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Volunteer Handbook

Your Guide To Volunteering With First Descents

Thanks for volunteering on a First Descents program! We couldn’t do it without you. Being a volunteer is a huge responsibility and incredibly rewarding. Be prepared to work hard, have long days, laugh, cry, and do a LOT of dishes. Before arriving on your program make sure to read through all of the information in this handbook to ensure you are showing up as the best possible volunteer you can be!

Volunteer Opportunities: Program offerings and support

  • First Descents has a diverse set of program offerings ranging from week-long, multiday, and single-day programs.
  • Volunteers most often support week-long oncology, Multiple Sclerosis, and caregiver programs.
  • First Descents is fortunate to have support from over 1,000 individuals interested in volunteering, and deeply value the commitment and support of our community.
  • While we are fortunate to have so many interested volunteers, volunteer cancellations can affect the success of a program. Make sure you are fully committed to attending the program when signing up.

Volunteer Expectations

Volunteer roles may differ, but the following expectations apply to every volunteer.


  • Volunteers are required to submit paperwork before attending a program. Paperwork is due 9 weeks before the program start date.
  • Volunteers are required to secure their own travel to a program. Travel plans are due to First Descents 7 weeks before the start date of the program.

Note: For volunteers that fly to a program, First Descents will have rental vans to provide transport from the airport to the lodge and for the duration of the program. Individuals driving will arrive at the lodge and travel in FD rental vans for the duration of the program.

Risk Management:

All staff, outfitters, and volunteers lead by example and are active risk managers on a program. In addition to volunteer specific responsibilities, all volunteers are expected to demonstrate and uphold safety and risk management practices throughout the week. 

  • What is risk management?
    • Risk management is another way of saying that we take safety seriously. First Descents provides exciting activities and a welcoming environment, and we go the extra mile to ensure everyone’s physical and mental health is cared for both during the activity, and while back at the lodge. 
  • As a representative of First Descents, volunteers are expected to demonstrate safety at all times, even if not fully immersed in the activity in order to set a good example. 
  • Each program is staffed with a medical volunteer and is in close proximity to local emergency services, but all volunteers should be prepared to support the Lead Staff and Outfitters in group management or communication in the event of an emergency.
  • Volunteers are asked to drive participants throughout the program (in vehicles provided by FD, not their own cars) and are expected to do the following: 
    • Stay within the speed limit.
    • Do not text or use your phone while driving (pull over in a safe spot if needed).
    • Utilizing the passenger in the front seat as a co-pilot for communication and navigation.
    • Keeping music at a reasonable level and kindly let passengers know if they are being a distraction to your driving.
    • Think of yourself as a “professional driver” – when you are driving, your only job at that moment is to be fully immersed in driving.

Inclusion and Emotional Safety:

First Descents is a fiercely inclusive community with an ongoing commitment to justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI). We know that cancer and other serious health conditions do not discriminate, and we’re dedicated to serving all categories of identity. Our programs use the healing power of adventure to build supportive networks and ignite the Out Living It spirit. 

  • All participants, staff, volunteers, and outfitters will uphold the First Descents Code of Conduct
  • Inclusivity – All participants, staff, volunteers, and guides are valuable members of this community. FD expects all volunteers to uphold our values of inclusivity for all individuals at programs. 
  • Pronouns – FD wants to make sure all participants feel safe and respected at programs. In an effort to create a safe space for all categories of identity, volunteers are expected to do their best to honor all individuals and the pronouns they identify with. 
  • Safe spaces – Most importantly, FD programs are a safe space for participants. Volunteers are expected to uphold this standard and support the efforts of FD to make our programs a safe space for all participants. 

What to expect while on a program

Program Makeup:

  • Depending on the type of program the number of staff and volunteers may differ. For traditional week-long programs, volunteers can expect the following:
    • 2 First Descents Lead Staff
    • 2 First Descents Chefs
    • 1 Medical Volunteer
    • 1 Volunteer Photographer
    • 2-3 General Support Volunteers


  • Lodging will vary from program to program but volunteers should expect to share a room and bathroom with other volunteers.
  • Please remember that you will be part of a large group and participants come first. We encourage you to bring a sleeping bag/pad or blow-up mattress if you are uncomfortable with the possibility of sharing a bed.


  • There will be some variation in schedules based on the day of the program and the role of the volunteer, but a typical day on a program may look like the following:
    • 6:00-6:30 am – Early to rise
    • 7:00-8:30 am – Breakfast set up, clean up, and lunch layout
    • 7:30-9:00 am – Dishes, dishes, dishes!
    • 9:00-4:00 pm – Medical Volunteer and Volunteer Photographer will accompany participants throughout the day to fulfill their respective responsibilities.
    • 9:00-4:00 pm – General Support Volunteers will support chefs with errands and dishes during the day. General Support may have the opportunity to join participants and observe activities if they are not needed by the chefs.
    • 4:00 pm – “Appy Hour” setup and dinner prep
    • 4:00-7:00 pm – Dishes, dishes, dishes!
    • 7:00 pm – Dinner
    • 8:00 pm – Desert
    • 8:00 pm – Campfire
    • 9:00 pm – Kitchen clean up
    • 9:00-9:30 – Staff, volunteer, and outfitter end of the day meeting

Note: Medical and Photographer Volunteers are expected to support General Support Volunteers and Chefs with dishes and lodge cleanliness throughout the program when not directly working on their responsibilities.


  • Food will be provided by First Descents beginning when participants arrive through their departure.
  • Expect to eat well and eat often.
  • Meals are based on a whole foods approach, emphasizing plant-based meals with adequate options for quality animal protein.

What to Pack:

  • In addition to our packing lists that are shared with volunteers 2 weeks before the program, make sure to check the weather and adjust accordingly.

Program Experience:

  • Expect to talk about Cancer and MS.
  • Don’t make this about you. Be there to listen and support, not talk about yourself.
  • Experience and respect FD traditions. 
  • Be present and unplug! Do your best to separate work/home life from the program, and use built-in downtime for check-ins.

Questions about volunteering?

  • For more info and clarification about role-specific responsibilities, check out the Volunteer Page on the First Descents website and read more about the responsibilities of each individual volunteer.
  • For comments, questions or concerns about volunteering, please reach out to [email protected]