The Beltway of Giving
Creating World Travelers One Child at a Time
Each year, nearly 10 million flights circle the globe, carrying passengers to new locales and old stomping grounds alike. Travel comes with the territory in the District — dignitaries commute to and from home countries, businessmen and women cross continents to close deals and families spend much-deserved vacations to relax beyond the Beltway. I’ve seen passports filled with enough stamps to rival secretaries of state. Most recently, after a return from a world tour, a friend complained that, with too many stamps, he needed a new passport.
While many of us dream of winters in Whistler, British Columbia, and summer cruises off the Solomon Islands, there is a segment of inner-city youth that will never leave D.C. — or the Eastern Seaboard. In fact, the idea of needing a passport is even more foreign to them than travelling to a national park. But a number of organizations across the city are now working to address this lack of cultural and geographical awareness by exposing inner-city youth to outdoor and cultural opportunities.
D.C.’s City Kids, for one, offers annual backpacking excursions to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where youth learn mountaineering and life skills on a 62-acre ranch. On June, 20 young girls journeyed to Jackson Hole for a summer filled with outdoor adventure and leadership development courses. “Having the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live in Wyoming for the summer has exposed me to a life I did not know existed,” said a past City Kids participant. “Those experiences have given me a new outlook on life. Through the skills developed at City Kids, I know that my actions matter and what I choose to do or choose not to do has repercussions.”
Like City Kids, Wilderness Leadership & Learning (WILL) is also based in D.C. and provides youths with life skill development tools. Primarily working with high school students from under-served neighborhoods in Wards 1, 6, 7 and 8, WILL expose a group of students to the Appalachian Trail for a week-long trip with Steve Abraham, president and founder of WILL. A former attorney, Abraham created the 12 month long, interactive WILL program providing safe after-school time for kids.
“WILL not only enables teens to become aware of the world around them, but also encourages them to become better stewards of the environment,” Abraham said. “Our programs include environmental learning and service projects on the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, scavenger hunts on the National Mall, canoeing on the Anacostia River, a seven-day backpacking Expedition on the Appalachian Trail and three days at the Chesapeake Bay.”
Travel opportunities exist locally, too. Live It Learn It partners exclusively with high-poverty Title I D.C. public elementary schools and their teachers. It offers classroom instruction and trips to a range of recognized museums and memorials; more than 1,500 students from 21 schools across the District benefit.
“We partner with schools in every quadrant of the city, with the majority located east of the Anacostia River,” said Matthew Wheelock, founder of Live It Learn It. “Despite having world-renowned monuments, museums, memorials and national parks right in their own backyard, the overwhelming majority of our students have never experienced these places. . . It seemed like such a waste.”
For many of the youth enrolled in these D.C. programs, their first entrée to travel both near and far stems from the commitment of non-profits focusing on education through travel. You can help them on their journey by donating to these organizations to support flights, bus transportation and needed gear for each kid’s adventure. ★
HOW YOU CAN HELP
City Kids welcomes donations of gear, including hiking books, fleece tops, twin bedding, saddles and horse tacks. Visit its wish list at www.CityKidsDC.org/donors/our-wish-list
Wilderness Leadership & Learning (WILL) is always looking for volunteers to help drive students to events and welcomes online donations at www.WILL-lead.org/friends.html
Live It Learn It seeks in-school volunteers and welcomes donations at www.LiveItLearnIt.org/pages/get-involved.php
Jade Floyd is a managing associate at a D.C.-based international public relations firm and has served on the board of directors for several non-profits. She is a frequent volunteer and host of fundraising events across the District supporting arts, animal welfare and education programs. Follow her on Twitter @DCThisWeek.