It starts as a beginning raft trip through the rapids during a summer of learning about nature and self at Broken Arrow Ranch in Jackson, Wyoming. Years later, when the same people have grown and are experienced in the wilderness, they are capable of kayaking through the same rapids.
This is just one of the sequences of life experiences that underprivileged youths receive through the City Kids Wilderness Project.
Through the wilderness experience, participants learn perseverance and the value of working toward goals. “We focus on building a lot of the important life skills that are necessary to navigate the educational system and provide educational support,” said Eloise Russo, director of City Kids Wilderness Project.
City Kids started with summer camp in 1996. It was established to help underserved and at-risk children from the Washington, D.C., area realize they can overcome challenges and gain responsibilities and life knowledge. Every summer the kids travel to Broken Arrow Ranch, where the younger participants begin as Rangers, then work up to Mountaineers, Elite, and Leadership teams.
The kids are presented with challenges and acquire skills along the way: A backpacking trip will involve outdoor skills, preparing equipment, hiking various terrain, dealing with elements, and living in foreign surroundings. The staff members guide the children and teach them to be proactive to help them succeed.
“After being at City Kids, there is no challenge they can’t overcome,” is a common statement heard from participants, shared Russo.
But with the high school dropout rate at 57 percent in the Washington, D.C., area, program leadership decided to expand summer camp into a year-round program that supports the development of kids ages 11 to 24. Since then, there has been a 94-percent graduation rate for kids involved in the program.