Updated: Nov 16
One "first" of 2023: Wilderness Kids created our first Weekend Overnight, in partnership with the Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies in West Virginia.
As the leaves turn red, yellow, and orange and flit to the earth under the crisp blue skies of autumn, it is a good time to reflect upon what is only the second full year of operation of Wilderness Kids. It is sometimes hard to believe this all began just two years ago last month.
More Ways to Be--Outdoors and in Partnership
As in 2022, Wilderness Kids had so many programming firsts in 2023. As we became better known throughout Alexandria, many of these firsts were accomplished in partnership with other amazing organizations:
Our first After-School program at GW Middle School began in February, 2023, thanks to our close relationships with ACPS counselors and social workers.
That same month, our After-School Programs at both GW and Francis Hammond began to take students off campus to explore local parks. This was made possible through partnership with Fairlington United Methodist Church who graciuosly allowed us to utilize their van – and Kevin, their dedicated driver – for our transport needs.
Our first biking trip took place in April 2023, with our partner Trails for Youth.
We had our first weekend overnight with our partners at the Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies in May.
We rocked Alexandria with our first ever Music Festival, which built community and raised over $14,000 in September, in partnership with 6 great local bands, 7 local businesses, and Burgundy Farm Day School.
Our first “skills cohort” launched in October in partnership with Movement Climbing Gym. Now, each month a cohort of Wilderness Kids especially interested in climbing ventures out to work on their climbing and belaying skills (aka strength, dexterity, communication, trust, problem-solving). Coming soon: a paddling cohort with partners Team River Runner!
And so many more firsts, including our first caving trip, our first All Girls Trip (in response to student and parent requests for such), our first ice skating trip, our first kayaking trip, our first sea-kayaking trip, and so much more!
Here at the end of 2023, we are working on partnerships with other great organizations such as the Department of Recreation, Parks & Culture, Liberty’s Promise, Alexandria Seaport Foundation, the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, and others.
Row by row, starting from top left: Students enjoy Mason Neck Park during our After-School Program which got off campus in 2023. Kids have the chance to be kids, playing tic tac toe in the sand after school at Dyke Marsh; Our first ever caving trip took students deep under ground and into the mud in West Virginia; Local rising band, Hanoi Ragmen rocks the joint at the Wilderness Kids Music Festival; Students Ronmy and Juan have a conversation at the beach at Assateague Seashore; Sandra, begins to rappel down a rockface at Raven's Roost this summer; Alexandre enjoys a cool waterfall at White Oak Canyon, in Shenandoah National Park; Josiah pauses while paddling the Shenandoah River; five students and their fearless leaders load up before setting off to the summit of the Big Schloss...which they have reached in our next photo! Patagonia hosted a screening of the film An American Ascent and afterwards our kids had Q&A with Tyrhee Moore (center) who was part of the expedition up Denali. Parvin says hello from the top of a tree at Grayson Highlands!
Building for the Long Term
In addition to creating new programming and building upon existing efforts, we also worked to create the organizational infrastructure to ensure that Wilderness Kids will be a lasting part of the youth-serving community here in Alexandria.
In June, we added three members to our board, and this 11 member board held its first strategic planning session to lay out our near, medium and long-term priorities.
In July, Wilderness Kids was notified of a 3 year, $60,000 investment in our efforts from the Alexandria Fund for Human Services, a true vote of support from the City itself for the work we are doing.
September was a busy month on the organizational front. We:
hired Lauren Walker as our Program Coordinator and our second paid full time staff;
moved into an office rented from our dear partners at Fairlington United Methodist Church;
purchased our very own Wilderness Kids van (look for the WLD KIDS plates!);
elected Mike McMillan as our Treasurer. Mike holds a PhD in accounting and finance, teaches at the Robert Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, and has years of experience serving as the Treasurer of other non-profit organizations.
In October, we began working on our IT infrastructure, with the help of a wonderful volunteer, so we can keep better track of the students we are serving and how they are growing in skills and experience with us.
In October, we also hired four additional part-time staff as educators to guide our students in the outdoors.
Wilderness Kids added new part-time and full-time staff in 2023 (left to right): Ansley, Lauren, Carl, and Tori.
A Few Numbers
For number nerds (Jerry's one too!), we can share this:
In 2023 (as of 11/15/23), we served 96 unique young people on 27 Weekend Outings where our students hiked, climbed, paddled, biked, and served their community. We created over 1500 student-hours of outdoor exploration, adventure, fun, and growth.
We offered 75 plus unique students an after-school outing experience to our local parks, where we give kids the chance to just be kids–skipping stones, flipping logs, climbing trees, even paddling in kayaks–for 75 minutes or so on a weekday. In total, we offered 72 After-School sessions in 2023, providing approximately 630 student-hours of outdoor exploration.
We led 22 different young people on camping adventures this summer–some for three days, others for four, and some for five days. In total, we created 148 student-days of camping experiences. For the students who had not been with us last summer, summer 2023 with Wilderness Kids was their first time sleeping in a tent. It was great to see our “veterans” help the rookies figure out camp life.
Most of All, Thank You
Most of all, at year end, we would like to say thank you. Thank you to our nearly 200 incredible donors who provide the means for all that we have accomplished. Thank you to our awesome educators who lead our young people down the trail, under the falls, up the rockface–even when the students are tired and cranky. Thank you to our incredible volunteers, some of whom are so familiar to our students now that they regularly ask after them. Thank you to our families who entrust your children to our care and see the value of expanding their horizons. And, finally, thank you to our young people. We are here for you and we enjoy being with you. You truly enrich our lives with your smiles, laughter, accomplishments, ideas, voices, and most of all, your simple presence.
Row by Row, starting from top left: Lubi admires the gorgeous Cucumber Falls near Ohiopyle, PA on our All Girls Trip. Paris and Zaire relax in the sun after a swim at Diffficult Run on a summer Weekend Outing. Paola ascends a rockface at Movement Gym as part of our new "Climbing Cohort." Students celebrate along the Billy Goat Trail. Christian maneuvers easily on the ice on a January afternoon; Adil and Xavier tend a delicious meal while on our first Weekend Overnight at the Burgundy Center for Wildlife Studies. A student crosses a bamboo bridge that our students constructed during after school at Dora Kelly Park. Sandra, Paola, and Estephany strike a pose in front of Great Falls; students hike along at ridge at the Billy Goat Trail on a crisp day in 2023.