The Earth Task Force Collaborates with Local Vendors and The Kitchen Next Door to Serve a Local Lunch

October 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News

20140926_120533This past Friday, on September 26th, a student led environmental action team at New Vista High School called the Earth Task Force coordinated a Local Lunch event. With the invaluable help of The Kitchen Next Door and donations of ingredients by vendors from the local community, the Earth Task Force served a delicious lunch to students and staff. The meal was served free of charge to individuals who brought their own reusable tableware, turning the Local Lunch into a waste free event.

The purpose of the lunch was to educate the community about the impact of local versus non-local food on the planet: eating locally reduces carbon emissions, fuels the local economy, and gives eaters a chance to connect with growers. Students and staff at New Vista supported local farmers and reduced their carbon footprint with the simple act of enjoying a meal of pork sliders and vibrant salads.20140926_122418

Donations for the lunch were received from local farms and businesses such as Haystack Mountain Goat Dairy, Farmer John, Locavore, Whole Foods Market at Baseline and Kim and Jake’s Cakes. Despite the difficulty of donating free produce, these vendors enthusiastically provided the ingredients needed to catalyze the Local Lunch. The event was made possible not only by these generous donations, but by the help of the Kitchen Next Door as well. An establishment in downtown Boulder, the Kitchen Next Door cultivates a culture of community and a passion for local food. On the Wednesday and Thursday preceding the event, the restaurant opened its kitchen to small groups of action members from the Earth Task Force, and with culinary expertise guided the students in preparing the food.

After weeks of preparation, the Local Lunch was hosted on the last day of the week from 12:05pm to 1:05pm. The atmosphere of the event was happy and relaxed, the students sitting on picnic blankets and enjoying their food in the sunny weather. Students successfully brought reusable plates, and even those who didn’t persisted in acquiring a lunch by renting a plate provided by the Earth Task Force or eating off creative “plates” such as clipboards. Overall, the event was a huge success. Chefs, local farmers, and students came together in an effort that effectively fed a 20140926_132316mass of voracious high schoolers.

Written by Cassidy Lam

About Earth Task Force:
The Earth Task Force (ETF) is a Cottonwood Institute-supported program at New Vista High School in Boulder, CO designed to give students an opportunity to take the lead to implement sustainability initiatives at their school.

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Students at STRIVE Excel Backpack, Lead, and Learn with CAP

September 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Community Adventure Program, Program News, STRIVE Prep

STRIVEgroupIn late October, students from STRIVE Preparatory Schools’ Excel campus went backpacking as part of their Community Adventure Program (CAP) class with Cottonwood Institute. CAP at STRIVE is a semester-long class, which meets two days each week for 15 weeks. The first few weeks of class in August and September focused on teambuilding, nature awareness, and preparations for their backpacking trip. In October, students will start building a greater understanding of the environmental issues that affect Denver and the Front Range. During the last half of their semester in November and December, the students will select a local environmental issue to address as a class through an Action Project. As the class becomes more and more student-directed, leadership, problem solving, and critical thinking will become essential skills as they enact change in their community.

Below are a few excerpts from the students written reflections of their backpacking trip:

“We went to White Ranch Park, and it was really challenging to go camping and be away from home. During the trip, we could talk to our friends and other people in the class that don’t usually talk. People had lots of fun and they talked to different people. All my classmates really enjoyed this camping trip because we all got along and got to know each other better. We learned that when you are camping with other people it’s important to build trust with those other people.”

“The hardest part of the trip was the 1- mile hike into the campsite. The most important thing is to listen to your administrator [leader] so your backpack will not feel heavy. This is important because if you don’t your back will hurt a lot.”

“When we do our sit spots, it helps us think about how this environment is different from the one we live in. We learned that we can be far away from our phones and be more in nature.”

“We played camouflage during the day. This game helped us bond because we tried to keep those hiding a secret. At night, we all stayed up around the fire eating s’mores and coming up with riddles.”

“It helps me think clear and it opened my mind.” – Orlando

“I thought it was fun, its a really amazing experience. It makes you realize that there are greater things beyond your backyard.” – Aron

STRIVEcamoStay tuned for updates from their next backpacking trip and Action Project progress over the next few weeks!

Many thanks to our partners, instructors, donors, and foundation supporters including PeyBack Foundation, CoBiz Cares Foundation, and Salah Foundation for making CAP at STRIVE possible!

View and download pictures of STRIVE Preparatory Schools many adventures with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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CAP Class Goes Backpacking: A Weekend of Connections, Reflections, and Campfire Banana Boats

cap40groupcap40firecap40sunsetcap40hikeIn September of 2014, Community Adventure Program (CAP) students at New Vista High School embarked on their first overnight backpacking trip of the quarter! Led by Cottonwood Institute (CI) instructors Katie and Sandy, the group of 10 students hiked up the trails at White Ranch Park in Golden, Colorado. Once arriving at their campsite for the night, the students immediately sauntered off to the hills and forests to find a sit spot. With sights of Denver to the east, the wild mountains to the west, and the intricacies of nature all around them, students came back from their sit spots feeling an energized and refreshed sense of place.

