24 year old woman from the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco relates her experiences with BAWT at our 2015 Into The Wild fundraiser event with this speech:
My Name is Danelia Lopez, I’m 24, born and raised in the concrete jungle of San Francisco. Ten years ago I met one of the most influential people in my life. Aaron Gilbert, a passionate youth worker from Chicago.
I was 14 years old and went on my first backpacking trip to Big Sur. The idea of hiking 7 miles, with a 50 pound bag on my back sounded more appealing than sticking around at home.
See at that time there was a lot going on at home, four of us were sharing one room, my mom’s boyfriend who had a talent of getting drunk and abusive, was living with us, I needed a break. After that first trip I felt an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.
I knew, I had to keep getting outdoors.
That first trip was a crucial turning point. Changing my environment allowed me to get out of my head and get in tune with myself. I went home feeling better than ever. The outdoors gave me the chance to heal and grow, ready to face reality.
I’m simply one of the many youth, who are referred to as “first generation, low-income, under-resourced, under-privileged, minority, urban youth, at-risk.” Call us what you will, but this category is what we are born into, and if we are lucky, we get the right people and resources during critical points in our lives. Have a stable enough home, and maybe graduate high school, go to college and become a contributing member of society. That’s only if we are lucky.
I’ve learned you have to be open to opportunities as they present themselves and you don’t know where, when, or if they’ll come.
My access point to critical experiences and resources was Mission Graduates who facilitated trips and, Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) who provided me with gear. Everything a poor brown youth, living in the Mission, would need to get out of the urban jungle.
I got a degree in Environmental Science from Whittier College, I wanted to deepen my connection and understanding of the natural world. After school, Aaron told me about a job opportunity with Outdoor Educators Institute. With Aaron’s advice and the financial support of my brother Owen, I applied and was accepted.
Outdoor Educators Institute advanced my skills, knowledge, and expanded my network within the outdoor community. After the program I wanted to connect Mission youth to the outdoors. So I got a job with Seven Tepees Youth Program. With Seven Tepees I helped plan and lead over 10 outdoor trips with middle and high school youth using mostly BAWT Gear. I then went on to become a BAWT faculty member as an assistant leader on a Front Country Leadership Training.
Many things threaten access to critical resources like BAWT and Seven Tepees. Organizations like these strengthen and give hope to community members. The city is getting expensive and brown families are being uprooted left and right. They are losing access to the resources put in place to support them. That doesn’t make sense, and so It pains me to watch the rise in displacement and the obvious suffering of the neighborhood, and kids are not blind to this. I believe in order to help the community one must work from within it. Connecting with youth, and getting them outside, is one sure way to make a difference. Training other youth workers, to get youth outside is another.
Even though I am no longer with 7 Tepees, I still volunteer. Just this weekend I helped lead a trip to Armstrong Redwoods with 13– 6th graders who went backpacking for the first time. We hiked a total of 11.4 miles.
On the hike out I was walking with a little girl named Ana, she was the cutest and tiniest of the bunch, carrying a big pack, and 3 miles out she hit a wall. I told Ana, “You, are a warrior princess!”, she knew it, but needed someone to remind her and within minutes she decided to continue and catch the faster hikers. I stayed behind to motivate the rest. We had lunch at a creek, and after lunch the youth are instructed to cross a bridge and yell something they’re proud of. As Ana crossed the bridge, with her fist held high, she yelled “I am a Warrior!!”.
by Kryssia Canales
We walk around not knowing who.
We walk around not knowing what.
Youth going around committing crimes,
We all know these are hard times.
What to do to keep them off the streets?
Find a hobby that sweeps them off their feet.
Nothing better than hanging out with the oldest mother,
After all, nature is like no other.
It gives hope, it gives peace
It gives our soul a full release.
This poem was written by Kryssia Canales, a 19 year old student at Skyline College that was born and raised in El Salvador. She has participated in over ten outdoor trips supported by BAWT since she was in her sophomore year of high school. This poem was read aloud by Kryssia at our 2014 Into the Wild event. She is a perfect example of the youth that BAWT serves and how transformative nature experiences have the ability to positively influence their lives.