Indoor Rock Climbing with Big Brothers Big Sisters

On Saturday, May, 5, we went on our first outing with participants from our partner organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters.  The activity for the outing was indoor rock climbing at Rock Spot in South Boston. The group consisted of four Big/Little matches, one EY volunteer, Nick, and one EY instructor, Annie. 

Once everyone arrived, we all circled up in the gym’s yoga studio to learn each other's names, talk about safety and gym rules, and grab our gear. With our harnesses on, we shuffled to the gym in our socks to where our climbing shoes awaited. Once we were fully geared up, Journey - our Rock Spot guide - led us over to the climbing wall so we could watch her demonstrate how to clip into the auto belay system. After the intro, we were free to climb!

 Top roping 

Top roping 

We all stayed in the same general area so that we could climb together and cheer one another on. Janelle (Big) and her Little, Belle, had both never climbed before, so it was fun to see them trying something new and improving together throughout the day. Maggie (Big) had been climbing a few times with her Little, Destiny, so they were challenging themselves to some harder routes, racing up the walls right next to each other. It was great to see Bigs giving instruction and encouragement to all the Littles, not just their own. 

 Destiny (left) and Maggie (right)  

Destiny (left) and Maggie (right)  

After about an hour, everyone took off their harnesses and we switched to bouldering. With a short introduction, we split the group into two for some friendly competition. The game required a lot of strategy and teamwork, and it really got the matches to intermingle and work with each other. Not only were the kids having a blast and enjoying the challenge, the mentors were also super engaged in the game. The day really came together as 4 individual matches blended into one large group.

 Max (Big) watching Tyrie (Little) boulder 

Max (Big) watching Tyrie (Little) boulder 

This first outing with Big Brothers Big Sisters was a great example of what Elevate Youth is hoping to do for the organization, which is to take matches on outings to foster the existing bond between Big and Little, but also help to create new relationships among matches; giving Bigs the chance to socialize with other Bigs, and Littles the chance to meet other Littles. It also gives Littles the chance to see that there are other positive adult role models that they can count on for support and inspiration. 

This was an excellent first experience because of the excited, energetic, and positive Bigs and Littles who were all happy to be on the trip. The group had a wonderful dynamic, and I hope that the friendships created on Saturday continue to grow through consistent outings in the future. 

 The group! 

The group! 

Indoor Rock Climbing with Harlem Lacrosse

 Ralph and Carly (Harlem Lax Program Director) 

Ralph and Carly (Harlem Lax Program Director) 

On Sunday, April 29, we took advantage of the rainy weather to spend some time indoors for once! But we weren't just sitting around...we were climbing.

A group of 12 students from Harlem Lacrosse Boston, along with 2 of their mentors, Peter and Carly, joined Elevate Youth for a trip to Rock Spot Climbing gym in South Boston. When the group arrived, the kids were filled with mixed emotions; nervous, a little anxious, but mostly excited. Only one of the kids had climbed before, the rest had never stepped into a climbing gym, but this didn't stop them from jumping into their harnesses and slipping on their climbing shoes to eagerly await instruction.

We gathered everyone around the climbing wall in order to watch Mik and James, our Rock Spot instructor's, demonstrate how to clip into the auto-belay. Once they went through the basics, the kids practically ran to the open ropes in order to clip themselves in and get on the wall. 

 Peter (Program Director) and Gabby, watching Kenny reach the top

Peter (Program Director) and Gabby, watching Kenny reach the top

Some of the kids were naturals - every time I turned around they were at the top of a different wall! Other kids took some time to warm up; heights turned out to be a popular fear among the group. However, once the kids realized they could trust the auto belay to bring them gently to the ground if they let go of the wall, no one seemed to remember that they didn't like being high off the ground. Even Shayla, who insisted she couldn't climb higher than 4 feet because she was afraid, ended up reaching the top of a wall after only 30 minutes of climbing. 

