Quarterly Communiqué – February 2020

From Our Executive Director

By Natalie Hausman-Weiss

I recently found myself watching what was one of my favorite childhood movies, “The Wizard of Oz.” I realized that as an adult, my understanding of the movie was drastically different from when I was in elementary school.  As an adult, my interest lies in the lion who lacks, or so he believes, a heart. The heart of bravery. The willingness to stand up for what is right and good and just. It’s the motif of movie-making, story-telling and the plot lines of countless comic book heroes.  It’s indeed the theme of many of the greatest real-life stories of The Woods Project.  Overcoming fear or blisters, anxiety and exhaustion when faced with a “challenge hike,” or the many challenge hikes to come.  Grit. Tenacity. Perseverance. Adaptability. All essential qualities we seek to elicit in our students, and reinforce with our leaders. 

But there is another expression of the heart that is equally powerful and at times more difficult to engage – and that is stepping up and stepping in.  There are thousands of adult staff members at schools throughout Houston who enjoy their own outdoor adventures, but only some who step up and step in to become part of our mission.  They see the world as it is and they choose to act to make it better.  This is the greatest heart-filled act of a volunteer… to respond with action to the pangs of wishing to make a difference.

Every day, I see this in our TWP staff.  Every week or month, weekends or summer, I see this courage manifested by our extraordinary adult volunteers who give their blood, sweat and tears (literally) as a response to their notion that we are here on this earth to make life better for all of us.  And recently, I am all the more moved to see it in our TWP students.  Their determination to get the job done. Our gear inventory/maintenance day at the warehouse, two weeks ago, inspired me.  Not only did our students and alumni “show up.”  Not only were they present and “situationally aware.”  Their hearts were so full, they burst forth into acting.  They were proactive. They worked together.  They smiled.  They bonded and re-bonded, knowing that every little thing they did made a difference, no matter how small it might have seemed in the big picture. 

To me, courage is the willingness to step up and step in, remaining faithful and determined that the many small acts of individuals working together is really the only way things of value and purpose and longevity have ever gotten done.

College and Career Readiness Fair

As a part of our mission to provide underserved students with opportunities to develop critical skills for success, The Woods Project recognizes the need to outfit students with appropriate resources, tools, and mentors to access new trails and destinations. The Woods Project is excited to host its first College and Career Workshop on Saturday, February 22.

The event will include six sessions, providing students with interactive workshops where they will gain skills, knowledge, resources and opportunities that will help prepare them for life after high school. Sessions will focus on creating and accessing opportunity and scholarships, financial literacy, resume building, interviewing skills, diversity and inclusion in green fields, and a panel exploring career pathways in conservation, natural resources, and environmental sciences. 

Session presenters include:

Rickey Freirson

Director of Diversity and Inclusion

Warner College of Natural Resources at Colorado State University

Rody Grant

Director of Human Resources

Spark Energy

Heather McCullough

Talent Acquisition Manager

Spark Energy

Juan Rocha

College and Career Readiness Advisor

Stephen F. Austin High School

Kim Sorenson

Statewide Diversity Engagement Coordinator

Outdoor Education and Outreach, TPWD

Marsha Towns

Partnership Director

Gulf Coast Student Conservation Association

Champ Warren

Managing Director, Private Wealth Advisor

Merrill Lynch, Bank of America

Throughout the event, participants will have the opportunity to network with peers and professional representatives. HEB and The Woods Project will be providing snacks and lunch. Door prizes for the event will include TWP swag, luggage for travel, and a Chromebook. The event is open to current high school students, and space is limited. For more information or to reserve a space, please contact Michael Valdez at michael@thewoodsproject.org.

Walk for The Woods Project

Come support The Woods Project and our amazing students at the 9th annual Walk for The Woods Project presented by ENGIE, a morning of community, fitness, and fun! This scenic walking tour will take you on a journey through Houston’s historic East End, where you will meet some of our students and hear about their life-changing experiences with TWP. Cross the finish line and enjoy live music, food trucks, raffle prizes, and other activities for the whole family. Join us Saturday, April 25th, at BakerRipley Ripley House!

New Trailheads Scholarship Winners!

“Whoever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.”

Tara Westover, Educated

Stepping off the bus and feeling the soft crunch of earth beneath their boots, students with The Woods Project become part of a complex ecology. For two weeks, whether along the Olympic Peninsula, situated in the Desolation Wilderness, or kayaking between islands within the Apostle Islands National Seashore, our expeditions provide students with a distinct classroom to develop traits critical for success in school and life. At the conclusion of those two weeks, they board their buses, catch their flights, and return home to Houston. And while (thankfully) they leave behind the dirt, grime, and smells of their travels, they return home with new ideas, interests, and knowledge to carry them forward.

