INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to purpose-driven organizations and passionate leaders and entrepreneurs who are making an impact in their communities and industries.


 

Elizabeth Williams

Elizabeth Williams is the Director of Programs for Big City Mountaineers. Follow them on FacebookTwitter and Instagram and learn more at www.bigcitymountaineers.org

WHAT DO YOU DO?

Big City Mountaineers transforms the lives of under-served youth through wilderness mentoring expeditions that instill critical life skills. We partner with community-based youth organizations and caring adult volunteers who act as mentors in the field to help young people realize their potential. Our curriculum improves integrity, self-esteem, responsibility, decision-making abilities and communication skills in close to 1,000 youth annually. BCM has a proven track record of improving young peoples’ lives with:

  • Increased likeliness to stay in school
  • Reduction in violence
  • Reduction in drug use

WHY DO YOU DO IT?

Our Mission – What We Do:

Big City Mountaineers instills critical life skills in under-resourced youth through transformative wilderness mentoring experiences.

Our Vision – Where We Are Going:

A nation transformed by youth connected to and empowered by nature.

Our Values – What’s Important:

Youth – Youth possess power, potential, and resilience. We make organizational decisions based on what will be best for our students.

Nature – The outdoors restores, renews, inspires, and teaches. To experience nature is to unlock our own potential.

Community – Communities provide a context that drives our work – to be inclusive, impactful, and meaningful.

Collaboration – Partnership coaxes fresh perspectives and promotes creative problem solving, enabling us all to succeed.

Accountability – Transparency builds trust. Through a culture of communication we hold ourselves to the highest standards of safety, stewardship of resources, and program delivery

 

WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?

BCM mentors spend more than 40,000 hours in the field with students every year. These volunteers are demonstrating what we like to call the “power of one” – the potential for one individual to help, to heal, to support, to challenge, and to change, for the better, the life of a young person.

BCM takes the measurement of the impact of our programs seriously, and we gauge our effectiveness using the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets Profile.

The Search Institute has identified 40 building blocks of healthy development – known as Developmental Assets – that help young people grow up to be healthy, caring, and responsible adults. Assets are powerful influences on adolescent behavior: regardless of gender, ethnic heritage, economic situation, or geographic location, these assets promote positive behaviors and attitudes that help protect young people from many different problem behaviors.

Data collected from Search Institute surveys of more than 4 million youth has consistently demonstrated that the more Developmental Assets young people acquire, the better their chances of succeeding in school and becoming happy, healthy, and contributing members of their communities.

The effects of our programming are profound when it comes to the reducing the likeliness of our students using alcohol and illicit drugs, and engaging in violent behavior.

BCM’s 40 DA surveys results over the years have consistently shown that we have a positive impact on both Internal and External Assets, with significant changes occurring in Internal Assets pre- to post-test. BCM teens have consistently shown improvement in the “social competency” category, which includes planning and decision making, interpersonal competence, cultural competence, resistance skills, and peaceful conflict resolution. This means BCM programs influence not only how young adults make choices, but how a young person builds future relationships.

 

WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?

I am inspired by students like Abe: I pulled into the parking lot of a Denver high school expecting to pick up five boys and their youth agency leader. Out front, there were only two guys – both sitting with their school backpacks stuffed full of t-shirts and snacks. I got out of the van, getting ready for a long morning. Fifteen minutes later, the agency leader drove up but didn’t have any kids with him either. He looked at me in horror, “Where is everyone?” We both hopped on our phones, tracking down cell phone numbers of the missing students, calling parents and grandparents, and leaving numerous voicemails. One kid was unreachable, period. One, it turned out, had an obligation that morning and agreed he’d come if we left after lunch. Fine, we’d leave late. The fifth kid, Abe, was hard to track down but we finally got his dad on the phone. “He’s not coming. He’s too scared.” We asked if we could come over and talk to him and, after some cajoling, Abe agreed to talking to his agency leader. On the way to Abe’s house the agency leader gave the other two boys a pep-talk. “Okay, this trip is about being a team, and we won’t be a team without Abe. It doesn’t matter how many miles we go, it just matters that we spend the week out there together. Are you guys with me? Will you help me tell Abe that?” The guys enthusiastically agreed and left me in the van to wait. Fifteen minutes later, one of the boys ran out into the middle of the street flashing a huge smile and double thumbs up – Abe was in! I walked over to the front porch, Abe was a big kid, obviously nervous, but friendly. This week was definitely going to be hard for him.

Fast forward one week – the team tumbles out of the van after spending a week in the back country. I pulled each boy aside to do an exit interview and hear about their trip. Abe sat down and told me how hard the week had been, how he didn’t really like it at first, but then how he decided it wasn’t so bad. When I asked what he learned, Abe cracked a smile and said, “For the first time this week I was respected. I was respected by the guys on my team and by the adults. I didn’t know I could be respectable. Now I want to be the kind of guy younger kids look up to.”

 

WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?

Our vision is a nation transformed by youth connected to and empowered by nature. We believe in the transformative power of the outdoors and that connecting students to caring mentors in the back country, for a week, with targeted curriculum, can and will change the trajectory of their lives. Over the next several years our hope is to increase long-term engagement with a small group of inspired youth and to connect them to future opportunities in the outdoor industry, as well as to continue to provide safe and impactful introductory programs to hundreds of students every summer.

 

WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR GREATEST CHALLENGE?

Our challenges can be summarized into two categories: budget and recruitment. Like any non-profit, budgetary constraints are often top-of-mind as we plan for programs and growth every year. Recruitment, of climbers for our Summit for Someone Program, as well as of students is also something we are always striving to streamline. Convincing students to do something new, and often scary, is always a challenge, but is also always worth the work when we see the positive outcomes of their experience with BCM.

 

WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS WHO ARE LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?

Remember the importance of your influence as a role model. Act on your beliefs, interact with kindness, dream big, and take action toward your goals. Your work, big and small, makes a difference.

 

HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?

Climb – Join our Summit for Someone Charity Climb Series.
Donate – http://www.bigcitymountaineers.org/donate
Mentor – http://www.bigcitymountaineers.org/volunteer