 Annie (Elevate Youth Outdoor Activities Coordinator) looking impressed by a climber

Annie (Elevate Youth Outdoor Activities Coordinator) looking impressed by a climber

After spending an hour on top-rope climbing, the kids took off their harnesses and we switched over to bouldering, which is climbing shorter walls without the support of a harness or rope. To make things more interesting, the instructor's organized a little friendly competition. They divided the group into two and put a line of tape down the wall to define two clear sections. Whenever a member of one group made it to the top, they were able to mark a rock on the other side of the divider, which meant that the other team could not use that rock to get to the top. As more rocks were deemed unusable, the game got harder and harder, until each group decided it was impossible to reach the top of their section. Not only was the game high energy and a lot of fun, it also allowed the kids to work on mental preparation, strategy, and teamwork, and it exemplified the camaraderie of the group at the end of the day.

After two hours at the gym, we took off our climbing shoes and headed to the gear room to debrief and do some shout-outs. These mostly consisted of the kids shouting out their peers for giving climbing a try despite a fear of heights, which was awesome for us to hear. The kids were definitely exhausted after a solid 2 hours of constant climbing, but they all agreed they had an amazing time because they got to try something totally new and work towards overcoming a fear, which is exactly what Elevate Youth strives for on every outing. 

 The group! 

The group! 

Jump into Spring with Strong Women Strong Girls !

Last Saturday, Elevate Youth had the pleasure of attending Jump Into Spring, a celebration put on by our partner organization Strong Women, Strong Girls. The annual event is a gathering of all SWSG participants, including the female college mentors, strong women leaders, community partners, friends & family, and, of course, the girls. It was fun, inspirational, and very, very loud!  

 Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell along with Boston City Councilor Members Kim Janey, Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley addressing SWSG youth & mentors.

Boston City Council President Andrea Campbell along with Boston City Councilor Members Kim Janey, Annissa Essaibi George, Ayanna Pressley addressing SWSG youth & mentors.

We arrived to cheers from the college mentors who were standing in the hallway awaiting the arrival of about 150 girls. The gymnasium had been decked out with balloons and streamers, and we proceeded to set up the Elevate Youth table while the DJ blasted upbeat tunes from the corner. Pretty soon the entire gym was filled with girls jumping rope, dancing, and clearly having a blast with their college mentors. 

 Our Executive Director, Alec Griswold, joining in on the jump rope fun!

Our Executive Director, Alec Griswold, joining in on the jump rope fun!

We had a few curious glances before girls finally started to venture up to us. They excitedly looked at the table, which we had scattered with pictures of “really cute” animals and cutouts of animal tracks. Once we explained that the game was to match each track to the correct animal, it was hard to keep up with all the girls who wanted to take on the challenge; everyone was bumping elbows trying to match them all! 

 Animal Track matching game!

Animal Track matching game!

We were also getting some confused looks at the tarp laying on the ground next to our table, so Alec took the opportunity to grab a group of girls and explain the “Magic Tarp” game. The game requires a group to stand on the tarp and flip it over, but the trick is that no one can touch the ground while doing so. It isn’t easy, and while it took some time they figured it out by locking arms, grabbing hands, and trying their hardest not to fall to the ground. 

 Team building Tarp game.

Team building Tarp game.

The rest of the day consisted of inspiring speeches given by strong women and presentations put on by local community organizations. We watched performances by a former SWSG college mentor, a girls’ youth dance group, and the Genki Sparks. We listened to speeches from empowering female community leaders, and did a group stretch led by the event’s sponsor, Athleta. The day ended with everyone participating in the famous SWSG cheer, which goes like this: “I am strong! I am proud! I’m not afraid to shout it loud! Strong Women Strong Girls!” It was a successful event, and we left feeling inspired and proud to be partnered with such a wonderful group of women and girls. 

Harlem Lacrosse Boston Ski trip to Wachusett Mountain

LETS GO SKIING!!

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When its a bluebird day, the snow is perfect, and the kids have ear to ear smiles you know it is going to be a great day!  We set out from TechBoston Academy just after 7:30am, with a total of 5 boys, 4 girls, 2 mentors, and 2 Elevate Youth staff.  On the way to Wachusett, we got everyone to name their spirit animal, with black panthers and big cats being the favorite.  Our transportation was provided from Skedaddle, a local company that provides excellent service and James, our fearless driver, noted his spirit animal is a flamingo!