An important distinction between National Parks and National Forests — the former focuses on preservation and the latter on conservation. In the beginning, students carry the weight of these words in their minds as they discuss them in abstract. Throughout the course of two weeks students become witness to these concepts in practice. When the weight of your life is shouldered in a backpack, conservation and preservation become more than an overarching concept for classroom discussion. Blisters on your feet beg critical questions about needs and wants.

Our alumni carry these questions as they evaluate their own complex ecology in high school and beyond. What relationships do we preserve? How do we conserve our efforts? What tools and resources do we have to maintain what we’ve built? The New Trailheads Scholarship was formed as an initiative by our Junior Leaders Program (JLP) to identify and address barriers to higher education. Our Junior Leaders comprise students who have completed at least 1 traditional trip, are still in high school, and demonstrate a commitment to developing their leadership and the program.  Through the efforts of our JLP, The Woods Project is proud to distribute 3 awards for the 2019-2020 program year to alumni continuing their education through our New Trailheads Scholarship.

Alumni submitted essays and recommendations in consideration of these 3 awards, 2 at $500 and 1 at $1,000. Applicants were asked to tell their story of TWP’s impact on their journey and to compile a list of their ten essentials in search of higher education. References were asked to evaluate which of TWP’s critical traits our applicants most displayed. 3 candidates stood out among the rest and are our recipients for this year’s New Trailheads Scholarship.

Susana, 18

Independence & self-control, critical thinking, grit & perseverance

University of Houston

Alumni of AAMA Sanchez Charter School

Attended Yosemite 2019

“Cloud’s Rest showed me how strong I am. I was able to see the backs of the birds flying around us and from that moment I realized I was almost indestructible.”

Adam, 18

Critical thinking, grit & perseverance, environmental awareness

University of Houston

Alumni of Sharpstown International High School

Attended Glacier 2018, Apostle Islands 2019

“Concentrating my breath while backpacking up a mountain in Montana to tapping into every ounce of my determination paddling a loaded kayak against the unforgiving currents of Lake Superior were all moments of overcoming adversity that have made me become a more formidable version of myself.”

Jennifer, 20

Grit & perseverance, zest & curiosity

Carleton College, Posse Scholar

Alumni of Chinquapin Preparatory School

Attended Glacier 2015, Donner 2016

“I took in the view of the lake before me and breathed out. I felt free. All my worrying disappeared and was replaced by acceptance and love for myself. Love that had been poured into me by my group.”

2020 Spring Weekend Trips

Roses are red, mud is brown, the woods are better than any night on the town.  – Earl Dibbles Jr.

March 6 – 8

  • Kayaking at Lake Livingston State Park
  • Backpacking at Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary

March 27 – 29 

  • Camping at Brazos Bend State Park
  • Backpacking at Sam Houston National Forest

April 3 – 5

  • Hiking at Stephen F. Austin State Park
  • ​Backpacking at Sam Houston National Forest

May 1 – 3

  • Kayaking at Martin Dies Jr. State Park with Junior Leaders Program

If you are considering volunteering for the first time, please attend our weekend leader orientation session on Wednesday, February 12th from 6:30 – 9:00 PM. More information and RSVP here. If you have questions about volunteering or the orientation session, please contact Miles White at miles@thewoodsproject.org.

Volunteer Spotlight: Chuck Thrall

Who: Charles “Chuck” Thrall is retired from career life but has become a key member of The Woods Project’s daytime volunteers. Chuck’s background in engineering has made him our jack of all trades. When a new system needs to be developed in the warehouse, he always comes through!

What: 2019 Texas State Champion Warehouse Wrangler of the Year

Where: You can find Chuck sitting with students after a hard day of backpacking; comparing hardships and accomplishments, the overcoming of fears, and their excitement for the days to come. Having done motorcycle trips all over the world, solo and group backpacking of distances up to 220 miles, plus all sorts of other traveling, new locations are nothing new to Chuck. The fact that TWP trips still manage to excite and challenge such a seasoned traveler is a testament to our program and something that Chuck has described as a “rewarding and enlightening” lifetime experience

When: Chuck started volunteering with us in mid-2017. He has been to almost every warehouse-related activity since that time, and he has gone on two summer programs and nearly a dozen weekend trips.

Why: Chuck’s love of the outdoors guided him towards our organization, but our surprising and electrifying students have consistently kept him coming back. Chuck believes that The Woods Project’s students have taught him just as much as he hopes they have learned from him. He has said that he feels like he is a more open and outgoing person directly because of the students he has met and mentored on our trips.

What next: Chuck is probably at the warehouse organizing and rehabbing tents as you read this, or tweaking the excellent tent drying system that he designed for us this fall. He believes that TWP has shown him a different view of what the ‘young people’ of the world can accomplish, far different from the views he commonly sees on the news or TV. Chuck currently plans on attending his third summer trip, in a row, later this year!