Quarterly Communiqué – April 2017


A Message From Our Executive Director

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By Natalie Hausman-Weiss

In President John F Kennedy’s famous “Moonshot,” speech to the United States Congress, he did not say how we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade; rather, he told us that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.

At The Woods Project, we didn’t foresee that a participant in one of our first summer trips would attend Middlebury College; graduate with a degree in International Politics and Economics; co-found a non-profit focused on leadership and business training for women in Tanzania; and hold the position of Enterprise Manager with a Texas-based non profit dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty for youth across America.  No, we couldn’t have known that.  But we did know that she and so many others like her could reach the moon, if she was given a meaningful boost out of what kept her moored in a lack of opportunity.

During this alumna’s first TWP summer experience, a Park Ranger shared with her group a quote by Margaret Meade: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  Sitting on the forest floor of Glacier National Park (a moonshot away from her regular life), a bit exhausted from a day of trekking up and through mountains and in conditions she would never have conceived of on her own, this inspiring young student remembers thinking to herself, for the very first time, “I can change the world.”  And indeed this young lady has.

With just a few weeks to go until the 6th annual “Walk for the Woods Project:  It’s Not Just A Walk In The Park,” it is worthwhile acknowledging what this event is and is not about.  It is not about setting our organization apart from or above other worthwhile organizations in Houston nor will it define our success or impact.  It is however, The Woods Project’s most important fundraiser of the year and it does have an impact on the growth and outcomes of our organization.  This event along with everything we do, even the wilderness trips themselves, are part of a grand and audacious “moonshot” that dares to dream that our kids can discover and develop all that they need, in order to place their flag on their seemingly impossible moon.  The first step along that journey is to create the opportunities, possibilities and unique circumstances that inspire them to raise their eyes towards the moon (and stars) in the first place.  Then, its “just” a matter of mechanics.  And that’s why we need you.  Sign up now to walk with our students at the “Walk for The Woods Project!”  The only thing standing in the way of their moonshot is a bit of generosity and the will to dream on their behalf.  I look forward to seeing you there!


Spring 2017 Weekend Trips

During the spring and fall, The Woods Project takes high school students and volunteer adult leaders on weekend trips in wilderness areas near Houston. On these trips, students apply the skills they learned in The Woods Project Club Program, like how to pitch a tent, communication, how to cook a meal on a backpacking stove, wilderness first aid, team-building, how to pack a backpacking backpack, leadership, and wildlife identification. Students help cook and clean up after meals, as well as sleep outside in tents and go the entire weekend without their cell phones, immersing themselves in the nature and people around them. Weekend trips prepare students for the flagship component of The Woods Project: the 2-week summer backpacking experience.

This spring, 227 students and 96 leaders participated in 8 weekend trips in 4 wilderness areas:

  • Huntsville State Park
  • Galveston State Park
  • Brazos Bend State Park
  • Sam Houston National Forest

They did a variety of activities across the 8 trips including camping, fishing, canoeing/kayaking, backpacking, mountain-biking, hiking, and team-building exercises.  Check out some photos from this spring’s weekend trips!

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Backpacking in Sam Houston National Forest
Backpacking in Sam Houston National Forest
Fishing at Brazos Bend State Park
Ocean kayaking at Galveston State Park
Cooking dinner while backpacking in Sam Houston National Forest
Ocean kayaking at Galveston State Park

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Kayaking at Huntsville State Park
Sandcastles at Galveston State Park
Backpacking at Sam Houston National Forest
Mountain biking at Brazos Bend State Park
Campfire while backpacking at Sam Houston National Forest
Backpacking at Sam Houston National Forest

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2017 Student Essay Contest

1st Place: Emmanuel Salas

Emmanuel Salas profile picEmmanuel Salas is a Senior at Northbrook High School and has been in The Woods Project since 2015. He has a passion for the outdoors and nature, despite growing up in the urban city of Houston. Not only is he into nature, he is also into photography, computers, journalism, and volunteering. Emmanuel attended the 2016 Summer Trip at Yosemite National Park and plans to study Environmental Science at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.


Forever a Memory: The Journey of a Lifetime

At 7,783 feet above Yosemite Valley, a group of high school students, who once were complete strangers, became friends in a way none of us could have imagined. It was a strange phenomenon for me because I have never opened up to people before, let alone a group of random high school students. Surrounded by beautiful nature and wonderful people, I grew the courage to speak from my true self, without censorship.

