Kids Find Confidence Outdoors

Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree, California
When Chris Rutgers founded Outdoor Outreach in San Diego, California, he wanted to give underprivileged youth a chance to get outside. By partnering with youth service agencies in the county, he reaches more than 1,000 kids each year, some of whom have never been to the mountains or the ocean, despite living in San Diego their whole lives.

"These kids lack opportunities, they come from inner city neighborhoods," says Rutgers, executive director of Outdoor Outreach. "We get them out of their five-block radius so they can see what is out there."

On September 22 and 23, Outdoor Outreach is giving the public a chance to experience the impact that its programs has on these youth. The Joshua Tree Experience, an annual fundraiser in Joshua Tree, California, immerses participants in a weekend of outdoor activities, such as rock climbing, camping and yoga sessions that include volunteering with the kids who will directly benefit from the event.

Rutgers believes that a lack of role models and poor home lives make it hard for these youth to develop confidence and self-esteem. Outdoor Outreach provides opportunities for them to build self-esteem through activities like hiking and rock climbing. Over time, a support system develops with positive role models that can connect to the kids through a shared passion and experience.

Regular Outdoor Outreach programs include snowboarding, surfing, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, camping and marine science. In addition, there are several year-long leadership programs such as ALIVE, which hosts weekly after-school activities, monthly outings and an eight-day backpacking trip to Yosemite.

Yvonne Hunt, a volunteer for girls in the ALIVE program, joined Outdoor Outreach because the activities were compatible with her interests. Now, the impact the program has by giving confidence to young girls keeps her coming back.

"When the girls succeed--and even beat the boys--you can see it in their chatter and their smiles. That's when I was hooked," says Hunt "I want to be a part of introducing that confidence and mind-set."

With the help of 150 volunteers and successful fundraising efforts, Outdoor Outreach schedules over 200 trips a year. After eight years and 4,000 participants, none of the kids has paid for the programming. Rutgers wants to keep it that way and, with the Joshua Tree Experience, he hopes to raise enough money to keep the programs going for the next year.

"We are trying to give these kids something to be passionate about," says Rutgers.

"If you have passion in your life it becomes a catalyst for other things--kids do better in school and their relationships improve. It is a powerful perception change."

Although Outdoor Outreach hopes to eventually expand its programming across the U.S., they are currently only hosting programs in San Diego. In the mean time, here is a list of similar organizations across the country.


Boojum Insititute;?
Paskowitz/surfing for life;?
Pro Kids Golf;?
LA SurfBus?
Boarding House Mentors;?
Outward Bound Adventures;?


Aspen Youth Experience;?
Big City Mountaineers;?
Climbing for Life;?
Meet the Wilderness;?
Snowboard Outreach Society;?


National Ability Center;?


Youth Enrichment Services;?
Montana?Big Sky Youth Empowerment Project; ?

New York

Stoked Mentoring;?


Adventures without Limits;?


Passages Northwest;?


City Kids Wilderness Project;?


Trips for Kids;?

For more information about Outdoor Outreach go to

To participate in, or donate to, the Joshua Tree Experience go to:

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