In Johnstown, PA, a steel community where mills have closed and poverty is rampant, the Benscreek Canoe Club works to foster education, mentorship and watershed conservation through its First Waves Program, which serves at-risk youth. In the third year of our We Can Grant program—which supports grassroots efforts to improve outdoor access—we are thrilled to award $10,000 to the non-profit group Benscreek Canoe Club, as they offer programming taking kids paddling near Johnstown.
On these trips, participants perform river clean-up work, study water and the effects of pollution, all while documenting the experience. Through the documentation process, youth participants learn writing, photography and video skills through instruction from professionals.
The aim of the program is to provide environmental education and skills through the act of paddling, and to foster action around local river conservation among kids who are effectively the future of their communities. By planting the seed of conservation, the First Waves program seeks to impart the importance of resource conservation to the next generation while teaching valuable skills.
“The First Waves program really exemplifies the aim of the We Can Grant, which is to support community based organizations whose work has a direct impact on the ability for people to access and enjoy the outdoors,” said Erika Canfield, Head of Marketing for Outdoor Research. “This year’s selection process was especially difficult because of all of the inspiring work we saw in applications for the We Can Grant. Ultimately, we loved Benscreek’s focus on enabling youth through environmental education and cleanup, outdoor instruction, and life skills that they could use in a future career path.”
Leaders at the Benscreek Canoe Club noted the positive effects the program has had on participants. “This program helps kids who don't have the means to do so on their own be able to have a new experience and be able to see that there is more to the world out there,” said Michael Cook, Professional Development Coordinator for the Benscreek Canoe Club. “We already see the positive impact that the program has on the existing participants. The turn-around in their mental health is amazing, and they begin to see that there is value to recreation and the outdoors. Previous participants of the program have gone on to become Eagle Scouts who then took on recreation based projects in the community outside of the First Waves program.”
As a brand, we at Outdoor Research have been working behind the scenes for many years to support organizations and programs that advocate from the top down for public lands and public-lands access. The ‘We Can’ Grant Program builds on this concept, but with a grassroots approach.
“The genesis of this grant is to support the people who leave things better than they found it,” Canfield said. “Often someone seeing something that needs to get done in their local community is the root of action that makes a real difference. This grant is about trying to help people and organizations realize that kind of small-scale but incremental and hugely important change.”