Throughout 2011 and 2012, Cottonwood Institute has been partnering with Casa de la Esperanza, a Boulder County housing community in Longmont. We have gone on day hikes, hosted movie nights, and worked on action projects. And finally, on the weekend of July 21st, we embarked on the best adventure ever – CAMPING! The forest of Calwood Outdoor Education Center echoed with the laughter of seven boys and four girls. This group of 9-14 year olds was accompanied by a team of four enthusiastic Cottonwood Institute instructors, three supportive parents and one awesome chaperone for two days of adventure and fun in the mountains above Boulder. This was the first time many of these students have ever been camping, so they were eager to learn about camping and setting up their tents. What began as a competition to see who could get their tent set up first, ultimately ended in teamwork as parents, instructors and kids all worked together to set up the tents.
After successfully setting up base camp we hiked down to a lake and had some great stone-tossing competitions. We explored around the shoreline and found caddisfly larvae crawling around, and then found hatched caddisflies landing on us! As we strolled along the shore we munched on wild mint and learned about the plants around the pond. After frolicking across the meadows of Calwood, we found a perfect place to play a game of camouflage, which quickly became everybody’s favorite activity of the weekend.
On our hike back to camp shrieks from a couple of the girls alerted us to snake sightings. We all gathered around to watch the little garter snakes slither through the tall grass. The games and activities continued well past dinner and into the evening. We played wildfire tag and talked about the impacts of fire in Colorado. Many of the kids were disappointed that we couldn’t have a campfire until the instructors whipped out no-fire-smores, glow sticks, and LED lights for a pretend fire. When our bellies were full of graham crackers with frosting and chocolate, we embarked on a night hike, where the initial fear of the dark was replaced by awe at the starry mountain sky. Not to be outdone by the darkness and yawns, we made time for a few rounds of the always exciting blind drumstalk activity, and finally exhausted, we collapsed into our tents for a restful evening under the stars.
Sunday morning dawned bright and early as the smiling Casa kids surrounded our tents, eager for breakfast and more adventures. Once we were full of oatmeal, we got our blood pumping by playing a game of Alaskan Baseball with Fred the Chicken toy, then headed over to our service project – fire mitigation. Everyone did a fantastic job hauling wood from the slash piles up the hill to the road. We were rewarded with watermelon and an energizing game of camouflage. Reflection time and a treasure circle helped bring our weekend to a close, but only because it was Sunday. If it was up to the kids we would still be there.
Thanks to The Brett Family Foundation, The Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, our donors, supporters, Cottonwood Institute instructors and staff, and the Casa de la Esperanza community for providing the students with this opportunity to enjoy and connect to the beauty of the outdoors!
Click here to check out a slideshow of the adventure.
Click here for Casa de la Esperanza’s report on the adventures. We are all in agreement – Can’t wait for next year!
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
- So many kids along the Front Range see the mountains every day and either never have been to the mountains, don’t have access to the outdoors in terms of gear or transportation, or don’t have positive role models that recreate outdoors. We believe that we can’t expect kids to care about the environment until we give them an opportunity to explore the outdoors.
- So many kids see local environmental issues affecting their communities, but don’t know how to help or think the problems are too complex for one person to do anything about. We believe that every student has the power to be a changemaker to do something positive to address the issues that they are passionate about in their community.
To address these issues, the Cottonwood Institute collaborates with schools and youth organizations in the Front Range to put together fun and engaging programs that connect kids to the outdoors and empower them to tackle local environmental issues to help improve their schools, the community, and the environment through our high quality, high impact environmental education and service-learning curriculum.
2011 has been a phenomenal year in terms of the new partnerships we have created, the students we have impacted, and the projects students have addressed in their communities. We are getting kids outside, inspiring students to become leaders, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and engaged in their community instead of sitting on the sidelines and feeling powerless.
- CI served over 350 youth, over 1,200 total participants, delivered over 13,000 program contact hours, and completed over 6,000 environmental service project hours through its educational programs, outreach programs, and volunteer projects.
- CI students were the recipients of the 2011 National Environmental Education Foundation Green Prize and received $10,000 to continue the sustainability initiatives they pioneered at their public school.
- Cottonwood Institute works primarily with schools and community groups that serve low-income students. While individual demographics vary based on each specific project, overall, 65% of our students were eligible for free or reduced lunch, and indicator of poverty.
To download a full copy of the report, including information about our Top 5 Programming Stories, New Partnerships, Testimonials, Demographics, Program Evaluation Data, Financials, and Top Supporters, Click Here.
The Cottonwood Institute would like to thank all of our students, parents, staff, instructors, board members, educational partners, donors, supporters, and cheerleaders for making 2011 such a success!
Ford Church, M.A. Founder and Executive Director
This has certainly been one of Colorado’s hottest summers, but that did not deter the Buckley Airforce Base Youth Group from going out to the woods for a weekend of adventure and learning with the Cottonwood Institute. On June 23rd they departed to the Colorado Lions Camp and Conference Center outside of Woodland Park near Colorado Springs to brave the heat and wander the woods.
