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Wilderness program hires first executive director
The Vashon Wildnerness Program, which offers nature programs for kids ages 4 to 16, has named Stacey Hinden as its first executive director.
The nonprofit organization has grown considerably since it opened in 2007 and served 24 students in its sessions at Camp Sealth. Last year 76 children participated in the programs and 96 are signed up for this fall. Hinden, one of the founders of the Vashon Wilderness Program (VWP), has been involved with the school as a board member, instructor and parent of three children who participate in it. While VWP’s growth has been large already, Hinden said she is looking forward to more of the same, as the organization reaches out to new kids, including teens, for whom it will offer a new program this fall.
“Helping to preserve our human connection in nature has never felt so vital as now,” she said. “I am especially excited to lead the organization as it reaches more kids on and around Vashon.”
VWP has its roots at the Duvall-based Wilderness Awareness School, which offered programs on the Island from 2000 to 2007. Hinden decided to become involved in the very beginning, she said, when she watched a 9-year-old boy in the school blow on a tinder bundle and create a fire in his hands.
“I cried,” she said. “It touched something so ancient that I think lives in many of us.”
She knew immediately she wanted to sign her children up for the program, and as they participated, she said, she participated, too, mostly observing and learning. She later went on to take further training at the Wilderness Awareness School, then helped create the program for children ages 4 to 6 — the Wind Gatherers — to complement the original program for kids ages 7 to 12 — The Fire Tenders.
Most of the youth involved with VWP are homeschooled, Hinden said, but the organization is making several efforts to reach out to the many other students on the Island. At Chautuaqua Elementary School, it offers an enrichment program to students on the “late arrival” mornings, which occur roughly every other week, and it hoped to offer a week of adventure to McMurray eighth-graders as part of the school’s Exploratory Week. Not enough students signed up, but, Hinden added, no one is giving up on the idea.
“There is mutual interest in expanding the collaboration at Chautauqua and McMurray,” she said.
This fall VWP will offer a different kind of program for on- and off-Island teens, in part because there are many students who have graduated from VWP, but the program has not had a way to serve them and their continued interest. While plans are still somewhat in flux, Hinden expects that starting this fall, each quarter teens in the program will attend a Vashon session of skills and community building, and then will go on a weekend trip in the Cascades, Olympic Mountains or Eastern Washington. As a culmination of the program, they would go on a longer trip in the summer.
Offering this range of programs on Vashon is exciting, Hinden said. Most Island kids are already connected to natural world, but VWP attempts to take them several steps further and offer them nature skills and an opportunity to be part of a community that is rooted in nature.
“It is one thing to be familiar with nature and another to understand yourself and your place in it,” she said.
For more information about the Vashon Wilderness Program, see www.vashonwildernessprogram.org or call 438-3525.