Impact Giving | Ascending to New Heights: South Sound Youth Programs

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, read about the undeniable impacts of our South Sound Youth Programs made possible by our incredible youth education team and the generosity of our donors and funders.
Alfe Wood Alfe Wood
Associate Director of Development
April 09, 2024
Impact Giving | Ascending to New Heights: South Sound Youth Programs
2023 SAMI students backing trip at Lower South Fork Trail. Photo by RyAnn Peverly.

On a wintry Saturday in Olympia, Claire Edwards, Mountaineers Youth Program Associate Manager, is getting kids and families stoked on snowshoeing during the “Ice Days” event at the Hands On Children’s Museum. It’s equal parts wonder, chaos, and pure delight as participants attempt walking in snowshoes on top of makeshift “snow.” While most participants have never snowshoed before, many leave excited to try this new activity with their family in real snow.

Makeshift “snow”shoeing is one example of how The Mountaineers partners with organizations to customize Mountain Workshops — donor-supported developmental, educational, and wellness programs that provide transformational outdoor learning experiences for youth who face significant barriers to outdoor recreation. Since 2011, we’ve strategically partnered with Puget Sound-area schools and youth-serving organizations to provide outdoor educational experiences such as hiking, rock climbing, stewardship projects, and more. We’ve invested in the South Sound specifically in recent years to partner with 37 organizations to give over 7,000 youth outdoor experiences, thanks in large part to the work by Mountaineers staff members Sarah Holt, RyAnn Peverly, and Claire Edwards to establish new and long-lasting community partnerships.

ig 1.PNGLeft: Claire Edwards. Photo by Kristina Cirillo. Center: RyAnn Peverly. Photo by Kristina Cirillo. Right: Sarah Holt. Photo by Georgia Beard.

Getting youth outside is more important than you might realize

Getting kids outside has become an increasing priority for The Mountaineers, and for good reason. In 2023, researchers from the Aspen Institute found that fewer than one in five youth (19%) in Pierce County meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for physical activity (one hour each day). Moreover, this finding is lower than both the state (23%) and national averages (24%).

The consequences of spending less time outdoors are sobering. Without adequate “green time,” youth are at higher risk for sleep problems, attention disorders, childhood obesity, and mental and emotional disorders such as anxiety and depression. Outdoor experiential learning programs are critical because youth who spend more time outside experience life-long benefits in physical health, mental wellness, creativity, school engagement, and home life. “We’re trying to reach as many youth as we can,” said RyAnn Peverly, Tacoma Youth Programs Coordinator. “We want to show them there’s possibilities outside of what’s in their known world and that you don’t have to go too far from home to be able to do those things.”

The South Sound team’s work is supported by research as well. Studies have found that students who participated in outdoor education programs showed significant gains in interest in conservation, positive environmental behaviors at home such as recycling, and social benefits such as peer connection, community, motivation, and attitudes about school.

Tacoma MAC Member Kat Curry at Vantage, WA. Photo by Kevin DeFields..jpgTacoma MAC Member Kat Curry at Vantage, WA. Photo by Kevin DeField.

South Sound Mountain Workshops are meeting the need... and more

We designed Mountain Workshops to support youth to be courageous and vulnerable alongside a supportive community. The impacts we see are undeniable: when young people have a safe place to push their limits and engage in productive struggle to achieve common goals or overcome fears, they gain renewed confidence, hope, self-esteem, and a life-long interest in outdoor activities. Two educators and long-standing Mountain Workshops partners, Colin Horak from James Sales Elementary and Harris Levinson from Tacoma Science and Math Institute (SAMI), report that many of their students who participate in Mountain Workshops have increased classroom engagement and academic performance. “The Mountaineers helps us form a community so that those students know they are safe even as they ascend to new heights,” said Harris.

The unwavering value of outdoor spaces and its power to create thriving communities is also evident in our partnership with AMARA – an organization that supports children, adults, and families experiencing foster care. Last summer, we facilitated a Mountain Workshop for middle school-aged youth intended to address the stressors of experiencing foster care. RyAnn led participants through activities such as urban hiking, identifying local plants, creating nature journals, and forest bathing. Campers were encouraged to talk about what they heard, felt, and smelled while in nature, and then shown how those skills could be used to center oneself during stressful times without venturing far from home. Through experiential learning opportunities at Mountain Workshops, youth develop a deeper appreciation of health and wellness for both people and place and build critical skills as they become the next generation of leaders and change makers.

Beyond Mountain Workshops: Accessible year-round programming

Another space where South Sound youth gain confidence in the outdoors is through youth clubs such as Mountaineers Adventure Club (MAC), a year-round program for high school students. “The ongoing depth of experiences is so important,” shared Sarah Holt, Associate Director of South Sound Programs. “When we see kids day after day, multiple times a week, they get a chance to dive deep into a skill and gain enough experience that they feel confident to do an activity on their own. It becomes a part of who they are.” While the cost to enroll in youth clubs like MAC can be out of reach for many, Sarah and her team make it a priority to share scholarship opportunities through the Mountaineers Access Program (MAP) that make these programs more accessible.

Leo Brownawell climbing at Squamish, BC 2023. Photo by Kevin DeFields..jpgLeo Brownawell climbing at Squamish, BC 2023. Photo by Kevin DeFields.

Prior to 2023, Leo Brownawell had taken little interest in climbing, but during his high school senior year, Leo’s stoke was ignited during a multi-week Mountain Workshop at SAMI, where Mountaineers instructors helped him navigate the challenges of climbing. Encouraged by his teachers, Leo applied for and was awarded a scholarship to enroll in our MAC program to pursue the sport. After graduating from that program last September, Leo is now an avid climber and volunteer at his local climbing gym. There, he launched an adaptive climbing night for adaptive athletes to build community and explore climbing. As an adaptive athlete himself, Leo wanted to reach out to other adaptive climbers, create community, and raise awareness of adaptive climbing.

Leo credits his confidence and leadership skills to the support he received from his teachers, the Tacoma Mountaineers, and his time in MAC. “I was able to flourish and fully experience much more than just gym climbing.” Leo said. “My teacher-mentor encouraged me to start the adaptive climbing nights. Without their help and their long-standing relationship with The Mountaineers, those nights wouldn’t have happened. MAC also encouraged me to be a leader. Being an older member, I took on a leadership role for younger students and stepped up multiple times to give direction and make sure everyone was safe and having a great time.”

Your support makes this work possible

Many of our region’s children face significant obstacles to outdoor recreation. Through the generosity of donors and funders, our youth education teams are able to serve communities in the South Sound, Kitsap, Bellingham, and greater Seattle area with co-designed programs to increase the amount of time spent outside by youth, and address common barriers to outdoor recreation such as financial cost, access to transportation, gear and clothing, and trained instructors. “We want the outdoors to be a place where kids can show up as themselves without judgment and be outside with other people,” Claire said. “Mountain Workshops and our youth programs provide a way to give youth and families confidence that the outdoors is accessible.”

To learn more about or support youth programs and scholarships, visit change to

This article originally appeared in our spring 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.