James and Xavier stoke the fire, using sticks to urge the flames a little higher. It’s a cool, overcast morning, and the moisture hanging in the air makes it feel more chilly than the crisp October mornings we expect. The Littles gather a little closer to the fire with hot cocoa, as the Bigs settle in with coffee in hand. Just a month before, they learned the necessary elements of fire—fuel, air, heat. This weekend, it was their responsibility to keep it going; use it as a tool for cooking, comfort, and heat—all equally important as only one of the Littles had ever slept outside before last night.
Last year, accomplished mountaineer Scott Briscoe, a former Big Brothers Big Sisters Little himself, helped kick off the Outdoor Adventure Club by introducing a free public screening of An American Ascent, a film featuring the first African-American team to climb Denali in 2013. Scott chatted with our group of anxious pre-teens about mountaineering adventures and his own experience with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, helping them get excited about their first outing just a few weeks away. He routinely speaks with students about the importance of youth of color taking a personal interest in our wild spaces and chasing their own Denali-sized dreams.
It has been interesting to see the Littles develop throughout the year. Anxiety before rock climbing and caving turned into excitement as their comfort zones stretched. Each month they were exposed to new outdoor activities or new public lands. Mountain biking and skiing were a huge hit, and it was all smiles as they got a taste of the flow that has hooked so many of us before. We explored the magic of a place called the Enchanted Forest and the freedom that comes with biking deeper into the woods than walking usually allows. It was a growing opportunity for the Bigs as well. Many experienced some of the outdoor activities for the first time; they experienced both the apprehension of trying something new and letting their Littles venture out a bit farther as they began to take leadership and develop a sense of agency.
So many organizations contributed to the Outdoor Adventure Club getting off the ground—Keen Footwear, The North Face, and Wells Fargo through grant funding; REI and Patagonia with generous gifts of clothing to keep the Littles dressed for the weather; Ferrum College for loaning us additional gear free of charge; and our partners Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia and Roanoke Outside Foundation. Each played an integral role in getting under-resourced, urban youth outside at no cost to them or their families.
As we packed up, one of our last tasks before leaving the campsite was to safely extinguish the fire. We all took part in this task. More than just practical fire safety, this was a symbol of completing our personal goals for the first year of the Outdoor Adventure Club. Some of the Littles like James and Xavier are returning to the program, and it will be their responsibility to teach others how to tend the fire. Some are excited to try new sports or clubs and growing into capable young men and women. That is what the Outdoor Adventure Club is for—getting our kids the skills and confidence to return to the outdoors anytime they want, knowing there will always be room for them there.