Big City Mountaineers

Not all of the booths here at the Outdoor Retailers Show are in the business of selling stuff. Along the top of a balcony, near the escalators, sits row of non-profit booths set up to champion their various outdoors causes, from conservation to trail access.

While on my quest to gather stickers for the Truckster, I happened across one of these booths and was impressed with their mission. The name of the organization is Big City Mountaineers, and their focus is providing urban teens with wilderness experiences.

It sounds like a simple operation, but honestly BCM is not in the business of loading groups of teens on busses and hauling them up to the hills. They've developed a one-on-one mentoring program, which connects a single teen with their own outdoor specialist for a mountain climbing adventure. By having their own guide to teach and assist in their mountaineering trip, the entire event takes on a big brother approach. The overall goal is a "recreational mentoring opportunity" that holds great personal challenges and learning opportunities.

BCM was founded by Jim Kern after he took a teen from one of Miami's poorest neighborhoods on a back packing trip along with his son and another adult. The teen was challenged in ways he had never been, or ever could be growing up in the inner city. Upon seeing the positive effects of this trip on the young man, Jim decided to found Big City Mountaineers for the purpose of offering this type of experience to other teens from "under resourced" backgrounds.

Andrea Nance, one of the representatives I spoke with at their booth, said that many of the kids they work with are some of the poorest in the nation. "It's an opportunity to provide them with an entirely different perspective of the world," She explained, "They learn to overcome amazing challenges on the mountain, which later translates to confidence in their normal lives."

Each trip involves 5 adult guides matched with 5 teens. BCM works with other pre-existing organizations to find teen candidates, targeting youth organizations in urban centers. Finding the adult guides is not as structured of an approach. Big City mines its extensive sponsor pool for experts interested in leading trips, and also gets a large word of mouth exposure. Interested outdoor experts can apply online through BCM's website.

As it is with all non-profit organizations the biggest struggle is always funding. Traditionally, Big City has relied on charitable contributions and corporate sponsors. Recently, however, they have set forth a self sustaining program called Summit for Someone, to fund their efforts perpetually.

Summit for Someone allows those of us interested in a unique mountaineering experience to both fulfill that desire and fund 5 inner city youths on their own adventure. For raising $2500 or donating it directly, you can experience a guided climb of one of the nation's well known peaks. Here in 2005, these trips include Mount Whitney, Mount Shasta, Mount Hood, Mount Olympus, and Mount Rainier. Along with your trip you receive $1700 worth of outdoor gear, from sleeping bag to helmet to sunglasses, all of which has been donated by BMC's many sponsors.

The money raised from Summit for Someone, is then used to fund the youth outdoors program for the under resourced city teens. "It's a win-win deal," noted Greta Oberschmidt, the other BMC rep at their booth, "You receive full-blown guided mountaineering adventure, complete with gear you keep, and in the end 5 inner city youth are provided with a similar experience that they will remember their entire life."

Personally, I feel the efforts of Big City Mountaineers are quite noble. Nothing gives you the feeling of accomplishment and a sense of awe as climbing a mountain and sitting on the summit. By giving under privileged kids, who cannot escape the confines of the inner city, such an opportunity BCM is helping change the world one person at a time.

Huge Props from the Expedition4am Crew and Timex-- Keep up the good work Big City!!

- rob k

To donate, get involved, or learn more, go to their websites: . . . or . . .