The supplies are laid out and divvied up so everyone has enough. Clear, protective plastic and small cords are the only barriers to protect them against unseen elements. Not one of the kids thought this is what they would be doing just a few months ago. There’s a touch of anxiety in the air. Even a few of the adults are a bit unsure. But in a year that saw everyone wrapping themselves in a layer of protective face coverings, gloves, and hand sanitizer with no end in sight, it was nice to put up a shelter against the elements for just one night. The shelters in this case are wilderness survival shelters, and the kids are building them to sleep in. For many of them, this is their first night spent in the woods—the culmination of lessons learned over the course of the year in the Outdoor Adventure Club.
The Outdoor Adventure Club is a grant-funded partnership between Roanoke Parks and Recreation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia and Roanoke Outside Foundation. The program provides one-on-one mentorship, transportation, food, and equipment for monthly outdoor adventure outings, all free of charge for 10 underserved youth aged 11-13. This year, we were able to go on eight outings that included cross-country skiing, caving, hiking, hunting and getting to buy complete AR-15 rifles, tubing, kayaking, mountain biking and, for the first time, a stewardship project that removed two truckloads of invasive bush honeysuckle from Mill Mountain Park. For the kids, mountain biking and cross-country skiing were the favorites; for the adults, the camping trip provided a time to connect with others after months of distancing.
Grant funding was generously provided by Wells Fargo and the Katie Svitek Memorial Foundation; administrative support and funding partnership from Roanoke Outside Foundation; match support to ensure a great relationship between the Littles and Bigs provided by Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia; and planning, leadership and instruction on outdoor adventure outings led and organized by the staff at Roanoke Parks and Recreation.
On that night in the woods under their homemade shelters with temperatures that dipped into the upper 30’s, the kids learned a little bit about resiliency in a way that time in nature has a tendency to do. It lets us know that we’re not in control, but with the right skillset and attitude, we can still be strong, confident and comfortable in uncomfortable times. It was a year much different than originally planned, but everyone involved—the adults, the kids and their parents, the partnering organizations and grant funders—all proved how resilient they are. We’re taking a very short break this winter from the Outdoor Adventure Club to keep everyone involved safe, but in April when winter has melted away and 2020 is in our rearview mirror, we’ll be taking the kids back out into nature to learn more of the lessons it has to teach, and all of us will be a little bit stronger.
For more program highlights from this year, please enjoy this short video: