During the month of December, Buddy will highlight, the Twelve Days of Fearlessness. In the spirit of generosity we are sharing our platform with one of our favorite organizations in Richmond, the Blue Sky Fund, which provides kids in our city with fearlessness every day.
The nature of adventure is that there’s almost always a degree of uncertainty — but rather than fear the Great Unknown, we can prepare and learn about the potential risks to reap the rewards of leading a colorful and memorable life. Fear is also relative — what might seem like no big deal to you, like hiking up a mountain or climbing an indoor rock wall — could be absolutely terrifying to inner-city kids that are more comfortable within the confines of their concrete jungle.
Blue Sky Fund, an outdoor education non-profit here in Richmond, VA, helps these inner-city kids rise above destructive cycles of poverty and their fears of what may lie beyond the walls they know. By stepping into the unknown of the outdoors, with the knowledge, tools and support necessary to avoid dangers, kids that face daily disadvantages learn to overcome adversity and persevere over their circumstances.
As is often the case with fear though, triumph doesn’t always come easy. When students are first introduced to the organization, many are unfamiliar with the outdoor adventures that they’re offered to embark on — some of these inner-city kids live just a mile from the James River in Richmond, yet they’ve never visited the river or even known it was a place for them. While there are a few brave souls that jump with excitement at the chance to try something new, behind those are a number of fearful faces, willing but unsure of their path forward. Blue Sky Fund program staff are trauma-informed care trained educators that create a supportive space for students to explore their environment, and expose students to outdoor activities routinely to learn and master technical skills before they are fully tested in the wild.
Almost 2,000 elementary school students experience monthly hands-on learning science lessons at nature spots around the region through Blue Sky Fund’s Explorers program. Virginia Standards of Learning science concepts are brought to life in nature’s classroom for 2nd-5th grade students from Richmond’s most vulnerable neighborhoods — which will not only provide them with the knowledge to ace their SOL tests, but will also increase the likelihood of students cultivating an appreciation for the environment and enjoying lifelong outdoor adventures.
Over 75 middle school students meet weekly for Outdoor Adventure Club (OAC) sessions, in which they practice hiking, biking, paddling, climbing and camping for weeks at a time, before then venturing out on an excursion to showcase their mastery of that specific skill. Think back to your middle school days and what a tumultuous time this could be, no matter who you are or where you come from — exploring the outdoors rewards these students with a newfound confidence to tackle their school halls and beyond walking tall.
Makaylah, an OAC participant, enjoyed her experience in the outdoors so much that she continued on in the high school leadership program. “I hope to continue building my skills of being outdoors so I can camp with my family and show them the different skills that I’ve learned by being in Blue Sky Fund programs.”
Through the Outdoor Leadership Institute (OLI), a diverse group of high school students from across Richmond come together each summer to go on a five-day wilderness immersion in Grayson Highlands State Park and summit Mount Rogers — the highest peak in Virginia — and then continue to meet monthly throughout the year to complete a community service project. Students from all backgrounds, that might’ve never crossed paths without this program, form a tight knit bond in overcoming their fears en route to the peak.
“What surprised me most was the drive, motivation and patience that was needed to push your way through the trip, as well as seeing the team come together as one as if we’d known each other for years, but we’d only just met a few days before,” Fatima, an OLI alum shared about her experience.
It would seem that for these inner-city students, and perhaps all of us, the reward of outdoor adventures is almost always worth the risk.
To learn more about Blue Sky Fund and how you can support connecting at-risk urban youth with the outdoors, visit www.blueskyfund.org and follow along their adventures on social media at @BlueSkyFund.