After working together to set up camp, the group went for an afternoon hike to explore more of the trails. Along the way, instructors and students wondered at the local plants and geology of the area. White Ranch Park is an ideal location to begin understanding how the Front Range holds such a diversity of plants and animals. Eli, a student leader and former CAP student, found a perfectly forested area to lead a fun game of Camouflage.

Back at camp in the late afternoon, Sandy taught the students several ways of making fire, beginning with bow drills and ending with flint and steel. Jake and Noah came so close to “busting a coal” by working together: Jake using the bow and Noah holding pressure down on the spindle. Sydney did a little victory dance when she used flint and steel to light a cottonball on fire. As students slowly added kindling to the tiny cottonball fire, the fire grew and soon the coals became hot enough to start dinner. Dessert was among the highlights of the trip; everyone had a least one s’more and about half of the group indulged in campfire banana boats! The group enjoyed an epic sunset over the mountains, while playing guitar, beating drums and pots, and singing songs around the campfire.

Students rose early the next morning by the warmth of the sun, and started a fire for breakfast and pine needle tea. After packing up camp, the group played a few games, explored off-trail, and took a final sit spot. During the sit spot, students tried to hear the quietest possible noise around them in the forest. Birds beating their wings, aspen leaves blowing in the breeze, squirrels darting from branch to branch, and insects crawling nearby.

In the final group reflection before hiking back to the trailhead, students created a small nature sculpture to represent what they want to take back with them to school. Many students voiced the value of patience, unplugging from technology, teamwork, leadership, and taking ownership of their learning and experiences. They are excited to implement some of their lessons learned to their action project in CAP. Stay tuned for updates from this fall’s CAP class at New Vista as students take action in their school and community to address genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend here:

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Instructors Get Outside to Learn and Play Together

August 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Program News

DSCF1165DSCF1159DSCF1161“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” – John Muir

New and returning instructors met up on a sunny Saturday morning in August to head to the hills together, spending the day learning and freshening up on Cottonwood Institute’s core curriculum at CI’s Fall Instructor Training. After quick introductions in Boulder, the crew of 8 educators packed into a couple of cars and caravanned up Left Hand Canyon to Cal-Wood Education Center. As they drove through Jamestown, the instructors were struck by how the town remained devastated by the floods from almost a year ago. Over the past year, Cottonwood Institute has spent more time on programs focusing on the ecological and social impacts of natural disasters. Seeing the affects on the town and landscape of Jamestown inspired valuable discussions among the instructors for how to continue incorporating lessons on preparation, response, and recovery in the wake of wildfires and floods.

Once at Cal-Wood, the day was jam-packed with games, activities, lessons, and discussions to prepare the instructors for fall programs and beyond. Here are a few of the highlights: CI Instructor Rachael Jaffe led an attunement called “Connections” to help everyone get to know each other; Program Coordinator Katie Craig guided the group through a 360 degree awareness activity; Program Director Madeline Bachner led exhilarating games of “Ninja!” and “PDQ”; CI Instructor Jessi Burg guided the group in a relaxing sit spot and a fun game of Camouflage; CI Instructor Sandy Chervenak taught the group new ways to help students “bust a coal” with bowdrills; and everyone contributed towards providing ideas for new ways to reflect and debrief with groups.

A big high five and thank you to all of the instructors who contributed to such a fun, inspiring, empowering, and educational one-day training. Cottonwood Institute is fortunate to have such an amazing group of instructors!

Check out more pictures from our instructor training weekend here:

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College of Menominee Nation Examines Floods and Fires in Colorado

20140814_110116Cottonwood Institute was excited to collaborate with the College of Menominee Nation Sustainable Development Institute (SDI) in a unique Fire and Flood Project exploring the foothills and gaining a deeper understanding of fire, water, and flood issues in Colorado. After an early morning pick-up at DIA, a group of 17 from Wisconsin, began their trip at The Alliance Center in Denver, CO, the hub for sustainability in Colorado. The Sustainability Leadership Cohort (SLC), as the group is known, heard from local sustainability experts to learn more about fire and water issues facing Colorado. With full bellies after a lunch from Smiling Moose Deli, the crew packed up and headed to Cal-wood Education Center just outside of Jamestown, CO, for the next 5 days and 4 nights.

