Member Spotlight – Big City Mountaineers
Five teenage boys and five adults spill out of a fifteen-passenger van parked in front of the Big City Mountaineers Office in Golden, CO. They’re high-fiving, laughing, sharing inside jokes and reminiscing about the week they just spent backpacking in Southern Wyoming’s Medicine Bow Range. The students and adults are all returning participants from a weeklong Big City Mountaineers (BCM) expedition.
The students, who didn’t know each other before this expedition, were visibly nervous when they arrived a week ago. This isn’t uncommon on a BCM expedition: BCM works with academic support programs, youth development nonprofits, rec centers, first-generation college readiness programs, and a variety of other youth serving agencies to select students who will most benefit form the program. BCM then provides staff and community volunteers to reach the one-to-one teen-to-adult ratio (one instructor, one agency leader, and three volunteers) on every BCM trip.The “Medicine Bros,” as they began calling themselves, found BCM through a drop-in center—and, like most BCM teens, they’d never been on a wilderness trip before.
Now in its twenty-sixth year, Big City Mountaineers will help students who would never have had the chance to spend over 2,000 nights under the stars in Colorado, the Pacific Northwest, the Boundary Waters, California and Boston this season. Since 1989, BCM will have touched almost 8,000 young people’s lives, engaged over 5,000 community volunteers, and helped students from urban areas spend 36,000 nights in the wilderness—gaining perspective on their own lives and changing the lives of the adults they interact with.
This group, outfitted in gear from generous sponsors like Osprey, Jansport, Timberland and Smartwool, was hesitant to leave the Golden headquarters for the drive to Wyoming. For the first day of the expedition, students focused on the bugs, worried about the weather, and, like any teenagers, lamented their missing phones. By the time the Reflection Discussion rolled around on the first night, though, the group had begun to come together over shared jokes, things they were homesick for, and, most importantly, mutual excitement for their time in the woods.
Over the next five days in the remote Wyoming backcountry, the students accomplished things they never thought possible: The Medicine Bros stood atop Medicine Bow Peak, navigated off trail, cooked each other dinner, caught and ate brown trout, took ownership of the expedition with their new leadership skills, and opened up about the challenges they faced at home.
“The leader, volunteers, and students rallied around [each other] to help achieve many small and large goals,” one volunteer mentor of the Medicine Bros’ expedition.
When the boys return from the trip to clean and de-issue their borrowed gear, two asked how they can get onto another expedition in 2017.
“I have the power to make the right decisions and I have the ability to transfer that back home,” says Araron, “and I will!” He’s not alone: based on pre- and post-trip surveys students who participate in BCM trips halve their incidents of drug use and violent behavior. BCM alumni have greater self-efficacy, are more effective at interacting with others, and make healthier decisions.
The changes are obvious. When the Medicine Bros arrive at the BCM office after their Wyoming expedition, they carry themselves with confidence—it’s as if a different group has returned. A few days after the trip, a note arrives at the office: “Thank you for the amazing trip for my son,” it reads, “He seems like a different kid… he came back with lots of pride and confidence.”
It’s not just parents who notice the difference. As BCM alum Miguel puts it: “Thank you for everything you all have done for me, from making me smile to helping me think about my life and future, and just keep up the good work because you have something amazing to give to kids.”
BCM’s work depends on the support of the outdoor industry and of generous community members who volunteer their time and financial support. If you are interested in learning more or volunteering, visit www.bigcitymountaineers.org
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Bix has worked with the Big City Mountaineers Overnight Program for 4 seasons and with schools and non-profits delivering and developing outdoor experiential education programming in Alaska, Colorado and Wisconsin. These experiences have taught him that the greatest personal growth comes from the challenges and joys of learning outside. Bix has a BA from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a MA from University of Chicago. When not working with students outdoors, Bix is most likely climbing, eating, backcountry skiing and running in Colorado’s mountains.