Home Events + News Local Non-Profit Team Wilderness Empowers Hudson County Youth

Local Non-Profit Team Wilderness Empowers Hudson County Youth

by Jordan and Joelle Hernandez
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Promoting confidence, consideration for peers, passion for the world we live in, and resilience in youth — both as an individual and a group — are some of the main goals of Team Wilderness. Team Wilderness is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization offering wilderness experiential education programs for underserved youth in Hudson County. We had a chance to connect with Steve Cunningham, Founder and Executive Director, to learn more about Team Wilderness. Read on to understand the mission of the organization and how to get involved.

team wilderness hudson county

(Photo credit: @teamwilderness)

Getting Started

Team Wilderness was founded six years ago. Steve shared more about how the organization got started. “In 2016, we launched with the mission of growing teamwork, leadership, and character within our urban youth through wilderness excursions,” stated Steve.

He went on to say, “We do this through summer programs and after-school programs.” The programs offered include activities like hiking, backpacking, and rappelling as well as nature photography. Over the past six years, Team Wilderness has provided hundreds of students with the opportunity to experience the outdoors.

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Outdoor Adventures

Team Wilderness understands the importance of getting outdoors. Steve shared why this was chosen as the focus. “There is a strong body of research confirming that direct contact with nature increases mental health, decreases toxic stress, and increases focus, positive thinking, and self-confidence,” shared Steve. “Children and teens benefit from experiences in nature more than any other population, particularly in the area of academic performance.”

 

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(Photo credit: @teamwilderness)

While many parents, guardians, and educators understand the importance of outdoor activity, various factors can prevent these experiences for certain populations. Numerous studies show that youth and teens living in urban areas of New Jersey are three times less likely to experience nature. “Reviewed as a whole, this information paints a bleak picture for our urban teens. This nature gap has a devastating impact,” shared Steve.

Building Courage

Many of the trips planned by Team Wilderness allow students to experience activities they may have never considered previously. While this can be an exciting opportunity, participation requires a great deal of courage and collaboration. “Many of our trips can be physically taxing and require a great deal of teamwork,” said Steve.

He also told a story about a student who overcame a fear in the middle of a rappelling trip. “Our rappelling trips are very unique from our other excursions,” Steve mentioned. “It is by far the easiest physically as it doesn’t require much exertion or stamina. However, rappelling down a sixty-foot rock can be an incredible mental challenge. During one rappelling trip, one of our teens froze as he was descending and refused to continue down. He even kicked off his shoes as he did not want to continue.”

The collaborative and supportive environment built by the members of Team Wilderness allowed this student to accomplish his goal. “The rest of the group yelled up to him to encourage him, but for minutes, he would not move. He eventually summoned the courage and rappelled down the rest of the rock. When he got to the bottom, he immediately hugged the first person he saw, and minutes later, he called home to proclaim, ‘I was scared, but I did it.’” Steve finished by saying that the student, along with everyone else on the trip, was inspired by the outcome.

Impact

team wilderness hudson county

(Photo credit: @teamwilderness)

After-school and enrichment activities are proven to support the overall well-being of students. Team Wilderness makes a difference in the lives of its students. “The impact on our teens is tremendous. 95% report that the experiences increased their confidence to deal with adversity in their personal and academic lives, and 82% report that being in nature helped reduce their stress,” shared Steve. Just like the student overcoming his fears on the rappelling course, students are able to take what they learn at Team Wilderness into other aspects of life.

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Getting Involved

Team Wilderness can have such a strong impact on the community through the generosity of donors and volunteers. There are various ways to get involved in the organization as an individual and through the corporate program. “We conduct employee engagement programs on corporate-sponsored trips. During these, employees volunteer as a mentor for a day by being paired with one of our teens during a trip. Those interested can contact us to inquire how to have their employer become a sponsor,” Steve told HG.

Team Wilderness hosts quarterly events to engage with volunteers and sponsors. Finally, donations can be made to the organization at any time through the website here.

Team Wilderness is changing the lives of youth and teens throughout Hudson County, one outdoor adventure at a time.

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