Big City Mountaineers is celebrating 3 decades of programming to help get youth outside. And that celebration will be even sweeter with its new grant funding.
The Big City Mountaineers (BCM) nonprofit has provided and guided experiences that get youth outdoors for more than 30 years. In June, it also announced its summer 2021 programming — redefined, reinvigorated, and reopened for the 2021 season.
But even bigger news for the outdoor org came today when it received a $25,000 grant from The VF Foundation, earmarked to help Big City Mountaineers break down barriers to outdoor access.
The organization will use the funds to continue providing “safe and supportive environments for youth to develop teamwork, an increased sense of self, and a cultural and historical understanding of outdoor spaces,” read the press release. All that on top of expanding its virtual programming.
“We are proud to be a grantee of The VF Foundation that embodies what we believe in,” said BCM Executive Director David Taus.
The VF Foundation is the philanthropic arm of VF Corporation, which owns brands like The North Face and Altra. The VF Foundation supports organizations focused on conservation, stewardship, education, and workforce development, as well as endeavors in the context of inclusion, equity, and diversity. According to The VF Foundation’s Impact Report, it awarded grants to over 70 organizations in 2020.
We spoke with Big City Mountaineers Director of External Relations Megan Aranow to learn more about the organization and what equity in the outdoors looks like for the next generation.
Big City Mountaineers: What They Do
For the past 30 years, BCM has been a leader in conversations about DEI in the outdoors and mental health among youth. Through free, fully outfitted, and professionally led expeditions, BCM works to give youth from marginalized communities the opportunity to spend time outside, develop skills, and more.
Skills and outdoor exposure aside, Big City Mountaineers’ programming is about one thing: wellbeing — whether that’s mental, physical, or social.
“There’s this spectrum of benefits,” said Aranow. “We focus on providing opportunities for youth and students to explore those benefits most of whom haven’t been exposed to that previously. The outdoors is a critical resource for wellbeing and happiness.”
Equity and Inequity in Outdoor Spaces
Big City Mountaineers’ work is at the intersection of equity and outdoor recreation. That means recognizing the inequity that already exists in outdoor spaces, even within activities as simple as hiking or camping.
For the organization, it means constantly thinking about access. Where are the students in need, and how can BCM reach them? What’s best for both the individual student and the group? Are there youth centers in BCM’s program cities the organization can partner with to create even more access?
In 2018-2019, BCM provided experiences for 800-1,000 youth. “With the pandemic year, programming numbers have been scaled back a little. But we are still aiming to get close to 600 youth in the field,” Aranow told us at the beginning of summer.
And in many cases, those days in the field are simple day trips, where transportation, access, education, gear, and even meals are provided. “We’ve also been trying to fill the need for our youth center partners to offer more flexibility — day trips, overnights, or multiday expeditions. And [figuring out] what’s most relevant right now.”
2021 Programming and How You Can Show Support
“Our 2021 programming comes at a critical time for many of the students who participate in BCM, given the incredible challenges COVID-19 has brought to their lives and communities,” explained the organization. “We are responding to a need for equitable access to outdoor resources that has never been more pressing.”
Big City Mountaineers’ 2021 programming is available to youth across the U.S. in the following metropolitan areas: Denver, Seattle, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon.
If you’d like to support BCM financially, you can donate online.