| Ford Church

Cottonwood Institute


The Cottonwood Institute is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based
in Denver, Colorado that inspires students to change the world through
an exciting blend of adventure, wilderness survival, and environmental
service. We teach students the essential camping and wilderness
survival skills necessary to comfortably and competently explore the
outdoors, while providing them with the tools and resources to tackle
important environmental issues affecting their communities. We offer
high quality service learning programs for public schools and community
organizations that address education, youth development, civic
engagement, and environmental sustainability.


The vision of the Cottonwood Institute is to inspire a new
generation of young community leaders who are environmentally aware,
civically engaged, and who are empowered to make a positive impact
within their respective communities. The mission of the Cottonwood
Institute is to inspire students to change the world through an
exciting blend of adventure, wilderness survival, and environmental


The Cottonwood Institute achieves its vision and mission by inspiring participants:

  1. To change the world and become more involved with their
    community through our award winning environmental service learning
  2. To increase their awareness of local environmental issues,
    environmental sustainability, and how to reduce their environmental
  3. To develop essential camping and wilderness survival skills to comfortably and competently explore the natural world.
  4. To develop life skills, including problem solving, project
    management, logistical coordination, leadership, teamwork, and
    communication skills.


Having explained what the Cottonwood Institute IS, it is also
important to explain what the Cottonwood Institute IS NOT. The
Cottonwood Institute:

  • Is not a summer camp.
  • Is not a wilderness therapy program for at-risk or troubled students.
  • Is not intended to promote radical environmentalism or
    inappropriately influence political views or the political affiliation
    of students.
  • Is not affiliated with any religious institution or belief system.
  • Is not a boot camp or military-based program.


  • Eric Ellison, a graduate of 5 Cottonwood Institute courses,
    recently received a 4-year $100,000 Environmental Stewardship
    scholarship to Sterling College in Vermont. Eric is an excellent
    example of the community leaders we have inspired through the
    Cottonwood Institute.
  • Alys Hansen, a graduate of 3 Cottonwood Institute courses and
    several internships, was one of ten students to receive the 2007
    Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award through the City of Boulder’s Youth
    Opportunities Program.
  • We received the Colorado Alliance for Environmental Education
    (CAEE) 2006 Environmental Education Award for Excellence in the citizen
    and community category for the Community Adventure Program!
  • In 2007, we served 668 participants, logged 1,262 participant days,
    and recorded 10,778 contact hours with students through our
    award-winning educational and outreach programs. This represents a 68%
    increase over participants served compared to last year.


  • Cottonwood Institute educational programs combine service
    learning, environmental education, and wilderness survival skills to
    empower students to become active citizens and future community
    leaders. Students learn how to break out of the cycle of cynicism and
    act within the cycle of hope by increasing their awareness of the
    natural world, practicing outdoor skills, learning about environmental
    issues, and by gaining hands on experience to do something positive to
    address those issues. Because students self-select themselves into our
    programs and because our environmental service-learning projects are
    student-directed and not forced by teachers or adults, students have
    ownership in their project and are more empowered to do the best they
    can to address their issue. Students learn how to take the life skills
    and experience they acquire, including project management, leadership,
    communication, and teamwork, and apply this to other systemic issues
    facing their communities.
  • There is growing data, especially through Richard Louv’s book: Last
    Child in the Woods: Protecting our Children from Nature Deficit
    Disorder, that suggests programs, like those offered through the
    Cottonwood Institute, may help reduce the symptoms of Attention Deficit
    Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), improve cognitive abilities, stimulate
    creativity, reduce stress and depression, and address childhood
    obesity. The Cottonwood Institute is committed to making all of their
    educational programs accessible to public high school students and is
    seeking to develop partnerships with individuals, businesses, and
    foundations to help underwrite the costs of our educational programs.


The Cottonwood Institute was
founded by Ford Church, M. A. in September 2004. The idea for the
Cottonwood Institute came from his passion for the outdoors, his
commitment to the environment, his love for inspiring the youth of
America, and from his interest in giving back to the community. In
2003, Ford received a Master’s degree in Adventure Education from
Prescott College and created the Community Adventure Program as a
culminating project of his thesis. The Community Adventure Program has
been implemented at New Vista High School in Boulder, Colorado since
October 2003 and based on the success of the program and requests for
more programs from parents and students, Ford founded the Cottonwood
Institute and their summer programs approximately one year later.


To learn more about our Executive Director, Board Members, Advisory Board Members, and Instructors, Click Here.


The Cottonwood Institute is currently raising money to help
underwrite our educational programs through public schools and
community organizations in the Boulder/Denver area. To make a
tax-deductible financial contribution to the Cottonwood Institute and
to help transform the lives of high school students, please make all
checks or money orders payable to Cottonwood Institute and mail your
donation to PO Box 7067, Denver, CO 80207. For more information, click
on the Donate Online Now! link.


Ford Church, M. A., Founder and Executive Director

Download a copy of our Cottonwood Institute Information Sheet and share it with your friends and colleagues.

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