SheJumps is a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the participation of females and youth in outdoor activities. The organization was founded in 2007 by Lynsey Dyer, Vanessa Pierce, and Claire Smallwood. Since its conception, SheJumps programs have evolved into one of the leading resources for outdoor education and participation for females in the United States. There are now seven regions in North America with SheJumps programs. Starting with the founders’ own passions as skiers and outdoor enthusiasts (and also women) the programs reflect a curriculum that utilizes the outdoors to learn life lessons that impact and inspire the participants.
The Explore Fund Grant was initially awarded to SheJumps in 2010 and the funding was used to support the initial and most-successful program to-date that SheJumps hosts: (S)heJumps into the Canyon is a youth initiative event where passionate local skiers are able to connect and mentor teens from local Boys & Girls Clubs in Salt Lake City. The vision for the program was sparked by co-founder and current Executive Director Claire Smallwood, who participated in a similar subsidized skiing program in her hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico: “Without the skiing program in elementary school, I would never have had the opportunity to fall in love with skiing and the outdoors as I did. It was not so much the adventure or the sport that intrigued me, but the sense of community that made me feel alive and connected.” Drawing upon this experience, Smallwood and the organization spearheaded a youth initiative in Utah to specifically work with under-privileged teens from Salt Lake City Boys & Girls clubs. The goal was to offer them an opportunity to explore the mountains that they live in, but rarely have the opportunity to truly experience. This program was designed to change all of that.
Leading up to the event, which takes place over the course of four (4) Saturdays in March annually, volunteers work with the teens to develop some sense of skiing strength through several “dryland” training sessions at the Boys & Girls club locations. During this time, the entirely volunteer-run team is able to give the participants some basic level of strength awareness for the muscle groups associated with skiing, fit the participants with outerwear, share stories, videos, and photos of skiing in all its forms and levels. SheJumps invests time in the participants prior to the program to ensure their commitment, and also to help them get the most out of the experience. SheJumps works to make sure the teens feel comfortable with their volunteer coaches. Additionally, the Boys & Girls club staff also participates in the program for free. The program always includes “skiing cheap” tips to show the teens and their families all of the various resources that exist locally to support youth skiing.
The Explore Fund grant in this event is used to supplement rental fees, lift tickets for volunteers, lunch, snacks, transportation, and insurance for the participants. A daily rate of about $50 is needed per participant, but with local support and the funds from The North Face, SheJumps has been able to continue this program for 7 years.
One phenomenal story to come out of the (S)heJumps into the Canyon program is about a young man named Aaron Arnold. Although the mission of SheJumps generally focuses on women, this particular program is also a place to expose young males to positive female role models during an influential time in their lives. Aaron immediately showed a gift for skiing. On the last day of the annual program, Aaron failed to show up and his volunteer coach was disappointed because Aaron was going to graduate to a new level of skiing that Saturday.
About halfway through the day, however, Aaron showed up at Alta Ski Area. He had ridden his bike all the way up the canyon (a 4,000 vertical foot gain from his home in the West Valley). It turns out he had missed his ride that morning to the Club, and refused to let that get in the way of his skiing. When he arrived he looked cold and tired, but he said, “I just couldn’t miss the SheJumps event.” Aaron went on to graduate from high school and then became a chairlift operator at Alta and season pass holder.
This particular story is so special because it shows that skiing does not need to be a “one and done” approach when working with under-privileged youth. There are ways to make skiing (and the outdoors) a permanent part of life, regardless of how expensive and exclusive it can be. This is a huge part of what is created through the experience: more than technical skiing ability, the time is utilized to share the volunteers’ stories of falling in love with the outdoors to potentially influence the participants vision of what a healthy, active lifestyle looks like.
SheJumps is now a recipient of the 2014 Explore Fund Grant. This year we have been able to expand this program to Alaska. The funds are being used to supplement the Utah program and also the Hilltop Ski Area youth initiative in Anchorage, once again working with Boys & Girls club kids.
Is your organization looking for funding to get people outdoors, or know an org that would be a great fit? Applications for the 2015 Explore Fund grants are now open.
Feature image photo credit Tim Kemple