Finding Peace, Leadership, and Community In The Outdoors
When I was growing up, people I knew didn’t go camping.”
This quote comes from Devaughn, a New York City resident who, until recently, had never been on a camping trip or even a day hike.
“The city has a lot of things,” says Devaughn, “At home I’m hearing music, food cooking, cars driving by, people screaming out their windows, but I can’t really go anywhere to escape it.”
Devaughn’s experience is one shared by many people of color living in city surroundings; the intensity and constant stimulation of a dense urban environment can be exhilarating, the buzz of being of a city resident. But when that intensity is paired with a lack of access to green spaces and outdoor settings, it can take a real toll on both mental and physical well-being.
“I always fantasized about being in a quiet place alone,” says Devaughn.
Thanks to Camping to Connect, he has found that quiet place. Camping to Connect is a local NYC experiential learning and mentorship program for underserved young men between 12-18 years old from inner-city communities. Their transformative BIPOC-led (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) mentorship program fosters leadership, brotherhood, and inclusion in the outdoors. Since 2017, Camping to Connect has directly impacted over 700 young lives through 70+ workshops, career panels, day hikes, and camping experiences. They organize camping trips to places such as the Delaware Water Gap, Harriman State Park, and even Governor’s Island. Camping to Connect’s president, Manny Alamonte, aspires to “create a paradigm shift in how BIPOC young men see themselves, changing the narrative of who “belongs” in outdoor spaces, and addressing the issue of nature deficiency in urban youth.”
Distance to a park, lack of transportation, and building a gear library are some of the greatest functional barriers to entry that disproportionately impact BIPOC communities in the ability to experience time in nature. BioLite has been proud to support Camping to Connect since 2018, supplying the organization with grants and gear to make trips more safe, enjoyable, and connected. From headlamps to light the way after the sun goes down to smokeless fire pits to gather around after a long day, BioLite seeks to help participants feel more at home in the outdoors, especially during those critical first-time experiences. With positive trips under their belt, many participants go on to share their growing love of nature with their family and friends, and make it a priority to build it into their future.
Yelitza, mother to one of the participants, recalls going on a hike with her son after he attended the program. “It was my first hike ever. It was challenging at times, but mostly serene and beautiful. My interest increased a lot when Jonathan started hiking and camping with Camping to Connect. Nature has an incredible way of calming your thoughts to truly be in the moment.” Additionally, a former participant from 2018, Ryan. V, has gone on to become a leader for the program. He says “I feel like being around nature, my mind is more at peace.”
To learn more about Camping to Connect and how you can help support, visit their website and check out the trailer for their upcoming film Wood Hood which will be premiering in May 2022 at the Mountainfilm Festival in Telluride, Colorado.