After setting up camp, the group dove quickly into learning about fire skills and shelter building. Fire became a big topic on this course, as the kids witnessed the beginning of the Waldo Canyon Wildfire. They watched the column of smoke grow and billow, coming face to face with the knowledge that fire can affect anyone, anytime, anywhere. Knowing their location was safe from the fire, the students were eager to learn more about nature and survival.
The afternoon brought on a two hour exploration starting in the ponderosa pine forest and winding down into a ravine to a boggy, willow-filled environment. This became the highlight of the course. The students found some intriguing bones and spent a good deal of time asking questions and speculating as to what had happened, what animal they were looking at, what gender it was, why it died, etc. Nature awareness was also brought into play as the group observed and identified the different plants in the changing environment.
To wind down the weekend’s events, each group member shared a story, leading into unique and interesting conversations, including a discussion on what it means to connect to nature. Although the course was short, the adventures, lessons, and friendships built will last forever. What more can you ask for?
We are very thankful to all of the donors and supporters who made this course possible for these military youth, especially the Markham Vineyard’s Mark of Distinction Program, which helped fund this project. But don’t take our word for it, check out this short thank you video from our students:
Written by Kelly Muller. Edited by April Pishna.
The long lazy days of summer has just begun, but a group of 12 West Denver Prep Lake Campus students decided to give up a few of these lazy days for an adventure at Mission:Wolf (MW) this past June. MW is located near the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountain range just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado. It is a wolf sanctuary housing up to 40 wolves at one time, relying on staff, volunteers, and groups to help maintain the property, feed the wolves, and of course, give them special attention.
After packing up all the gear and food, we piled into the van, and with snacks and cold beverages at hand for our 4 hour drive, we were off. It only took about 2 hours to hear the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” but thanks to the tunes, the giggles, and the wonders of air-conditioning, we made it up the steep hill and into MW, bright blue sky, blazing sun, and all.
We were all excited to meet the wolves, but there was even more excitement to help feed them when we started hearing whispers that we were going to help butcher a cow that had recently died. (Local ranchers donate their deceased horses and cows to help the costly expense of feeding the wolves.) This excitement held strong the entire 4 days we were there, even while setting up tents, basecamp, and creating our outdoor kitchen. These kids were far from done for the day, so we set out on a short hike to Carcass Canyon to explore the variety of bones leftover from the many wolf feedings, played a game of camo in the waning daylight, and then hiked back to base camp for some good old fashioned hot dogs. Still not worn out, with the stars lighting our way, we headed out into the night for another hike, where we became familiar with our surroundings by using nature awareness skills and night senses.
Morning came a bit too early for all of us, but the howls of the wolves were our alarm clock and after a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausages, it was time to hike up the hill where we helped feed the wolves and setup the groundwork for a new horse fence. After lunch we managed to motivate this young group of city slickers into creating some amazing debris shelters and even had them participating in and understanding the importance of a sit-spot. One student even went so far as to say, ‘That was the most relaxing thing ever.” Never doubt the importance of a sit spot. But our day was far from over. The kids heard the rumors that the cow was about to be butchered, and we spent the next two hours being both thrilled and disgusted watching this intricate, bloody, yet necessary task. This was both the highlight and lowlight (the smell was awful) of the trip for most of the kids. Although it is quite rough to watch, it is an amazing opportunity to experience first hand the full cycle of life and food and while the kids may not fully comprehend that yet, they will never forget it.
Our last full day was spent helping out around MW, feeding the wolves, playing games, making journals, reading stories, and more importantly, finally meeting the wolves. While wolf kisses were limited, smiles were not. No matter how hot it is or how tired you may be, it is always an uplifting experience to walk into the wolf enclosures, sit down, and be face to face with an actual wolf. We ended our final day with another night hike longer than the first and with a great deal more excitement. While it is uplifting to meet a wolf, it is even more uplifting hanging out with 12 year olds who do not camp and who turn down the outdoors to watch tv or play video games on a regular basis, but will go excitedly on a night hike without flashlights; laughing, singing, hot chocolate-filled city kids having the time of their life in the middle of no where, having only stars and their voices guiding the way. Amazing!
Due to the heat of the day, late nights, and kids who are not used to the outdoors, motivation was lacking at times. But once these kids tried something new, many were genuinely interested and when given a chance and encouragement, they worked hard and listened attentively. But wait, we had one last hurrah on the drive out of MW. “Look! Way off in the distance! Is it a dog, is it a fox? No, It’s a BEAR!” Lessons learned from this trip: put yourself in the right place at the right time and always try something new!
As always a great big thanks to Mission:Wolf for hosting us and giving the kids rides up that long, steep hill. They loved it!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!