Her outdoor life from age four through middle school was deeply rooted at Camp Kennebec, a classic Maine summer camp on Salmon Pond in North Belgrade. It was a formative experience. Inquisitive from the start, she spent her summers exploring every corner of the camp. It’s where she first went backpacking on overnight trips. She went canoe camping in the Belgrade Lakes. She climbed Mount Katahdin.
Her love for exploring the outdoors continued when she arrived in Bethel, Maine, in the fall of 1999 as a Gould ninth-grader.
“She was always outdoors, swimming in the lake and diving off the float. She started skiing at Sunday River when she was four years old,” remarked Lauren’s father, Charlie Jacobs ’66.
Charlie grew up on the Gould campus from 1958 until his graduation in 1966. He would later serve on the Gould Board of Trustees. Charlie’s father, Stephen Jacobs, taught advanced science, physics, and forestry at Gould. It was his forestry class that first cultivated and managed the forest we now know as Pine Hill, home to the Gould Nordic and Mountain Biking teams.
“I think Gould was in her DNA from the very beginning.” Charlie added.
He was right. She dove head first into New Student Orientation and continued to explore the outdoors throughout her high school years. She took advantage of trips into the woods on weekends, joined the rock climbing team, and thrived during Junior Four Point, Gould’s signature eight-day outdoor winter camping trip. As a senior, she would go on another orientation trip, this time as a student-leader, guiding the next generation of Gould students. She even went ice climbing with the fabled Bob Baribeau P’07, ’09, ’21.
With the peaks came the valleys. After struggling through three years as a competitive freestyle skier, Lauren decided it was time for a change and gave Nordic skiing a try. This was an important transition. She fell in love immediately. She loved the training, the racing, the roller skiing—all of it. She worked hard to develop her newfound passion and skied competitively for Bates College, no small task for a second-year “Nordie.”
Beyond Bates, Lauren continued to compete at a high level in Nordic and biathlon, joining the Green Racing Project in 2009, the year it was established at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, a notable training ground for post-collegiate athletes in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. It was here that Lauren had her first experience working with young athletes, coaching in the New England Bill Koch League, a youth ski program named for the United States’ first cross-country skiing medalist, and the largest program of its kind in the nation.
“We put on Bill Koch camps a few times each summer and I really enjoyed it. I loved getting to work with young people in programming that was longterm, not just a one-and-done,” she says. “I knew when it was time to leave Craftsbury; I wanted to go back to Maine [and] work in the community through outdoor sports and activities.”
Lauren landed at the Maine Winter Sports Center, now known as the Outdoor Sports Institute (OSI), a nonprofit organization that focuses on “making human-powered outdoor sports accessible, sustainable, and meaningful for everyone.” A perfect match.
Mike Smith, executive director at OSI, is to this day one of Lauren’s mentors. As a child, he grew up on a potato farm in Aroostook County. He graduated from UMaine and has guided adventures from the backcountry to sea kayaking on the coast. Together, much of the work they did at Maine Winter Sports Center helped to shape OSI into what it is today.
He recognized that Lauren’s vision for the future is essential to that work.
“In nonprofit work, it’s easy to focus on short-term impact and miss those long-term outcomes,” he says. “Lauren is an excellent critical thinker and she has the ability to stay focused on the long term impacts of this type of work.”
“That’s where my interest in outdoor activities and outdoor sports was a job for the first time,” Lauren says. “It’s where I built outdoor leadership skills, the skills to lead expeditions, and the skills to bring people into the backcountry.”
More importantly, it’s where she discovered her passion for teaching and also began to think about how she could take care of her place in the world, including her home state, on a deeper level.
“It’s also where I built my instructional skills, facilitation skills and [learned to] approach things from a community development standpoint. It’s one thing to put on a program, but what does it mean to make lasting change in the community? I became really interested in that.”
Lauren spent a lot of time driving around the state of Maine, delivering outdoor gear to rural schools while concurrently working towards her Master’s in Kinesiology (the study of the human body’s movement) and Physical Education at the University of Maine. She dropped off snowshoes and skis and distributed bikes and canoes. A few weeks later she’d have to return to re-collect. Still contemplating the idea of creating lasting change, one question lingered. What do you do once the access to the equipment is gone?