SheJumps Force of Nature Program: Opportunities for All Girls

Last summer, SheJumps was awarded $25,000 from REI as a grant for the Force of Nature program. REI committed $500,000 towards it’s goal to “advance gender equity in the outdoors and encourage millions of its members to embrace the outdoors as “the world’s largest level playing field.”” You may have seen some of our posts on social media about it.

REI’s grant to SheJumps enabled us to materialize our vision for a more inclusive and diverse outdoor community. This program challenged the barriers that prevent a more diverse population of girls from the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities.

We started by developing a strong relationship with a community organization in Salt Lake City, Utah, called Hartland Community 4 Youth and Families (HC4YF). HC4YF serves a diverse community in West Valley of Salt Lake City through after-school and soccer programs. SheJumps provided 28 Hartland girls (of whom identify as non-white, immigrant, or refugee) with a year-long series of outdoor educational experiences, supported by more than 45 volunteers who submitted applications to be a part of the program.

Wild Skills Basics (a national SJ program) teaches basic First Aid, as well as navigation, shelter building, Leave No Trace, and the 10 Essentials.

Starting with a Wild Skills: Basics course where we taught first aid, Leave No Trace, 10 Essentials, navigation, and shelter building, the Force of Nature program went on to explore climbing, skiing, camping, and hiking. We did a total of 13 excursions with the girls: indoor climbing (4 times), introduction to camping at REI store, skiing at Alta (4 times), hiking, yoga, Wild Skills day camps (2 times), and a 3 day camping trip to Canyonlands National Park. Part of this program was also funded by the Outdoor Foundation’s initiative, Parks4Kids.

SJ Force of Nature volunteer Kayla Bobzien helps a participant understand the value of chalk when climbing.

Momentum climbing in Sandy generously hosted four indoor climbing sessions for our Force of Nature program funded by REI.

Introduction to camping night at REI was a great way to get introduced to gear and passionate outdoor women.

Learning from the team at REI during our Introduction to camping session.

The idea for how this program would work—and how we plan to replicate it in our other regions—stems from our intention to increase diversity in the outdoors. Our vision is to build enduring relationships with community organizations already focused on diversity and inclusion. Many community organizations like HC4YF do important work in our communities, but lack the resources to provide outdoor education, outdoor activities, and opportunities to engage with their natural surroundings.

Berenice Yanez (left) is a graduate of our SheJumps into the Canyon ski program and has since become a dear friend and supporter of SheJumps. It was incredible to have her attend the camping trip as a leader and a woman of color.

Finding some shade in the desert with friends. L to R: Leslie, Xitlali, and Yasira.

The Census Bureau projects that by 2042 there will be a majority minority population in the United States. According to the 2017 Outdoor Industry Association participation report, 73% of outdoor participants are Caucasian, while only 10% are Hispanic. These are factors that contribute significantly to the future of the outdoors (especially preserving our national spaces) as we know it. James Edward Mills, author of The Adventure Gap writes: “If outdoor enthusiasts are mostly white, then a shift to a “majority minority” population in the United States could mean bad news for the conservation movement.” Essentially, if we don’t do something now about the lack of participation in the outdoors from diverse communities, outdoor communities as we recognize them today will not only shrink in size, but so will the influence and sentiment protect and conserve natural spaces.

Mesa Arch: our first desert hike as a team!

The vision SheJumps has for building a bridge with these organizations and communities is to provide consistent mentorship from volunteers in a multitude of activities. This exposure to the outdoors is crucial to spark passion for outdoor activities, instill the importance of environmental awareness and sustainability, as well as inspire young women to pursue a career in the outdoors through access to positive female role models.

Volunteer Beth Lopez celebrates a powder day with her new friend from the SheJumps Force of Nature program.

It’s not as if SheJumps or REI were the first entities to declare that there was a lack of diversity in the outdoors, and obviously it’s still a problem today given the participation report from the OIA. It’s inspiring and pivotal to see groups and media outlets like Native Women’s WildernessOutdoorAfro, Natives Outdoors, Brown Girls Climb, Latino Outdoors, and Brown People Camping (just to name a few). Claire Smallwood, our executive director who wrote the grant, penned the several-page application over a span of several weeks and says, “I felt a lot of emotions while applying for the funding, including fear of failure. I was constantly re-evaluating what would be a realistic use of funds while still providing tangible opportunities. It was daunting at the time and I wanted to be sure that this program was not just a one-off experience for the girls, and would actually set them up for a lifetime of outdoor adventure.”

10th Annual SheJumps into the Canyon youth skiing program. We offer the program to Boys & Girls clubs of Salt Lake as well.

We are in the process of applying for an additional REI grant and we know that this is just the beginning of this story.

We are using this partnership (and what we learned from it during this past year) to develop the groundwork for collaborations with more organizations who specialize in supporting diverse communities in other areas of the country. One of our organizational goals is to be the leading provider of free and low-cost outdoor education for women and girls across the country. We believe our programs must be available for everyone, and that our work is not completed until all women are represented regardless of their race, background, ethnicity, or ability.

If you are a woman of color or interested in supporting our efforts towards a more diverse and inclusive outdoor space, please contact claire@shejumps.org 

A rainy Saturday in May we took the Force of Nature team to Lisa Falls, showing that sometimes you can’t let a bit of weather stop your adventures.

We took inclement weather and lack of snow for snowshoeing and turned it into an awesome introspective yoga experience—the first time for many to try yoga!

Claire (executive director) and Erica and Josie washing dishes in the desert during the Moab camping trip.

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit” —Edward Abbey