Inspired by the power of outdoor education, a team of local Bay Area non-profits set together to send a group of low-income San Jose students to summer camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains this July 2016.
Thanks to the efforts of San Francisco-based Latino Outdoors, Los Altos-based Sempervirens Fund, and Boulder Creek-based Web of Life Field (WOLF) School, a group of students from Sacred Heart Nativity School were able to attend their 2016 Summer Camp from July 22-24, 2016 at Little Basin Cabins and Campgrounds, a California State Park and part of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
Every summer Sacred Heart Nativity School (SHNS) students have the opportunity to attend summer camp—every summer it is the students’ most anticipated activity, and every summer it is a feat of collaborative energies to get the students there. Serving approximately 120 6-8th grade students, SHNS is the only non-profit, private Catholic middle school in the San Jose area focusing on academic intervention for the underserved—their families have an average family income of $29,000 and currently 100% of the youth served are Hispanic/Latino, mostly from immigrant families living within the surrounding neighborhood area.
The chance to attend summer camp for these students is a profound opportunity. For many, it is their first time leaving their urban neighborhoods, making the discovery of the natural world’s grandeur and their place in the web of life an awe-inspiring experience. It is one of the most impactful ways that SHNS continues its mission of “breaking the cycle of poverty through education.” Unless SNHS finds funding each year, however, the students aren’t able to attend summer camp—and that’s where a team of Bay Area nonprofits stepped in to help.
Determined to get her students to camp, SHNS President Sonya Arriola reached out to José González, the founder of Latino Outdoors—a nonprofit organization who works with a network of leaders committed to engaging Latinos/as in the outdoors and connecting familias and youth with nature. It was a perfect fit.
“The students, the leadership, the community, and their intentions about why they wanted this…You know what a call to action for community service feels like and this was it,” said González.
After establishing transportation and program funding, Latino Outdoors still needed to find a location that could host SHNS’ summer camp. González, building from his network, reached out to Latino Outdoors’ Silicon Valley Advisory Council member Amanda Montez, who is also a Sempervirens Fund board member. Montez referred González to Mike Kahn, Communications and Outreach Manager for Sempervirens Fund. Kahn has been committed to educating the next generation of Santa Cruz Mountain stewards during his tenure with Sempervirens, a nonprofit founded in 1900 whose mission is to preserve and protect the Santa Cruz Mountains’ coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) forests, wildlife habitats and watersheds, and to encourage enjoyment of this stunning region. After hearing from Latino Outdoors, Kahn knew where to go—Web of Life Field (WOLF) School.
For the past 4 years, Sempervirens Fund and WOLF School have partnered together to bring students to Big Basin Redwoods State Park in a shared commitment of inspiring environmental stewardship in underserved Bay Area youth. Sempervirens Fund is credited with the founding of Big Basin Redwoods State Park; and WOLF School—a nonprofit organization providing residential outdoor education and teambuilding programs at campuses throughout Northern California—is headquartered at Little Basin, a 534-acre California State Parks campground that was recently added to Big Basin Redwoods State Park in part through the efforts of Sempervirens Fund.
Recognizing WOLF School’s tremendous abilities to educate and organize youth programs, Sempervirens Fund dedicated their 2016 Silicon Valley Gives campaign to WOLF School, raising $7,600 towards outdoor environmental education programs for low-income students. In hearing SHNS’ need, Kahn suggested they use a portion of those donations to partner with Latino Outdoors and bring Sacred Heart Nativity School’s 2016 Summer Camp program to Little Basin. WOLF School enthusiastically agreed.
Through Sempervirens’ funding, WOLF School was able to host SHNS’ 2016 summer camp at Little Basin, and provide three of their professionally-trained naturalists to participate in SHNS’ outdoor education program with Latino Outdoors. It was the first time that Latino Outdoors and WOLF School educators worked together, and it was a remarkable benefit to the SHNS students. WOLF School naturalists led SHNS students in a hike around Little Basin’s Tanbark Loop, let them explore the creek and introduced the concept of a watershed, and culminated their experience with a redwood study in which students were able to use clinometers and long line measuring tapes to measure the heights of redwood trees. Latino Outdoors educators shared their cultural experiences as they related with the students, allowing them a sense of community even in this new and unfamiliar outdoor environment.
“Each person on Latino Outdoors’ staff was a leader of a smaller group within our larger group, which I thought was really beneficial for the students, because it's hard for someone to connect with every individual within a large group,” related WOLF School naturalist Carly McGaugh. “As someone who identifies as Chicana/Latina it was really amazing to work alongside Latino Outdoors with this group.”
“We are so grateful for the good work of the Latino Outdoors, Sempervirens Fund and WOLF School teams that made this camp happen,” said Arriola. “Outdoor education is a huge pillar of our educational program and philosophy. We believe that all students, but in particular low income youth living in urban settings, benefit immensely from outdoor educational experiences. Camp is the program our students most look forward to every year. This partnership made the SHNS Summer Camp a reality for our students and I am grateful for the work these nonprofits do to educate and empower our youth. ”
“On the last day,” shared González, “I overheard one of the students saying how impactful something as simple as looking up at the night sky and seeing all the stars was.”
“For us,” continued WOLF School program coordinator Sergio Typhoon, “that is the “ah-ha!” moment. At the end of it all, seeing that beyond getting them outdoors, the students had an impactful experience in nature and that it resonated with them. That is where change comes from.”