On July 13th, while in the middle of my two week backpacking trip, I was told by my teacher that one of my closest friends, Hudson, had passed away due to a rare brain-eating amoeba. I cannot recall any time I shared any form of sadness with others before, and this put me in a very painful and uncomfortable situation. Without communication to the outside world, and without anyone to talk to, I felt isolated with my pain. There was not much to be done about the situation, however I made a decision to journey forward. I was given the opportunity to skip our team activities, but the idea of becoming even more isolated by refusing to open up didn’t seem appealing anymore. I didn’t want to overlook why I was there, after all, I had everything I needed to overcome despair. I was surrounded by two of the world’s most comforting creations, humans and nature. I couldn’t imagine anywhere else than in nature to open myself up to others.

Two days passed after the news was quietly spread at the Yosemite campground, and whatever positive attitude I struggled to obtain at this time was really taking a beating. Looking forward to the backpacking that week, I can remember my thoughts that early morning as we hiked into wilderness. Memories of Hudson were inspiring to me, and I knew he wouldn’t want me to feel hopeless. I wasn’t mournful because I knew he was in a better place, somewhere much more beautiful than any form of nature could compare to. I had never experienced a loss before, and I was in unchartered waters, but I kept my happy attitude on, reminding myself that nothing good has ever come from hopelessness. I finally began bonding with my Yosemite group, but I was still hooked on the belief that nobody understood the situation I was going through. I hadn’t yet released the burning sensation of grief, but I had to keep the mindset that I had the power to overcome challenging times. The two weeks of intense backpacking and strenuous climbing made me forget about the sadness, I had something to take my mind off of it, and the people to help me as well. Being in this location was a privilege, and I wanted to take in as much of the environment as I could without anything holding me back. I soon realized I was not the only one to have gone through this before. Throughout trails and in the midst of night, I began talking and communicating with others about Hudson, but I was also able to learn more about their own personal lives. I listened to their own stories, whether it was about a loss or about the absence of a father in their lives, they all found their way out of it. I could tell how awkward of a situation I was in, but I am thankful for being able to have such wonderful individuals who were willing to speak to me and share their thoughts.

The final days at Yosemite went by fast, our hikes became trails of jokes, puns, laughter and singing. We told each other hilarious stories about high school and played trail games along the way to our destination. Without being a part of a group like this, I would not have been able to overcome my despair, let alone be able to speak to somebody about it. Not only that, but being surrounded by the deep wilderness of Yosemite opened up by perspective on the beauty of nature. From the vast amount of sequoia trees and endless trails on the ground to the view of the Sierra Nevadas towering in the distance whilst atop Yosemite Falls, it was breathless. Never before have I experienced such a wide range of emotions, from despair and pain to love and appreciation, it was a lot to take in.

Nearing the end of an astonishing week, it was almost as if I had known my new friends for years. With the time spent together, I learned to appreciate all that nature had to offer, and also appreciate the friends I had made. In just a few days, I became comfortable with these strangers and I learned to adapt to my condition while surrounded by nature. By that time, everyone understood the spectrum of what I was going through. During our final activity, I was to take a stone and carry it with me to the top of our climb, it would represent a burden that I left behind during my journey on this trip. Nearing the end, I shared with everyone what I was thankful for, the time we spent together and all that they had done for me, and a burden I planned to leave behind. It took longer than I expected, but I left behind my inability to share emotions with anyone except myself. I rarely speak to my closest friends on an emotional level, but I was able to bond and speak freely with strangers and overcome my state. This changed my perspective and proved to me that I’m not alone in these situations. There was no more negativity, no more isolation, instead there was comfort and gratitude. The fact that this two week emotional and physical journey brought out my inner-self simply because of the location and individuals, speaks to the role that nature played in changing my life.


2017 Student Essay Contest

2nd Place: Erika Corona

Erika photo 2 My name is Erika Corona. I’m a proud member of the Future Business Leaders of American and also part of Sharpstown International symphonic band. Not only do I strive to set high standards in my community, in my learning, and behavior but also plan on sharing my skills and dreams with the world by becoming an exception leader for the future.


Life Changing

It all started with trembling hands and a stomach full of butterflies as I boarded the flight to the most memorable summer I have ever experience. In the summer of 2016, I got the amazing opportunity to go to Donner Pass, located in California, for a two-week hiking trip with The Woods Project. There, I was able to learn many strengths I had never known I could attain. My ability to persevere and most of all to be able to think through critical situations, were unleashed every day that passed, just like the sweat rolling down my face that sweltering summer.

