A lot of firsts. That is one way to describe what 2022 was like for Wilderness Kids Alexandria and our students. Here are just a few of those firsts:
Our first ever weekend outing - on a cold day in January 2022, we guided about a dozen middle school students through the snowy Prince William Forest.
Our first ever summer program - on three separate trips, eleven students hiked, climbed, and paddled their way through the Shenandoah Valley and environs.
During that summer program, our students had:
Their first night away from parents and guardians.
Their first sleep out in a tent.
Their first campfire.
Their first canoeing experience.
Their first time spending three days with other kids who did not share their mother tongue.
And, much much more
Our first ever indoor climbing experience, outdoor climbing adventure, boating venture on the Potomac, sailing excursion on the Bay, and more.
Organizationally, there were so many firsts as well:
Our first Spring2Action, where generous donors from across the community contributed nearly $20,000 to our efforts over just a couple days.
Our first full time employee. We welcomed talented educator Elizabeth Waugh to our team in September as our first ever Program Director.
Our first Board Meeting, bringing together eight wonderful individuals to guide our efforts.
About the only thing that was not a first for us in 2022 was our successful After-School Program, which first began in 2021. In 2022, that program will provide over 730 student hours of programming to middle-school students. What we teach in that program is linked directly to the values we express as an organization - that nature is our home; that we are a caring, equitable community; that curiosity, skill, mindfulness, and gratitude are qualities we nurture; and that creative expression is a path to finding our unique voice.
As 2022 begins to wrap up, there are so many people to thank for making our first full year of operations possible:
Our parents and guardians: Without your support and encouragement of your children, we know we would not have the privileges of knowing them, of guiding them through inspiring natural areas, and of sharing with them new skills and ideas. Thank you!
Our volunteers: More than 30 volunteers have logged a total of 250+ volunteer hours with us, driving students to our activity sites; talking with them as we walk down the trail, explaining trees, plants, snakes, frogs, and fungi to them; and just generally being another caring adult in their life. Thank you!
Our donors: More than 125 individuals have contributed to our efforts in our first year. Over a dozen Alexandria businesses, churches, and other organizations have supported our work financially. You have supported the wages of our talented educators; the purchase of tents, sleeping bags, and other gear for our summer program; the serving of healthy snacks to our students, 90 percent of whom are on free and reduced lunch at school; and so much more. Thank you!
Our program partners: What adventures we have had! Climbing at Movement Gym. Climbing outdoors with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, ¡Escala! DC, and the American Alpine Club. Boating on the Potomac with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Sailing the Bay with Chesapeake Region Accessible Boating (CRAB). Thank you!
Our educators: To Lizzie and Elise and Paige and Sabine; to Jasper and Sean; to Emily and Nick. You have brought so much of yourselves to our students after-school, on the weekends, and during the summer time. Thank you. You are the heart of Wilderness Kids.
Our students: Lastly, and most of all, thank you to these incredible young people. Thank you to each of you who has taken a chance on spending your day outside, not in; looking at trees and frogs, mountains and valleys rather than at your screen; facing fears about snakes, rock climbing, rivers, and of being “the only one.” You are our inspiration. You make us smile. We wish all the very best for you and stand beside you with a helping hand on your journey.
Wishing all of you the very best for a happy Thanksgiving, a joyful holiday season, and a peaceful and healthy 2023.