20140817_063209The participants spent their first morning indulging in the finest of instant coffee and no-name oats and granola. They welcomed the morning with a “sit spot”, at Solitude Point, taking in the beautifully rugged landscape of the Colorado Rockies. In the afternoon the group left on an educational driving tour through Gold Hill and Fourmile Canyon. The group learned basic fire ecology while walking through a burn area near Goldhill and as an afernoon thunderstorm drenched the landscape, they watched in awe as fresh water cascaded down the canyon with them as they drove. It was a unique opportunity to witness the power of mother nature, and see the relationship between the fires and floods of Colorado.
20140815_155335The SLC spent the next day re-opening the Mika Mine Trail at Cal-Wood Education Center. It was a hard days work hammering away, building new stairs for the trail. With sore backs and newly blistered hands, the crew finished out the day cooling off in a near-by creek! The following day they traveled down to Lyons to do volunteer work for the community which has been visibly devastated by the flood. A group broke down and rescued re-usable materials from a collapsed greenhouse, while the rest were picking up debris and clearing out sediment that was deposited during the flood.

The following morning they shared their final meal at the campsite, sat and appreciated the quiet wisdom of the mountains, and then returned to Boulder for clean-up. For their closing initiative they met with Jeff Morisette from Rising Voices, a program through the North Central Climate Science Center. 20140815_203638_LLSHe led an inspiring conversation about the collaborative efforts being made to integrate indigenous knowledge and “western” science to combat climate change.

The days were packed full of laughter, learning, and wilderness. As a group they learned how to work hard and build together. They learned about the elements and chaotic weather patterns of the Rockies. They learned how to not shower and still survive; to conserve water, to remember to breathe at 8,000 feet, and build community around a fire.

“This will definitely be on the top of my ‘greatest experiences in my life’ list!”.  – Cherie

“I am so humbled and in awe of this experience and these amazing young people I got a chance to get to know. It makes me feel good for the future of the world to know that there are people like this becoming adults soon. Colorado is amazing and our trip was epic.” – Justin, adult participant

20140816_092146It was a beautiful exchange between Cottonwood and SDI, and we hope that the relationships built will continue in the future. Many thanks to all who made this trip a success: Alliance for Sustainable Colorado, Your Water Colorado, Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control, Colorado State Forest Service, Project Learning TreeSmiling Moose DeliCal-wood Education Center, Town of Lyons Volunteers, DOI North Central Climate Science Center, our Cottonwood Institute Instructors, and the remarkable natural world that continually teaches us everything we really need to know.


To see more pictures from this trip visit our Share Site:

Article Written By: Marissa Sieck, Cottonwood Institute Instructor

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Come Throwdown At The Throwdown!

July 31, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News

RegisterIt’s go time people! The Throwdown, our annual charity cornhole tournament to benefit Cottonwood Institute, is a little over a week away on Saturday, August 9th, 2014 from 11am – 5pm at City Park in Denver, CO.

Come hang out for the day in beautiful City Park, play a few games of cornhole, enjoy amazing food from Chipotle and Pizza Fusion, craft beer from Living The Dream Brewing Company, win some incredible prizes from OtterBox, play some fun side games, and network with some amazing people.

REGISTER TODAY! We only have room for a few more teams and registration will close promptly at 5:00pm MT on Friday, August 8th, 2014. For all of the gory details and to register, Click Here.

Cornhole Throwdown For $250, you can become a Throwdown VIP! We know, it’s kind of a big deal. In addition to some pretty amazing benefits, if you register as a VIP by Friday, August 1st, 2014, 1 lucky VIP team will win a round trip Uber ride up to $50 each way! And don’t forget about the serious bragging rights you will have with your friends and co-workers.


Check out the following sponsors that helped make this event possible and  support businesses that support local nonprofits like Cottonwood Institute:

$1,000 LEVEL:


Living The Dream Brewing Company



$500 LEVEL:


Climax Molybdenum

Kelly & Walker

MegaStar Financial

$250 LEVEL:

Bohica Boards

McLure Hill


Pizza Fusion

Samuel Engineering

Specialized Automation Services, LLC


If you can’t attend, we will only talk about you for a little while behind your back. But if you still want to help, please consider making a secure, tax-deductible donation by Clicking Here.

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Leprino Foods Corporate Outing Ignites Fires and New Ideas

July 30, 2014 by  
Filed under Cottonwood Institute News, Program News

20140724_155726Cottonwood Institute had a great time on a one-day outing with Leprino Foods last week. This corporate team-building and survival skills day took participants up to White Ranch Open Space outside of Golden where they bonded over games and competed in team activities from fire building to sit-spots and shelters to the circle of metaphor.

The group spent the day connecting with each other and exploring new experiences both inward and outward. Some favorites included a few quiet minutes in sit-spots to center and take in the many senses of being outdoors and away from the office. Juxtaposing this quiet activity were the fire skills in20140724_143549 which teams used strikers to light cotton balls and learn the basics of fire. Then they moved up to one-match bundles and lighting full fire lays in fire pits. This was definitely a favorite activity from the day and provided a great outlet for the pyros in the group!