At the beginning of our adventure, we stopped at the most beautiful lake I have ever seen, Lake Tahoe. It was our first hike there, and I was still getting used to the fact that I needed to rely on myself to keep pushing and moving forward. With burning thighs and about ten mosquito bites on my face (which I found out later that the bites made a perfect outline of my forehead) I kept motivating myself knowing that sights of green and blue would only get better as I moved on. The hardest challenge to overcome at that moment were the pesky mosquitos. Yes, we had mosquito repellent, but these mosquitos were persistent! As soon as one mosquito bite stopped itching the next thing you know, another itch started magically appearing in the middle of your forehead.

On a real note, though, every day was a lesson learned. For example, when the leaders took us all on a day hike to Mt. Tellac, we were all so tired, since we had hiked all morning already and then another one; we were ready to drop. We were more than halfway up the mountain when one of the boys mentioned something along the lines of “this view is more than enough. I think we are good with this view, can we stop now?” and our leaders gave a lesson I’ll never forget and that is “the view gets better at the very top, never settle for less, always be persisting and you’ll see that the view will just keep getting better,” and boy, it was. Land stretched as far as I could see; the sky was completely clear, and the best part was looking down at how far we had come and breathe in all the hard work paying off with such a wonderful sight. This moment marked me forever. I knew if i didn’t give up on something I was passionate about, it will pay off at the end, no matter the sleepless nights or the aching muscles, the view will always and only get better with enough perseverance.

 Not only did the trip up Mt. Tellac teach me a valuable lesson, but also the trip coming down revealed leadership skills I never knew I had. In our group, there was the combination of three groups, the very athletic ones who would leave the group behind, the ones who would hike a pretty average pace while enjoying the sights, and the one who would struggle a little or had a bad leg with a hotspot. Being a band geek instead of the athletic girl, I was the average pacer. The group started making its way down and, of course, the Speedy Gonazales’ started getting further and further away from us. I stopped for a moment and realized that three others were following me, and I saw no leader behind them.

The first thing that came to my mind was ,“oh snap the group separated and these kids are following me,” my mind raced, and my eyes wandered to nearby bushes and started recognizing some of the purple flowers from when we came up. “Yes, we are on the right track,” I thought. As I started to recognize more and more flowers and pathways we had taken earlier I realized there was some whispering behind me. I got the sense that they felt uncertain and knew that we are probably lost. I quickly reassured them the path was that way knowing deep down I may be wrong, but I kept convincing myself that as long as I reached the lake we would be safe. Over twenty minutes of leading the group with no map and just my quick thinking, I saw a glimpse of the lake and let out a huge breath of relief. I clearly remembered our tents being setup nearby the lake and knew right there we were safe. People say that being quiet is something you need to let go, but that day at that moment, I found it to be a blessing because my quietness brought me to pay more attention to my surroundings rather than the small talk about how they wished they could take a hot shower. I was able to retrace my steps and most importantly keep my group calm even though I doubted myself for a split-second. I was a leader that day and for my first time; I think I did pretty well. That night the small group I led thanked me for taking them down the mountain safely, and I felt really good knowing I successfully brought them back.

In the end, I’m thankful for this opportunity that was given to me because without the advice and the new discoveries I made about myself, I would not have broken out of my shell. I thank The Woods Project and all the new friends I made for making me more of a confident person who, in the near future, will also lead a summer trip one day and will be more than good at it. I’ll be great.


2017 Student Essay Contest

3rd Place: Davion Zeno

My name is Davion Zeno and I am a Senior at Heights High School in HISD. This is my second year with the Woods Project and I have been on two summer trips (Yosemite and Donner Pass, California). I’m the captain of the football team, President of Black Student Union and The Woods Project, Vice President of DECA, Social Committee Chairman of the Gents, and a member of Young Life (a Christian club for teens), the track team, and student council.


In my first 2 years of high school, I only did what was asked of me, really only the bare minimum. I was a football player and that was it. I was content with just doing enough to get by.  Then it happened, a teacher asked me to go to California with The Woods Project for the 2-week summer trip.  He thought it would help me step out of my shell.  I was skeptical. Really, really skeptical. They were asking an inner-city football kid to go live in the woods for two weeks.  Mr. Young was asking me to go against everything I had believed in. Live outside? Why would I do that? I have a nice comfortable bed and HD T.V. air conditioning, running water, HOT running water. There’s no reason for me to sleep outside in a tent with people I barely know…and I couldn’t help think about the uncertainty of being attacked by a bear, but I stepped outside of my comfort zone and agreed to go Donner Pass, California with The Woods Project anyway. I had no idea that it would transform my way of thinking and help me as a person, grow.

