Small gifts go a long way

Ashley Siple demonstrates that there are not small gifts.
Mary Hsue Mary Hsue
September 18, 2015

The best part of my job is visiting with donors. It’s satisfying to see a donor’s reaction to the stories I share about the various ways that she has made an impact on the community with her contributions. But it’s even more gratifying to hear how donors began their love affair with the outdoors and what inspired them to make their first gift to The Mountaineers.

Most of my visits have been with our most generous donors who have given large gifts or who have planned for a future gift by leaving a bequest for The Mountaineers in their will.

But they aren’t the only ones making a huge difference in our
organization. Featured in this article is a budding philanthropist who currently gives modest gifts, but meaningful ones considering where she is in her life path. This young philanthropist is Ashley Siple — someone who made her first gift within a year of joining The Mountaineers.

From volunteer to member

When I asked Ashley how she became involved with The
Mountaineers, she was delighted to remind me that it started
with me. She said, “You reached out to me in late 2011 when you were looking for volunteers for youth programs!”
Ah yes, it all began innocently with a mass email to my climbing friends when we were in need of volunteers to belay kids at a few Mountain Workshops sessions.

Ashley’s first volunteer opportunity for a Mountain Workshops session was with culturally-diverse John Muir Elementary School. It was meaningful for her because she grew up in the Rainier Valley and attended John Muir. Take a look at the photo she proudly shared of her kindergarten class, and you’ll see that the school was just as diverse then as it is today.

After meeting other volunteers, education staff and learning
about our various course offerings, Ashley decided to join The
Mountaineers in 2012 to take the crag course. “I had a great
mentor who took me on some amazing hikes and challenging
alpine and rock climbs, but I was more of a follower than a leader at the time. I wanted to learn how to lead multi-pitch climbs, set up anchors, and generally how to be independent out there.”

For the next two years, Ashley returned to volunteer as an
instructor for the crag course. ”Of course, Caitlin and Becca
continued to reach out to me whenever they needed volunteers for youth programs,” she said. “I plan to volunteer more for the youth programs, now that partner relationships have matured to the point of incorporating off site adventures, like snowshoeing near Snoqualmie Pass, climbing at Exit 38, and hiking at Wallace Falls.”

Giving time to help youth achieve success

When Ashley talks about what inspires her to give so much time
to youth programs, she says, “It’s always been the kids who feel like they can’t do something or think ‘I’m not built for this or made for this.’” She adds, “Tailoring your instruction so that you find a way for a kid to succeed is gratifying. When I belay a kid, I feel like I’m teaching that kid an important lesson: when you set a goal, there’s always a way to achieve it.”

For the kids who have a natural ability or who excel quickly,
Ashley works to keep climbing fun so kids remain can challenged and grow. “It’s amazing to see these kids overcome an obstacle over a short period of time.” She observes, “You’re seeing fear but you’re also seeing the exhilaration of staying in the challenge zone,” and adds, “if a kid achieves a goal, you can see that she has gained a sense of satisfaction from accomplishing something that seemed impossible.”

Ashley says it’s similar to what she feels when she’s out there,
high on a rock wall or near the summit of a mountain. “The
extreme focus required to keep everything that’s scattered and going rapid fire in your head is intense. For me it always comes down to one moment that requires the kind of focus that quiets all other thoughts in your head.” She says, “If you seek out that focus, you get higher and keep pushing. If you reach your goal, it’s exhilarating but the sense of calm that accompanies that endures for the rest of the day.”

Providing access she wished she had

As far as her motivation for making her first gift to The
Mountaineers, Ashley says, “Kids in the Mountain Workshops
sessions are not members. Their parents are not members. They can’t afford life’s expenses much less dues, so they don’t have access to the same things we have access to.” She explains, “It’s up to donors to ‘pay the dues’ for these kids to participate and be introduced to something like rock climbing and nature, so they can realize all the benefits of the program center, volunteers, staff and the things that come with membership – like learning John Muir Elementary School kindergarten class of 1988."

Thinking back to her time at John Muir Elementary, “We had
field trips, but nothing as awesome as coming here to spend
an afternoon rock climbing or learning about the outdoors.”
She say says with a smile, “We had a fish tank – we had a turn
feeding the fish. That was our outdoor education.” As a child,
Ashley’s dad took her on one camping trip and they spent some time being in the woods. “We didn’t really hike and I didn’t know anything about the geography of Washington despite growing up here.”

“By giving to The Mountaineers, I’d like to see more kids bridge that gap between spending an afternoon here and making the leap into going into wilderness,” she adds, “and realize that there are ways to participate in activities even if their parents or friends are not enabling them to do that.”

Growing up, Ashley had music and art as extracurricular
activities. She says, “As a kid, I wasn’t into team sports and
didn’t develop exercise habits. If I knew how fun it could be to
get strong and be challenged and have a physical dimension to
an extracurricular activity, I would have been more active as a child and teen. I feel like I’m catching up on lost time outside.”

She closes with, “You don’t realize until later what a privilege
it was – having the opportunity to even begin to develop as
passion for something – a sport, music or art. And how being
good at one thing, resonates through your whole experience of
life. Those opportunities were open to me. I’d like to see those
open to others with my donations to The Mountaineers.”


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