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Cohorts: Taking Skills Up a Notch

(Left to Right) Alejandro (11), Juan (13), YMCA Instructor Peter, Morgan (11), and Stacey (17) get comfortable with their heads back as Wilderness Kids volunteer Deborah looks on during the first session of Wilderness Kids' new Swimming Cohort.

When Wilderness Kids first began back in the fall of 2021, we knew we wanted to build 3 programs:

  • An After-School Program to get teenagers outside, midweek, experiencing their local parks; 

  • A Weekend Outing Program, to help them delve deeper into nature and experience longer hikes, outdoor climbing, river paddling, and other outdoor activities; and

  • A Summer Peak Experience Program, to enjoy the opportunity to sleep in the outdoors, getting away into the wilderness for days at a time.

We also began our efforts knowing that we would evolve and change based on feedback from our students and their parents, and based on our own insights about how to best serve our students.

So, it is with great pleasure that we introduce a new Wilderness Kids Program: our Skills Cohorts.

Becoming a Climber, a Paddler, a Swimmer

From taking students climbing, we saw that a number of students didn't want to just try climbing. They wanted to be climbers. 

Similarly, we see students who wanted more than to paddle once or twice a year. They want truly to be paddlers.

And, perhaps most importantly, we see students who wish to become swimmers so that they can take full advantage of outdoor adventures to waterfalls, rivers, lakes, the Bay and even the ocean. And to feel safe when doing so.

PATC Member, and Wilderness Kids Board Member and Volunteer, Marc, advises Madina (13) as she boulders her way across a wall in our monthly Climbing Cohort.

In October, we launched our Climbing Cohort. Once each month, a group of students heads to Movement Gym - a wonderful partner in this effort - often with volunteers from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) - another great partner – to improve their abilities in climbing, to learn to belay, and to build the trust, problem-solving, and communication skills essential to climbing. The Cohort has now met five times and we can see students' climbing and belaying skills and passions blossoming.

This past Saturday, we launched our Swimming Cohort with our partner the YMCA. Four students - a group that will grow soon to eight students - who range from non-swimmers to novice swimmers, took to the pool with a caring YMCA instructor, and two Wilderness Kids volunteers to blow bubbles, bob up and down, begin to float on their backs and to get comfortable - and learn to feel safe - in the water. We will continue next week and the hope, ultimately, is to ensure that every Wilderness Kids student can develop enough skill and confidence to be water-safe and be able to enjoy outdoor swim opportunities.

Alejandro enjoys a ride on Juan's soldiers during our first ever Swimming Cohort!

Later this month, we will begin our Paddling Cohort, in partnership with the incredible Team River Runners (TRR), out of Fort Belvoir. TRR - which primarily serves veterans and their families - has generously teamed up with Wilderness Kids to teach our students kayaking and paddling skills once per month. Soon enough, thanks to their good work, our young people will be plying local waters and, when they flip over, they’ll roll back up!

Partnership: Central to All We Do
TRR Fort Belvoir is partnering with Wilderness Kids in our new Paddling Cohort, to begin later in March!

You can probably see one other pattern here that is truly central to the Wilderness Kid ethic: partnership. Whether it is Movement Gym, PATC, the YMCA, or TRR - or any of our many other incredible partners - so many groups, organizations, businesses, and individuals make what we do possible. Thanks to those four organizations for making the launch of our Cohort Program so successful. And thanks to all of you for your support of our work.

Hope to see you soon on the trail, the river, and the rockface!

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