This was my first time getting on a plane and it is something that I will not forget because I believe that it was not only my first time flying but the pilots first time flying as well because I personally believe that he graduated from pilot school the day before. There was so much turbulence. I still remember the first day, not knowing a single soul.  I remembered thinking, “What did I get myself into?”  Little did I know, these students and I would be creating a connection and a bond that is going to last a lifetime.  This was two years ago and I still talk to them today. The times we had were challenging, amazing, exciting, educational, and adventurous, it was so unique and life-changing, I run out of adjectives to describe the experience. Although I will be friends with my backpack group forever, I’ll have to admit, we did have our rocky moments.  For instance, there was a lot of “controversy” in the distribution of supplies to carry for the one week of backpacking.  There were a lot of things we had to carry in the backcountry:  tents, sleeping bags, and food for the whole week.  Our packs were about 40 lbs.  It was really hard to decipher who carries what because people’s strengths and abilities were different.  And no one wanted to feel like they were working more/harder than the others.  Our problem solving and social intelligence skills were definitely put to the test and strengthened because we started working together as a team. We ended up swapping gear as the trip went along. Once we were able to communicate and put differences aside, we were able to do anything.

For Instance, we all got up at five am with the goal to summit a mountain.  At first, no one wanted to do it.  The leaders were trying to get us excited about it but it was just a no go.  The map told us that it was two mile hike there with an elevation of about 9000 feet. Mr. Young tried to cheer us on but every time he started to talk the whole group just gave him the look like ‘”Not Today”. He knew we were strong enough and that we could do it. We just had persevere through. It wasn’t easy.  There were many times we had to stop & rest, and some people didn’t think they could continue but he made us push through.  Yes, I’m a football player but that climb was not a 40 yard dash. It was intense.  I still remember Mr. Young saying that he knew it was tough but he believed in us.  He would speak motivational words and it honestly did help.  It was a LONG, STEEP, climb to the top, but we did it!  At the top, everyone instantly lit up. Ten high school kids back from the dead. We all laughed and played and took pictures. The accomplishment of summiting Mount Tullach was like no other. Mr. Young told us “It was important to keep moving forward. Every step we took, took a lot of energy out of us but you have to overcome.

“Nothing in life is easy.”  I took real thought and consideration to what Mr. Young said and I’ve tried to apply it to life. What I got from it was: “If you are at a point in life and you feel as though everything is easy, as if you can handle everything, you’re not growing as a person.”

Before the trip I was comfortable and always did the minimum of things just to get by.  I wasn’t living up to my true potential.  Since the trip I have been way more active in the community. I have joined many clubs at my school. I’m the president of 2 (one of which is The Woods Project club), Vice President in another and member of another 3, all while being the captain of the football team and having a job. I face many challenges, there are days when I only get a couple hours of sleep because of studying, work and as a senior, I am also spending time filling out college applications.  The Woods Project has taught me that I have to take on and overcome new challenges.  And that I have to persevere through the tough days. Those days are going to make me stronger as a person and prepare me for the next challenge and upcoming adversity. I’m going to remember overcoming the hike up Mt. Tullach and being on top of that mountain, looking back at how far I had come. I can still remember the moment of realization that if I can climb Mt. Tullach at 5am in the morning, I can do anything.


New Summer Trip! Apostle Islands Alumni Leadership Program

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What: Sea Kayaking, Leadership Focus, and Career Development

Where: Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

When: June 13 – June 27, 2017

The Woods Project is excited to announce a special opportunity for our alumni – a sea-kayaking and leadership-focused summer program to be held at a new location: Apostle Islands!

In 2017, TWP will be piloting a new initiative specifically designed for TWP alumni (students who have participated in at least one TWP summer experience) who have been identified and nominated by their teachers for a high level leadership development opportunity in the Apostle Island region of Lake Superior. Twenty-five TWP alumni will spend 9 days in front country development including hiking, sea kayaking and leadership, and then will complete a 5-night backcountry experience involving island hopping in tandem sea kayaks. Students will participate in leadership training which allows them to identify and practice their own personal leadership styles. They will also participate in team building exercises and attend an Outdoor Career Academy where they will be exposed to and learn about a variety of outdoor careers and participate in interpretive sessions with National Park rangers and other outdoor wilderness professionals. Student participants will manage and lead all aspects of the wilderness experience and will be assigned camp duties and chores from cooking and cleaning to leading hikes. They will also receive paddling orientation and safety instruction, participate in wilderness training, explore sea caves, cedar and old growth forests, experience wildlife in the region and hike to waterfalls rarely seen.

