By Molly Absolon, NOLS Instructor
Reprinted from The Leader, Summer 2000, Vol. 16, No. 3
"Everyone waxes on and on about their NOLS experience, including me," Nicole Alger says. "I know how much NOLS means to kids, how much it meant to me. And I've been looking for a way to give something back in my life."
Nicole's desire to give something back coincided with a call from NOLS associate director of development, Sarah Pierce. Sarah was calling to see if Nicole wanted to get involved in a local scholarship committee in New York City. The idea of the committee was to get alumni volunteers to both help raise money for scholarships, and participate in the recruitment and selection of recipients. Nicole signed up. She helps to get the word about NOLS out to new audiences--people who've never even considered a NOLS course in the past because of the cost.
Dewayne Hudson, an African-American from Washington, D.C. was one of those people.
"I was basically broke," Dewayne says. "I didn't have $4,000 to take a course, even though I was told that NOLS was the best place to get leadership training."
Dewayne was working with inner city kids through a variety of different programs, all of them based in the outdoors at the time he first heard about NOLS. Most of his work was voluntary or for his own non-profit, Woodz in the Hood. To earn money, he worked as a personal trainer on the side, but it wasn't enough to cover the cost of a NOLS course coupled with airfare and equipment rental.
"I started doing some research into wilderness and leadership programs. I'd been asked to lead an urban youth group, but I wanted to get more training so I could be a more effective leader. People said I should go to NOLS, but I didn't think I'd ever be able to afford it. I looked around for three years," Dewayne says. "Then I saw a profile in the NOLS catalog about an African-American woman from Newark who took a course, and I thought if she was able to find a way to do it, why can't I?"
Dewayne contacted NOLS and discovered there was scholarship money available. He filled out his application and within weeks was notified that NOLS could offer him a full scholarship for a course. In addition, Patagonia was willing to provide financial support to help Dewayne cover transportation and equipment costs. With some further sponsorship from different organizations in D.C., Dewayne was able to come up with the funding he needed to take a Southwest Educators course in January 2000.
"The course taught me how to use different leadership styles, how to be a more effective leader," Dewayne says. "I also learned how to utilize the environment for teachable moments...I was able to use our down time to think about how to use all these new ideas I was being exposed to help improve my program, Woodz in the Hood."
Dewayne's hope is that his program will help open up the outdoors to more African Americans. He says that right now you don't see too many blacks out camping and hiking, but he believes if his community knows how the wilderness can change their lives, more of them would seek to spend time in the outdoors.
"For a lot of people, including me, NOLS is about doing something totally new and really hard," NOLS graduate Janice Bloom says. Janice is a teacher at East Side Community High School, an inner city school in New York City. She says NOLS changed her life and now she is trying to help it change the lives of her students.
Part of the vision for local scholarship committees is to work closely with so-called "feeder" programs and schools--organizations that can identify students who will both benefit from and be successful on a NOLS course. East Side Community High School is one of those schools and Janice has served as an important link between NOLS and the kids who can benefit from scholarship dollars. Already one of Janice's students has taken a Wind River Wilderness Course.
Confidence is a real issue for inner city youth, according to Janice. She says they are smart, motivated kids but they don't have the confidence to try things.
"A NOLS course shows them that they can succeed when they try. That success transfers back to their everyday life," says Janice. "It makes a huge difference to them, but without scholarship money it would be totally inaccessible."
In trying to maximize the effectiveness of a NOLS course, NOLS is targeting people like Janice and Dewayne, teachers and educators who in turn can share their experience with others.
Currently there is a committee along Colorado's Front Range chaired by Andrew Davison and Brooke Hanley; one in Chicago headed by Judy Heisley , Grove Mower, and Carline Rohlen; a New York committee chaired by Nicole Alger; one in San Francisco led by Wilford Welch; a Teton Petzoldt Scholarship in Wyoming organized by Linda Brooks; a committee in Seattle headed by Fred Roberts; and a group in New Mexico guided by Allen Macomber and Kate Gunness Williams. All the chairs are NOLS alumni, former staff or parents of alumni.
Linda Brooks, who is the committee head in Jackson, Wyo., says that part of the joy of the experience has been working with other volunteers.
"We've got a wonderful group of women between the ages of 30 and 40 here in Jackson. All of them were or are instructors, except me of course," Linda says. "We've had a great time and our efforts have worked. This summer we awarded two scholarships. Sarah (Pierce) has been fantastic. She comes in and says, 'We did so well, let's do it again.' And we do!"
For people interested in getting involved in the local scholarship effort, contact Sarah Pierce at email@example.com or (307) 335-2273.