The genesis for the idea of City Kids, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, dates back to when I was a kid, growing up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, a suburb outside of Washington, DC. Early on, I had academic challenges. I realized that I didn't learn the same way that other kids did, so I felt different. Sitting in the classroom, taking class after-class, day-after-day, I did not feel I was absorbing the information. I had a difficult time staying still at my desk, trying to learn the traditional way. So, needless to say, I didn't have tremendous academic success.
Just like me, my father grew up in D.C, so he knew the community well. He sponsored people to help them with their struggle to confront their drug and alcohol addiction issues and in their desire to stay clean and sober. I would go with my father to the inner-city, which exposed me to an entirely different way-of-life. These experiences were some of my strongest memories, seeing how my father made a real impact in others' lives.
Because learning the traditional way wasn't working for me, my parents and I looked for a school that offered a more empirical experience. We found such a school in California that offered a nontraditional method of learning—a hands-on experience in the great outdoors. Although my surroundings changed, my personal challenges did not. Something clicked when I went to one particular school, a school that had an outdoor leadership program. I was exposed to group discussions, hiking, self-discovery and leadership programs. I uncovered skills within myself that I never knew existed and I finally found something that I could relate to. This program helped me feel like I finally fit in.
After college, most of my friends knew what they wanted to do as a career; however, I did not. All I knew was that I wanted to do something meaningful, something that I would enjoy and a way that I could give back to others in the community. This was an essential component.
In the beginning, I wasn't sure of my plans so I began to conceptualize my idea. Gradually I formed a more concrete concept and mission – "To help other boys and girls who are affected by life and personal challenges with a way to cope and rise above those challenges." The overall goal was to spark inspiration, provide practical life skills, instill self confidence and build character in at-risk kids. City Kids is all about equipping the kids with the necessary tools and knowledge to achieve personal, educational and career success in life.
So I started pitching my idea to various organizations like the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington, Martha's Table and the Cafritz Foundation. I just took to the streets, walked in, introduced myself and explained my idea to them. Some organizations put me off while others were receptive but skeptical. Being persistent, my mix of passion for this idea and my feelings of personal empowerment enabled me to get City Kids up and-running.
My wife and I had previously lived out West, so we knew the mountains would be a special place to launch our efforts. Within a short period of time, we found ourselves in Wyoming looking for an ideal location for City Kids. Just landing at the airport and getting off the plane was a breathless experience. I literally was at the foot of the snow-capped, awe inspiring Grand Teton Mountain Range. Not a cloud in the sky, I was hit by the cool, crisp mountain air that was devoid of Washington D.C's congestion, honking horns and tall buildings.
"…I now find myself building an organization that positively impacts other kids' lives who started out just like me. Knowing that we made a real difference in these young peoples' lives makes City Kids all worth it.
I then set off on my quest to find the most special place. I soon discovered Broken Arrow Ranch, which was nestled in between the Hoback River and the Grand Teton National Forest, seventeen miles south of Jackson, Wyoming. Soaring through the deep blue sky, I saw large hawks whose screeches echoed off the mountains; I smelled the scent of fresh pine trees; and I heard the swooshing of the river against the jagged rocks that sliced through the water's strong current. I was among the otters, ospreys, bald eagles, muskrats and elk that grazed in the plains. I felt one with nature. It was a transformative experience.
Broken Arrow Ranch, although close to town, is a secluded area. Actually, people who drive by Broken Arrow never even know it's there – even people who have lived in Jackson for twenty years. When our City Kids arrive at Broken Arrow Ranch they are immersed in the tranquility of the great outdoors. The kids are exposed to everything from kayaking, camping and rock climbing to spotting wildlife, swimming or just relaxing in a hammock, being engrossed in self-reflection while watching spectacular sunsets whose blended, pastel palettes create a different painting each day.
This serene and private setting allows the kids to take personal risks and engage in self-exploration – all in a safe, protected wilderness surrounding that is dramatically different from their familiar urban environment. Whatever is going on at Broken Arrow Ranch is special, and kids and counselors are a part of it. Our City Kids are challenged to get outside of their comfort zone, push themselves and get immersed in a lifechanging, hands-on experience. Planning, preparing, performing… our formula applies not only to the wilderness, but to the journey of life.
Since 1997, City Kids has grown exponentially as we've expanded our program to include year-round support to the kids. Now my greatest joy is when I receive letters from alums who provide updates of how the program inspired them and how their experience at City Kids helped them shape who they are today. Whether you're climbing the Grand Teton or embarking on a new business venture, our kids learn skills that will get them to the top. By keeping alive the spirit of what our kids learn at the Ranch, they will be able to achieve boundless success in life.
Among the many City Kids success stories, one stands out because it struck such a personal chord with me. This one particular child started out as a very quiet kid with no goals for herself and no idea as to what her future would bring. After experiencing everything that nature had to offer, she just graduated college, she has a focused direction and is excelling in life. I followed a similar path as I now find myself building an organization that positively impacts other kids' lives who started out just like me. Knowing that we made a real difference in these young peoples' lives makes City Kids all worth it!