Gange works with Central Coast residents with developmental disabilities and head injuries, introducing them to the natural world while encouraging them to collaborate, create and socialize.

“When I take people out, they’re developing a taste for nature and a taste for adventure,” said Gange, who works with special needs individuals via his Cayucos company, Wonderful World Adventures. “To me, that’s really an awesome thing.”

As of this spring, Adventure Club SLO consists of eight small groups — two to four people apiece — organized by age and general interests.

Group members range in age from 10 to 35. Most are clients of Tri-Counties Regional Center, a state-sponsored agency that provides support and services for children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Each week, the groups venture out to explore San Luis Obispo County, visiting landmarks such as Bishop Peak, the Elfin Forrest and Montaña de Oro State Park. Activities include hiking, surfing, rock climbing and canoeing.

Gange’s goal is helping people connect with their peers amid the peace and beauty of the great outdoors.

“I have always found that nature provides a certain healing process that helps me think more clearly,” said Gange, an avid surfer and former camp counselor.

“A lot of people who have neurological conditions have a lot of distractions,” he said. “This is all about, ‘Let’s slow things down. Let’s be quiet. Let’s let the grass grow.’ ”

In addition to outdoor exploration, Gange encourages creative endeavors such as music, art and filmmaking.

In the past year, Adventure Club members have created five short films, including “Gaswabocaho and the Feather of the Phoenix” and the fantasy trilogy “Tales of Galismera.” Four movies and a music video will be screened this morning at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.

Gange acts as a guide on each adventure, gently helping group members step outside their comfort zone and try something new.

Rebecca D’Ornellas compared Gange to the legendary Pied Piper.

“The kids just follow after him and do whatever he does,” she said. “They really trust him. They think he’s a really cool guy.”

Although Adventure Club SLO is a one-man operation at this point, Gange said he’s currently training an assistant. He hopes to eventually add more guides and more groups.

“It’s really heartwarming to see … your kid finally bonding with other kids in an environment they trust,” D’Ornellas said.

Movie Fest today

The Adventure Club Movie Fest features four short films and a music video at 10 a.m. at the Palm Theatre, 817 Palm St., San Luis Obispo. Tickets are $5. More info: 471-7889, adventureclubslo@gmail.com