Looking for outdoor leaders

Fifteen lucky local youth now have have the opportunity to spend 10 months learning to mountain bike, rock climb, snowboard and hike in the Okanagan.

Elevation Outdoors, a local charity founded in 2007, has introduced new sports to dozens of young people in the Okanagan who may not have otherwise had the opportunity, due to financial restrictions.

For years, the organization has offered free four to seven week programs throughout the year for young people who face various socioeconomic challenges.

Thanks in part to recent grant funding from Mountain Equipment Co-op and Telus, Elevation Outdoors is opening up 15 spots come late August for young people aged 15 to 18 to take on the 10-month Leaders in Action program. The participants will meet up twice a week to learn to learn a variety of sports throughout the year, but it won't be all fun and games.

“It's definitely our longest-term program we've ever done ... it really allows us to key in on the mentorship pieces that all of our programs focus on, but this will really give us 10 months of relationship building with the participants,” said Mike Greer, executive director of Elevation Outdoors.

“It also give us the time to really add in some of the extra things that you just don't have the capacity to do over a four or seven week program. We're going to do some trail maintenance days with MTBco and really try and integrate the concept of, if you're going to be doing these recreation things, you also have to give back to support that community.”

Greer says they'll also be working with the participants to build their employment skills, looking towards the future.

“All of the participants will do a few job shadow days throughout the ten-month program, just in an effort to really round out the experience and help them figure out some different potential career paths,” he said. “For some of them that will be within the outdoor recreation space but some of the other job shadowing opportunities will be more traditional careers or roles that they might be interested in.”

Ten of the programs spots will be offered for free to those who fall under one of five categories – their family's annual income falls under the low-income threshold, they're involved with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, they or their guardian is on some type of social assistance, they're involved in the criminal justice program, or they get a referral from a mental health clinician or practitioner. The remaining five spots are open to any other young people at a cost of $2,995, although Greer says they can work with the family to provide partial funding for those who need it.

“It covers everything. We provide all of the equipment, we provide the transportation, we cover lift tickets, access to any of the vendors we use,” Greer said.

This past week, Elevation Outdoors received $12,500 in grant funding from MEC, along with $10,000 from Telus, which will cover more than half of the program's costs.

The 10-month program begins in August with a two-day camping trip, and it will end in June with a second camping trip designed by the 15 participants. The kids will also be responsible for fundraising for the second trip.

“They'll get a whole bunch of life skills through that alone, teaching them how to budget, teaching them how to do trip planning, event planning, customer interactions, sponsorships, that kind of stuff that will really serve them well when they move into the work environment,” Greer said.

They'll also have the opportunity to teach the sports they're learning to other youth taking Elevation Outdoors' shorter programs throughout the year.

“Just getting them that practice in being in a leader position, sharing information, and the satisfaction that can come from helping somebody else learn a skill,” Greer said.

“The confidence that can come from being able to teach someone and see their excitement from picking up this new sport, it's quite infectious, and we think it'll have a big impact.”

Those interested in the program can register on Elevation Outdoor's website. But don't wait too long, four of the 15 spots have already been spoken for.

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