Step by Step: How WTA's Community Partner Used Boots From Our Gear Library to Get Outside
Whether it's for hiking Mount Rainier, taking early steps to leading the way for environmental justice or celebrating being comfortable outdoors, we caught up with community partners to learn more about how they've utilized hiking boots from WTA's gear lending library.
Well-fitting, protective footwear can make or break any experience — especially when it comes to the outdoors. Sturdy hiking boots can help increase safety and minimize potential injuries during outdoor adventures.
That's why WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training program runs a gear lending program that provides gear to help youth leaders and their youth to get outdoors. There’s gear for almost every activity — from rain pants to compasses to snowshoes — that increase accessibility to the outdoors for the students and their leaders.
We caught up with three of our community partners who have utilized boots from our gear lending library to learn more about their outings and how their youth are connecting to nature and to themselves.
Hiking at Mount Rainier with El Centro de la Raza
Thirty-five middle school students from El Centro de la Raza visited Mount Rainier National Park this year.
“It was a really special experience,” said Liz Huizar, the director of youth services at El Centro.
They picked two trails two explore within the Paradise area and brought along hiking boots from the gear library. Some students were initially skeptical about borrowing the boots: “What? Whose shoes are these? I don’t want to wear their shoes!”
Liz laughed while retelling that story, because by the end of the trip, the students were asking to hold onto the comfortable boots.
El Centro de la Raza is an organization grounded in the Latino community of Washington state. The majority of their work is focused on their youth, who usually come from immigrant, first generation or low income backgrounds. El Centro helps them pave their way toward the future by offering opportunities for identity development and social advocacy through mentors who have similar backgrounds.
Liz said that El Centro works with their youth to build a connection with the outdoors because of the physical and mental benefits from being outdoors. A lot of their students have an idea of the outdoors through social media, but haven’t been able to experience it for themselves because of the urban environments they live in.
“A lot of our young people also come from working class families who may not have the time to explore outdoors together,” Liz said.
The students initially had mixed feelings about going on the trip. For most of them, this was their first time hiking or visiting a national park. But by the end of their day, the students were tired from a full day of activities and felt fulfilled from their new experiences. El Centro plans to continue offering these excursions next summer and also include a curriculum on valuable outdoor skills and careers in the outdoor recreation industry.
“They were all asking when they could come back,” Liz said.
Exploring Tacoma with Communities for a Healthy Bay
After a fun day at Mount Rainier, those boots were returned to the gear library and prepped for the next outing — this time in Tacoma with Communities for a Healthy Bay.
Communities for a Healthy Bay (CHB) brought their students participating in the youth education program to Swan Creek Park. They borrowed boots for their day full of activities — like trail exploration, bird watching and rock painting.
Erin Dilworth, deputy director at CHB, said they’re focused on nurturing a connection between youth and nature through the education program.
“We’re trying to foster the next generation of environmental advocates, so we’re developing relationships with young folks who, one day, are going to make decisions about our future,” Erin said.
CHB is a science-based nonprofit in Tacoma that started in 1990 as a response to the widespread contamination of Commencement Bay. Through their bay patrol program, policy program and youth education program, they engage their community to clean up, restore and protect Commencement Bay.
CHB borrows gear for other events in their community — like trips on their patrol vessel and hikes to Mount Rainier.
“We have a lot of folks who come out with us and are comforted by the fact they have the right gear provided by the gear library,” said Erin.
Attending Refuge Outdoor Festival with the Service Board
Students from the Service Board community went on a lot of adventures this year. They went snowshoeing, attended a community event and surfed — just to name a few. While the gear library doesn’t have any surfboards, they borrowed equipment for the other outings.
The youth attended Refuge Outdoor Festival — a multi-day camping experience geared towards building a community of people of color through outdoor recreation. The event takes place outside and there’s opportunities to hike and camp during it, so they brought along hiking boots and sit pads from the library so that they could be more comfortable with the right gear.
Shona Kerrick, the program manager at tSB, shared that the students in the program who identify as people of color really enjoyed attending the festival.
“I noticed that they seemed really comfortable being in that space,” said Shona, “one student even remarked that it was a beautiful experience.”
The Service Board (tSB) is a youth-led organization that builds community for high school-aged youth from traditionally marginalized communities. tSB provides year-round programming with a focus on snowboarding — in combination with community service projects, adult mentoring, and social and environmental justice education.
They are usually out shredding the slopes during the snowboarding season, but the students also went snowshoeing with snowshoes from the gear library.
“I think it was really refreshing for them at the end of the snowboarding season,” Shona said. “Some of them didn’t understand why we went snowshoeing (instead of snowboarding), but it was a great way to expand our experience on the snow.”
tSB is coming up on their shoulder season before snowboarding begins, but they hope to get back out to snowshoe and attend Refuge next year.
WTA believes that being out on trail is beneficial at any age, but it’s especially important to connect youth to nature. They are our next generation of hikers, outdoor leaders and public land stewards. The hiking boots are a basic tool that let youth put one foot in front of the other and experience the outdoors — whether that’s hiking Mount Rainier, taking important early steps to leading the way for environmental justice or celebrating being comfortable outdoors.
Since the start of WTA’s Outdoor Leadership Training program in 2013, 467 leaders have graduated from the training workshops and the gear library has supported 601 outings and 14,463 outdoor total experiences. WTA is excited to continue to support our community partners in accessing the outdoors through our Outdoor Leadership Training program and gear lending library.