We arrived at the mountain at 9:15am and our amazing volunteer Nick Chertavian had already navigated the masses and located our designated room with ski tickets and rental vouchers ready to go.  Wachusett Mountain, and especially Jeff Crowley, have been incredible to work with and their generosity and willingness to get underserved youth on the mountain is truly commendable.    

 Harlem Lacrosse getting fired up to get on Skis!

Harlem Lacrosse getting fired up to get on Skis!

By 10am we were geared up and ready for our Learn to Ski class.  Mark and Maureen, our two Wachusett Mountain ski instructors were patient, informative, and enthusiastic.  Within an hour we had kids making "S" turns and the fun factor skyrocketed.  Surprisingly, we had to beg the kids to come in for lunch-- all they wanted to do was ski!

 Who is having fun??!!!!!!!!!

Who is having fun??!!!!!!!!!

We had a great lunch of healthy food and lots of laughs.  As we made our way back out to the mountain for our afternoon lessons, the Harlem Lacrosse mentors and the Elevate Youth staff made sure to touch base with each youth and go over specific goals for the afternoon.  Making goals is imperative for gaining self confidence and this group thrived in achieving their goals.

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Every participant was able to make turns, stop, and feel confident on the slopes.  Before we knew it, our time had come to an end and just like before lunch, we had to beg the kids to take off their skis and get ready for the trip home.

We ended our time at Wachusett doing some "shoutouts".  All the kids commended each other on their new found abilities and it was truly a special moment.  One participant, thanked his mentors and the EY staff for helping him up after each time he fell.  This is what its all about!  Supportive adults helping youth reach their full potential in a space outside of their comfort zone.  

We cannot wait for our next adventure with Harlem Lacrosse!

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 Stoked!

Stoked!

 Ready for the big Mountain!

Ready for the big Mountain!

Ski trip to Wachusett Mountain with Mother Caroline Academy!

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What a Day!  We got the opportunity to help out with a ski outing to Wachusett Mountain with the mentoring program from Mother Caroline Academy.  Mother Caroline Academy (MCA) is a private, tuition-free school for girls in grades 4-8 from limited financial means. Knowing that education has the power to transform lives, MCA families are invested in setting their daughters on a path of promise that leads to high school, college and a life of opportunity.

 

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From first time skiers to girls who had the confidence to point their skis down a black diamond run, it was a day full of laughs, learning, and fun in the outdoors.  It was truly inspiring to see the girls who had never skied before gain confidence on the bunny hill and by end of the day they were making turns off the lifts.  It was a perfect day to be on the mountain and the girls loved every moment!  

 

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Wachusett Mountain is a true gem, only an hour away from Boston, and it truly feels like an alpine environment.  They have top notch ski instructors and always make everything easy for groups.

We were humbled by the perseverance and positive attitude of every single girl.  There is nothing better than a great day on the mountain with such fun people!  Thank you MCA for having us and we look forward to more adventures in the future. 

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Elevate Youth Has A New Outdoor Activities Coordinator!

We're excited to announce the addition of Annie Hayes to the Elevate Youth team! She has proven to be a great asset as our Outdoor Activities Coordinator. Annie has had a fascinating life, from growing up in Rhode Island to her days in the forest service, fighting fires, and beyond! We sat down with Annie to understand how she found her way to Elevate Youth.

Can you tell us some stories from the days of the forest service and firefighting?

Being from the East Coast, I was exposed to so many new things when I moved to Washington State to work for the Forest Service. For example, I never imagined I would get anywhere near a wildfire, never mind become certified as a Wildland Firefighter and get to help fight fires in Central Washington. The experience that sticks out most in my mind was filling in on an Engine Crew to do initial attack on a fire that started in a cabin and quickly spread to the surrounding area. On our way to the fire, we could clearly see the smoke billowing up and getting thicker, but the cabin was in a remote area with only one road leading up to it, and the terrain was difficult to navigate in such a large Engine, so it took almost an hour to get only a few miles. When we finally got to the site, a helicopter and a Fire Boss (small plane) were doing water drops, and another crew had already arrived to start digging line around the fire to stop its spread. Our crew jumped in and began digging line as well, and after a few hours of combined efforts from air attack and ground support, we were able to put the fire out and begin “mopping up” in the black. This was my first time doing initial attack on a fire, and it was pretty scary, overwhelming, and very hot. I kept having to remind myself to be aware of my surroundings - to look up for falling trees, or for burning objects rolling downhill, etc. The experience gave me a huge respect for people who fight fires as a job/career because it really is such dangerous and difficult work.

