Getting immersed in nature is a right we all share. However, access to the wilderness isn't always easy.
"As creatures on this planet, we are intrinsically tied to the land," says Amanda Jameson, donor relations manager with Big City Mountaineers. "Whether we get to experience that day-to-day is a matter, often, of privilege."
The national nonprofit Big City Mountaineers aims to teach critical life skills in youth by offering transformative outdoor experiences.
After a week-long backpacking expedition, four teenage girls unpack and clean their gear. For most, it was their very first time spending the night under the stars.
"They got us out, taught us how to set up a tent, taught us how to get water, how to cook outside… just the basics," Jacqueline Jimenez says.
Thanks to Big City Mountaineers, Jimenez says she has discovered a newfound love for the outdoors.
"I didn't think I'd like the outdoors as much as I liked it. I didn't think I would enjoy backpacking, carrying like 40-pound bags on my back," she says. "But I enjoyed it so much, and it’s something I want to look forward to, and incorporate into my life."
Jameson says Big City Mountaineers offers trips at no cost to the youth, so those who wouldn’t normally get outside, get a chance to get outside. The organization has impacted the lives of metropolitan youth in Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Boston for the past 30 years. The kids are chosen for the trips through school and community partnerships.
"If you're trying to give your kids these experiences, it can be very expensive," Jameson says. "And then, you're talking about getting the time off, and trying to find a place to go, and making reservations, and planning in advance. All of those things can be difficult."
However, Big City Mountaineers takes the difficulty out of it. Jameson says the week-long expeditions and overnight camps teach life skills, but not the transformation. That comes from within.
"The resilience, the tenacity, the problem-solving. All of these are skills that our youth already have," Jameson says. "By putting them in an unfamiliar environment in situations that they may have never encountered before, we're just allowing them to make those skills more explicit for themselves."
Jimenez says that was certainly true for her, and she's packing away lessons of her own strength to carry with her through the rest of her life.
"I'm so thankful for BCM for believing in me when I didn't believe in myself, and pushing my limits that I didn't even know I had," she says.
If you’d like to reach out to the journalist of this story, email Elizabeth Ruiz at email@example.com