In our first month, Alexandria's newest charity, Wilderness Kids Alexandria, has reached 50 students, with 170 student-hours of programming after-school and on the weekend.
On a crisp fall day, there is something just wonderful about bundling up inside a sleeping bag and gazing up into the blue sky.
There's also something dang fun about sipping a hot chocolate--with marshmallows of course--just heated over a camp stove.
And, something especially satisfying about seeing a rock slope you've never seen in your life, being sure there's now way you'll ever get to the top of it, and then moments later standing atop it with a big grin on your face!
These are all experiences Wilderness Kids Alexandria has brought to young people in Alexandria during our first month of programming.
After-School x 2
Each Friday and Wednesday, beginning October 15, our devoted teachers have gathered with students from Hammond's International Academy--each student a recent immigrant to the US--and from the LINK club (a program to provide equitable educational opportunities for disadvantaged students).
During their time with us our students have learned some basic ecology, set up and taken down a tent, been given opportunities to express what they are thankful for, planted 30 native asters and sumacs, and even presented a short skit.
And, most importantly, they've gotten outside, into nature, at a time when they otherwise would most certainly be inside, perhaps tied to their phones. They've run around, breathed fresh air, deepened friendships and perhaps learned to appreciate the natural world just a bit more than they did mere weeks ago.
A Billy Goat Weekend
In our first month, we also experimented--with great success--on our first weekend program. Partnering with Alexandria's Space of Her Own (SOHO), Wilderness Kids educators led a group of nine girls and seven mentors along the ups and downs--physical and emotional!--of Maryland's famously rocky Billy Goat Trail.
We stopped to spy turtles along the canal, to photograph a blue heron wading in the waters of a Potomac off-shoot, and of course to marvel at the roaring, tumbling waters of Great Falls.
By the end, girls who had questioned their ability to even start, much less complete, the rugged trail were sweaty, muddy, and most importantly smiling--overjoyed with their accomplishment!
A day on the Billy Goat Trail (clockwise from top left): Striking a pose beside Great Falls; crossing a stream; going down a steep rock face; WKA educator Lizzie W. lends a helping hand as we descend a challenging section.
We look forward to more weekend programs this winter and spring: guiding teens on trails in Northern Virginia and out in Shenandoah, creating opportunities for them to rock climb, to paddle, and to sail; and helping them find some of what nature always has on offer.
In our final after-school sessions before Thanksgiving, the kids took a moment to say what they were thankful for--parents, school, friends, and kindness were among the primary objects of gratitude.
Then, we took to thanking the place we've spent the past month--a field behind their school, surrounded by oak and maple and some milkweed and visited by the occasional fox and deer.
We thanked the field by planting native sumacs and asters all along the edge of where the field meets the wood. The kids dug holes with shovels lent by a half dozen Alexandria families for the day and the plants are now settled in, hibernating for winter, ready to blossom when the warm weather returns.
In that same spirit, thank you to all our current and future supporters--those of you who have made what we've done and what we will do possible. None of this would or will happen without you. We hope you can join us on the trail soon.