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You've been involved in a number of community driven and outside experience programs leading up to Elevate Youth. Can you tell us what you learned from those and how EY is different?

After I graduated from St. Lawrence University in 2016, I drove out to Nevada to participate in the Nevada Conservation Corps as a part of a 5 person trail crew. We would go for 4-8 days to remote parts of Nevada in order to work on various projects, and we always camped out near the work site, often in areas without a bathroom, running water, or cell service. We did anything from trail work, to decommissioning old barbed wire fences and replacing them with new ones, to clearing invasive aquatic plants, etc.. It was really the first time that I immersed myself in an outdoor experience like this, and while the work was very challenging, I was able to spend time in the most beautiful spots I had ever seen and spend all of my time outside with some really fun and special people. This experience absolutely impacted my goals for the future in terms of what career I wanted to pursue, and I think it played a big role in leading me to Elevate Youth. I am so excited that I am part of an organization working to give kids a similar opportunity to the one that personally changed my life.

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What are some of the challenges you've encountered in the world of non-profits and mentoring, and how do you plan to tackle these with Elevate Youth?

My job as Outdoor Activities Coordinator is my first experience working for a non-profit organization, but I can already tell that it will be a challenge (one that I am very excited to take on!). There is so much work to be done, and right now the only staff we have is Alec and me. This is an amazing opportunity for me because I get to do such a wide variety of things and get to see every aspect of what goes in to making a non-profit run successfully. I think Alec and I do a great job of working together and collaborating on things, and every time I leave the office after working with him I feel like we accomplished something important and took another small step towards making this organization a success. 

Your official role at EY is Outdoor Activities Coordinator. What does that mean on a day to day basis?

On a day to day basis I do a lot of different things, especially since we are still in the planning stages for the outdoor trips that we will be putting on in 2018. This means I get to reach out to various sites where we are interested in holding a trip, or to outfitters that we are interested in working with. I also send emails and make phone calls to outdoor companies, brands, and other organizations that we support and are hoping to partner with in the future. I have been working on gaining awareness for Elevate Youth by growing our social media presence and following. Alec and I have worked together on several pitches for groups that have shown interest in EY and that we hope to partner with in the near future, and we have several exciting meetings coming up to hopefully solidify these partnerships!

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Is there a particular place in the Northeast that you're most excited about arranging an outing to?

Although I grew up in Rhode Island, I was not a super “outdoorsy” person growing up. My family and I often went skiing/snowboarding at Attitash or Sugarbush, but I didn’t do much exploring in the areas around Boston and RI. Most of my outdoor time was spent on a field, playing sports such as soccer, lacrosse, and tennis. Once I got to St. Lawrence University and found I was interested in studying the environment, I started to get more into hiking and spending time in nature. When I was home for school breaks, I often went to Blue Hills with family or friends and spent days exploring there. I just moved back to Boston after being away from the area for about six years, so I am so excited to learn about all the places that I can spend time hiking and doing other outdoor activities around the area, because although we will be going to these locations for trips with the youth/mentors, I will definitely be spending my days off in these places as well!

 

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An Interview with 'Elevate Youth' Founder Alec Griswold

Alec, you're the man behind Elevate Youth. Can you tell us about your background and what inspired the creation of the Elevate Youth programs?

