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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 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 and environmental service.


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.


The Cottonwood Institute has four primary educational programs:

  1. Community Adventure Program:
    Is a coed elective class for adventurous public high school students
    that teaches them essential camping and wilderness survival skills and
    how to tackle local environmental issues through an engaging
    environmental service learning curriculum. Students go on hikes, attend
    overnight camping trips, brainstorm local environmental issues, choose
    and issue to address as a class, participate in discussions about how
    to change the world, and collaborate with other local organizations to
    design and implement a student-directed Action Project to positively
    address their issue. Our award-winning curriculum is a huge hit with
  2. Summer Courses:
    Are week-long coed courses that provide students with the opportunity
    to practice essential camping and wilderness survival skills, explore
    future careers, learn about specific environmental issues, complete
    meaningful service projects in the backcountry to tackle those
    particular environmental issues, and learn how to reduce their
    environmental footprint. Courses include Essential Survival Skills, the
    Horse Caretaker Project, the Stone Age Survival Project, Endangered
    Wolves and Animal Tracking, the Wildland Firefighter Project, and the
    Mt. Harvard Volunteer Project.  
  3. Design Your Own Course:
    Is a flexible 2-hour, 1-day, or multi-day format for schools and
    community groups to meet their educational goals and objectives by
    collaborating with the Cottonwood Institute. Students practice
    essential survival skills such as friction fire, natural shelters, and
    winter survival skills and participate in hands on activities to learn
    specific environmental issues affecting the mountains of Colorado, such
    as wildfire mitigation, invasive plants, and environmental
    sustainability. Course models are based on our Summer Courses or we can
    create something unique for your group. These custom courses are an
    exciting way to ignite a passion for learning, while exploring academic
    concepts and achieving educational objectives outside of the classroom.
  4. Outreach Programs:
    The Cottonwood Institute provides two free outreach programs to spread
    the word about the Cottonwood Institute and to help achieve our
    educational goals. “Change the World Movie Nights” are free monthly
    events that occur in Denver and Boulder where we collaborate with local
    businesses, show films about environmental issues, and facilitate
    meaningful discussions about how to change the world. We also offer
    free interactive Survival Skills Clinics at local outdoor retail stores
    where participants learn survival priorities, tips, strategies, and


  • 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 2006 we recorded 695 participant days and inspired 392 students
    through our educational programs, volunteer projects, and outreach
    programs. This resulted in a 281% increase in students served from last
  • Received a $4,892 grant from REI to purchase gear to help increase
    the accessibility of our courses to students who do not have the proper
    equipment to participate in our overnight programs.

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 that 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.

a class, our main goal was to educate ourselves and our community about
Zero Waste and we accomplished this on several levels. As volunteers
for the Farmer’s Market and Eco-Cycle, our class walked around and
educated almost 700 people during their last Wednesday market in
October. Several artists in our class designed a T-shirt to increase an
awareness of Zero Waste at our school. We created a skit and preformed
it for over 350 students and teachers in the New Vista community.
Finally, we put together a flyer to distribute to businesses that
produce a lot of waste (i.e. local coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) to
educate them about Zero Waste on a larger scale. To put it another way,
13 teenagers educated almost 1,000 people in a little over two months.”
From a Zero Waste Article written by Gillian Warren, CAP Student.


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, go to: www.CottonwoodInstitute.org and click “Donate.”

Ford Church, M. A., Executive Director
Email Us
Tax ID #: 20-1822172

The Cottonwood Institute is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt non-profit
organization based in Denver, Colorado that inspires students how to
change the world through an exciting blend of adventure, wilderness
survival, and environmental service.

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