People Are Awesome: See What Happens When a Bunch of City Kids Climb a Mountain
In 1999, I met Emmanuel Durant, Jr., a bright, active nine-year-old boy who lived down the street from me in a rough patch of Southeast Washington, D.C. We played basketball together. I helped him with his homework; he helped me with my art projects. Even after I moved out of D.C., we remained close, and I would come back to visit Emmanuel and his family every couple of years.
Despite his family's many struggles, Emmanuel became a success story. He was the first in his family to graduate high school; he was a generous, reflective young man who was engaged to marry his longtime sweetheart; and had just signed on to begin training as a firefighter. Tragically, on New Year's Eve 2009, Emmanuel was shot and killed while protecting his sister and baby nephews during a robbery.
In the days that followed, as his family and I sat grief-stricken around their apartment, his mom reminded me of an idea that Emmanuel and I had often talked about but never put into action: to bring a couple dozen kids from their inner-city D.C. neighborhood on a week-long hiking and camping trip. What better way to pay tribute to Emmanuel, she suggested, than to create an annual outdoor adventure in his name?
The next summer, Emmanuel's sister, brother, and I, along with a few friends, took 22 kids from D.C.—most of whom had never left the city before—on a week-long camping trip in Vermont and New Hampshire. On the last day, we hiked to the top of Mt. Washington. The amazed glows on the faces of the kids is something I'll always remember—both their sense of accomplishment and the sense of great wonder and joy they took from being in such a beautiful place.
Each summer since, we've brought groups of kids from D.C. (and now Detroit, and New Orleans as well) on similar trips. In 2011, we went to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, then we went to Dolly Sods Wilderness Area in West Virginia last year. This summer, we're heading to the mountains of Pennsylvania, and the Allegheny National Forest. We have a wonderful group of kids that are excited to hit the trails, swim in fresh lakes, and learn how to make s'mores.
A week in the woods will not cure all of the hardships these kids face, but it's my belief that being in nature works powerfully to expand their horizons and give them a sense for all that exists in the world beyond the few blocks where they live—this is no small thing.
Our annual trips are funded entirely through donations from individuals who support what we're doing and believe in the importance of giving these kids a chance to explore the great outdoors. We are entirely volunteer-based, and 100 percent of the funds contributed go directly to the costs of running our programs. We're able to do a lot of good with very little resources, and hope to continue to run these programs for years to come.
Can you help us? If you feel moved to, there are three main ways:
1) Contributing to our IndieGoGo campaign. Any funds we receive are appreciated enormously and will go directly toward covering the cost of this year's trip, as well as future trips. The campaign runs for another week; that is the easiest way to contribute, but you can also contact us at WashingtonToWashington@gmail.com to learn about other options.
2) Help us spread the word! We deeply appreciate your help getting the word out. Please share our short video, our IndieGoGo page, our photo galleries from past trips, or our main website with your friends! Facebook and Twitter posts, or emails to those who you think might connect most deeply with our project are hugely effective. The more people who are aware of our Washington II Washington trips, the more crucial support we'll have to keep these trips going.
3) Donating gear. We are always in need of tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, and other camping and hiking supplies. Please contact us at WashingtonToWashington@gmail.com if you can help us in this way.
From all of us—James Molenda, Brandon Baugh, Denice Durant, Ryan Wyatt, Maggie Smith, Barry Sims, Jason Orfanon, A.J. Wilhelm, and Alex Gross—we thank you so much for your kindness and generosity! It means the world to us—and to these very deserving kids.
This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.