The Apostle Islands are home to 21 islands and 12 miles of preserved lake shore on Lake Superior in Northern Wisconsin! The Apostle Islands are known for its collection of historic lighthouses, sandstone sea caves, a few old growth forests and natural animal habitats. We are excited to offer this new adventure!


Thank You Donors! April 2017

The Woods Project is so grateful for the incredible financial support we receive from a variety of entities, from young professionals and retired couples, to corporations and charitable foundations. No matter the amount, each donation makes a difference in the lives of the students we serve. With your support, we can continue to bring more disadvantaged Houston-area high school students in to the woods, to gain confidence and overcome obstacles in order to reach their full potential. To all of our donors, we thank you!

(Donations posted between 1/1/17 and 4/19/17)

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Foundation Donations

  • Andrew Delaney Foundation
  • Brown Foundation
  • Harris County Department of Education
  • Herzstein Foundation
  • Reuhl Family Foundation
  • Samuels Family Foundation
  • Stephen M. Seay Foundation
  • The Tapeats Fund
  • Wayne Duddlesten Foundation

Gifts

  • ACG Houston Inc.
  • Bruce Armstrong
  • Chris Williams
  • Jennifer Lorenz
  • Jim & Ann Jackson
  • John & Jennifer Vogel
  • Lorraine Peterson
  • Naomi & Charles Black
  • Paula & Irving Pozmantier
  • Robert Downey
  • Robert Frahm
  • Scarab Trading Inc.
  • Steve Scott

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2017 Walk For The Woods Project

  • Allyson Kopel
  • Alton Shipley
  • Amdreas Seuffert
  • Amerisource Funding, Inc.
  • Andrew Acevedo
  • Anita Ying
  • Ann & Malcolm Ross
  • Annie Quan
  • BakerHostetler
  • Bank of Texas
  • Bette Santa Maria
  • Brent Bersin
  • Brittany White
  • Bud Light/Silver Eagle Distributors
  • Caitlin Campbell
  • Caitlin McSunas
  • Carlton Cook
  • Carl Stutts & Tessa Lesley
  • Champ Warren
  • Christina & Jorge Cantu
  • Cigna
  • Claudia Johnson
  • Conor O’Donnell
  • Critz Cullen
  • Donna Beard
  • ENGIE North America
  • Erin Bersin
  • First Service Credit Union
  • G&A Partners
  • Garver Foundation
  • Gary Powers
  • Greg McCarthy
  • Harper & Pearson
  • Harriet Wasserstrum
  • Ivonne Rodiles
  • James & Nan DeGhelder
  • Jan Franz
  • Jean Kegler
  • Jennifer Nelsen
  • Jill Honkola Karlgaard
  • Joe & Kim Knill
  • Joe Jimenez
  • Josh Meisel
  • Kathryn Rappaport
  • Kathy Ploch

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  • Katie Jewett
  • Katy Murray
  • KPMG
  • Larry Gibson
  • Lituania Palacios
  • Madeline Bingamon
  • Marian Hilpert
  • Marjorie Geuther
  • Mark Wong
  • Mary Ann Braubach
  • Matthew Bechelli
  • McGuire Woods LLP
  • Michael Frewer
  • Michael Seuffert
  • Michelle Dadourian
  • Mike Garver
  • Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
  • Nancy Frank
  • Natalie Hausman-Weiss
  • Neil Braunsdorf
  • Nora Murphy
  • Oscar Villalva
  • Pamela Mendoza
  • Patrick Rocha
  • Patty Simmons
  • Robert McLaren
  • Roberto Villafranca
  • Robin Wein
  • Robyn Davis
  • Sam Clark
  • Sarah Flournoy
  • Sarah Van Beck
  • Scott Van Beck
  • Shannon Frank
  • Sheri Bechelli
  • Sherrie Lecrone
  • Space City Credit Union
  • Spark Energy
  • Steph Bradley
  • Sue Ann Bersin
  • Thompson & Knight Foundation
  • Tomiko Olah & Braxton Knopp
  • Trevor Johnson
  • Vita Picchi
  • William Meisel
  • Zimei Fan

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