I grew up on a horse farm 20 minutes north of Baltimore, MD.  As a kid I could walk out the door and be immersed in the natural world.  I would build forts, explore wooded areas, climb trees, or grab my fishing rod and spend hours after school trying to catch fish.  As most young adults, I was trying to figure out who I was and how I fit into the world.  Nature gave me a space to escape but also to reflect and to this day that has not changed.  I have been fortunate to focus my adult life on working and playing in the outdoors, from running a kayak business in Massachusetts to operating an adventure outfitter in southern Chile.  The inspiration behind Elevate Youth came from nature’s positive impact on my life as well as the people that enabled that impact.  Simply, we all deserve to enjoy the natural world and have supportive role models that we can share this experience with.  

You've been involved in a number of community driven and outside experience programs leading up to Elevate Youth. Can you tell us what you learned from those and how EY is different?

For me, it boils down to connection and experience.  Having a connection with a group while experiencing an activity that may be outside of your comfort zone provides endless learning opportunities.  Furthermore when you are part of a team working towards a goal in an outdoor activity there are numerous opportunities to learn and improve critical life skills.  When I look at the programs and organizations that are nature based in the Boston region, the biggest missing factor is long-term commitment to the youth being served.  At Elevate Youth we combine outdoor activities with long term mentoring (> 1 year).  We believe that our impact comes from the combination of fun and challenging nature based activities and one v one mentoring as well as group mentoring.        

You're an avid outdoorsman. What about your experience in nature have you found to be most rewarding?

For me, it is those moments when you feel truly alive.  Whether it is flying down a mountain on skis, catching that elusive fish, or the simple act of taking a deep breath on a cool fall morning, you feel connected to your surroundings.  In today’s world, it is important to feel connected to something greater than yourself. 

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Is there a particular EY program or destination that is dearest to you?

Tough to narrow that down, but there is something about being in or around water that has transformative qualities.  Our Harbor program allows mentee’s and mentors to explore water-based activities with the support of a licensed outdoor instructor.  Studies show that being near water reduces stress, increases creativity, and brings us peace.  As most of these water-based activities are new to the majority of the youth we work with, it challenges our youth to overcome the fear of the unknown all while having supportive mentors to help in this process.  Furthermore, these programs serve as an introduction to nature for many of our youth and we hope to foster respect and stewardship for the next generation.

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A crucial part Elevate Youth is the fostering of a mentor/ mentee relationship. Tell us about your mentee Miguel and some of the times you've had together.

Through the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Miguel and I were matched about 2 years ago and we have had many adventures.  We have focused our friendship on our mutual love of sports; from Celtics & Red Sox games to paintball and fishing.  It has been such a rewarding experience to see Miguel mature and develop into a young man over the past two years.  Our friendship has highlighted the importance and power of those ‘in-between’ moments.  Whether it is sitting on the riverbank or driving back from an exhausting hour of trampoline jumping at SkyZone, it is during these times where Miguel opens up and we talk about challenges of life.  I could not be more proud of his achievements thus far and look forward to our future adventures.

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It's proven that bringing urban youth into nature and providing a positive mentor relationship greatly increases the chance of a youth finishing high school, going to college, and generally succeeding. Can you tell us about these statistics and how the EY programs are tailored for this?

Although major studies on the effects of nature on urban youth have only recently become more numerous, there is a clear conclusion: Engagement with nature has positive behavioral, health, and development benefits for our youth.  Our Program philosophy is an evidence-based approach in which we focus on highlighting our youth’s strengths and create an environment in which they feel safe and supported.  We incorporate Positive Youth Development in all of our programs and make sure mentors have the skills to foster meaningful relationships.  Essentially we use our outdoor activities to strengthen the mentor relationship and help empower our youth to see their full potential.   

What's next for Elevate Youth?

Along with our outdoor activity programs, we also intend to facilitate community service programs in the neighborhoods that we serve.  These service projects are lead by our youth and aim to create a safer and healthier community as well as foster youth agency.  Furthermore our Leadership program is for high school aged youth in which we focus on building leadership skills through group activities in outdoor spaces. Within the next two years we aim to expand our programs by recruiting our own mentoring network from the outdoor industry.  We believe that gathering a strong pool of mentors who already have a passion for the outdoors will increase our impact on the youth we serve.   

Lastly, we hope to replicate our programs in other communities around Massachusetts within the next three years.