Another team activity was debris shelters in which teams of four spent a slim thirty-minutes creating a survival shelter from downed debris and pine needles. Each team had their own style of working and creating. Points were kept, but at the end of the day everyone felt they had ‘won’ by learning more about their co-workers and spending some quality non-office time together.

20140724_145032They wrapped up the day with a group reflection in which many valuable insights were shared. After the short trip back down to Golden, the group enjoyed a few beverages from Cannonball Creek Brewing before heading home with new ideas from this great day in the field.


Check out more photos from the day on our share site:

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Summer Nature Series with Casa de la Esperanza Comes to a Close

It’s been a great summer of events with Casa de la Esperanza. From hiking and rattlesnakes to games and camping, starry skies and watermelon on the playground we learned and played a lot with the Casa Community this summer!

We started it off with a group gathering to plan and discuss the community’s needs for the two outings this summer. Our day hike in June was a fun trip to South Mesa Trail Head in Boulder. We involved several parents along with a great group of students from the Casa de la Esperanza community.

Then in July many of the same students joined us again for an overnight camping trip up at Cal-Wood Education Center. The group had a great time learning low impact camping techniques, playing a few games of camouflage, and exploring the area, including a side trip to Heil Valley Ranch to get in a little extra hiking and check out a new spot.  They especially enjoyed spending time laying on the ground watching the night sky unfold above them.IMG_1971

Back at Casa de la Esperanza in Longmont we wrapped up the Summer Nature Series with a picnic of BBQ and everyone’s’ summer favorite; watermelon. The kids enjoyed the “feast” while a few parents and staff chatted about the outings and what we could do next with the community and their growing young population. Cottonwood Institute looks forward to hosting more events and getting more students from Casa de la Esperanza out into the woods and the wild.

Many thanks to our partners at Boulder Open Space & Mountain Parks, Cal-Wood Education Center, our wonderful instructors, donors, and foundation supporters including Brett Family Foundation and Community Foundation Serving Boulder County for making this project possible!

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Spring in Review: A Mid Year Programming Update

July 10, 2014 by  
Filed under Program News

We’ve been busy here at Cottonwood Institute this spring! Take a look at this fun slideshow of many of our spring 2014 programs with Colorado Academy, Colorado Youth for a Change, Johnson & Wales University, Littleton Academy, Logan School, New Vista High School, and STRIVE Preparatory Schools.

To learn more about past, current, and future programs, check out the Cottonwood Institute Blog and Programs Page!

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Fossils, Fun, and Camping with Military Kids and Families

July 2, 2014 by  
Filed under Military Kids Project, Program News

DSC_6629A bus full of excited and energetic military families emerges from the traffic and craziness of the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs into the wonder that is Colorado wilderness. Thanks to Sanborn Western Camps and Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, these amazing families and their instructors learned not only about nature awareness and camping, but more importantly about silly campfire songs, s’mores, and even how to make their own spoons.

As we piled out of the bus the first morning, we were in awe of the beauty and peace surrounding our home for the weekend. As soon as we set up camp and ate a hearty lunch, we worked on a service project for Sanborn Western Camps to say thanks for letting us camp on their land. Through teamwork, we built a magnificent fire pit and benches so that others may also enjoy the beauty we found while here. We delved right into Cottonwood Institute’s core curriculum of nature awareness, sit spots, and the always popular game of camouflage, all enveloped with many smiles and lots of laughter. DSC_6688

Appetites satisfied and ready for some campfire fun, we were entertained with music and stories from special guests Ranger Jeff Wolin and Cottonwood Institute’s very own Executive Director, Ford Church. As the sun gave way to the stars, and tired, yet happy faces were sticky with marshmallows, a five year old summed up the day quite nicely, “Daddy. I had a fun day, but it’s not fair. I only got 11 marshmallows, and all the other kids got 12.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

After a pleasant evening, we all awoke fresh, ready to take on the Florissant Fossil Beds. Did you know that Colorado had redwood trees 34 million years ago, and they are now fossilized? We didn’t either. Thanks to Ranger Scott and Ranger Amanda, we learned all about fossilization and the many stories surrounding this wondrous area. We even got to be the first people ever to see the insides of shale (rock) being split open. It was exciting to know that we might be the first to see a newly discovered fossil from millions of years ago.

But, too soon it was time to go. Through partnerships and teamwork, this course brought many people together forging new friendships and creating lifelong memories. DSC_6701Thanks to our partners, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and Sanborn Western Camps, we listened to rocks and smelled trees.

View and download pictures of the Military Kids Project with Cottonwood Institute at the Shutterfly Picture Share Site.

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Written by April Pishna, Cottonwood Institute Instructor

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