Wilderness program gets $32,000 grant, plans to expand offerings

Riding on a significant grant, the Vashon Wilderness Program plans to expand its offerings this year and hopes to serve more than twice as many children than 2010.

This month the organization, an outdoor education and mentoring program that teaches skills such as plant identification and wilderness survival, received a $32,000 grant from the Silver Family Foundation.

“Everyone felt ecstatic. It was very exciting,” said Stacey Hinden, the program’s executive director.

It’s the first large grant the Vashon Wilderness Program has received since it began in 2007, following in the footsteps of the Duvall-based Wilderness Awareness School, which offered programs on the Island from 2000 to 2007.

Hinden, who was hired as the program’s first director last June, said that until recently the Vashon Wilderness Program has been subsidized by smaller grants and individual donations. Last year its six-person board chose to seek more grant funding after it saw scholarship requests skyrocket.

Because of some new programs at the outdoor school, the board had expected to see around $13,000 in scholarship requests for 2012, up from $10,000 in 2011. Instead, Hinden said, the organization received about $20,000 in requests.

“The people clearly value the program, but the money (was) not there,” Hinden said.

Most of the $32,000 grant will now be designated for scholarships, and some will go to support new programs.

The Silver Family Foundation, which is based in Portland, supports nonprofits in Washington and Oregon that provide experiential education opportunities for children. Hinden said it happened to be the first major grant her organization applied for.

“It’s very challenging to get a foundation grant, and we’re very fortunate,” she said.

Last fall the organization reached out to older students when it launched a new teen wilderness program, which includes monthly workshops on topics such as fire making and will include a 10-day summer expedition in the Olympic Mountains.

And in response to what Hinden said were many parents’ requests for a program that wasn’t during the school week, last spring it began offering monthly Saturday workshop for 7- to 12-year-olds.

It also began a new program in West Seattle for children ages 4 to 6 and will launch a similar program in Tacoma this fall. Hinden’s not yet sure how successful the off-Island programs will be, she said, but she’s excited about reaching a new group of students.

“We’re both filling a niche for them by starting a program over there and sort of widening our community of developing naturalists,” Hinden said.

Hinden said the organization also plans to expand its summer camp program.

All told, Hinden said, she hopes to serve about 185 children in 2012, compared to just 85 in 2011. But, she added, the wilderness program will rely more than ever on referrals of children who would benefit from the program as well as continued fundraising. Each year the organization holds a scholarship fundraising drive, and next month it will hold its fifth annual storytelling festival, which also brings in significant funds.

“Anyone who really believes that nature is important for children should come, because that’s how we get more scholarship money into the hands of families that really need it, so they can get their kids connected to nature,” Hinden said.


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