Quarterly Communiqué – September 2019

From Our Executive Director

By Natalie Hausman-Weiss

Standing at our campsite in the Salt Creek Recreation Area on the Olympic Peninsula, having just pitched our tent, my husband, Scott and I couldn’t help but be moved by what we saw – and in fact, it didn’t take long for Scott to join in. TWP kids at PLAY! They were playing ultimate frisbee and tag and cards, and others were telling stories and jokes, and another couple of boys were just sitting on a log outside their tent, looking up at the sky. We were watching kids being kids in this brand-new world of the woods, and while in days to come, this world would present significant challenges that these kids would struggle to overcome, at that moment it was the greatest and safest playground they had ever seen.

Peering over the Strait of Juan De Fuca to the north and Crescent Bay to the west, the Olympic Peninsula was utterly breathtaking.  Its lush and towering tree canopies and its stunningly watercolor sky, mountains and streams, not to mention no humidity and cool temperatures felt like literal gifts from the heavens (especially when coming from Houston!)  And yet these weren’t the most beautiful things we saw. These terrific TWP students really know how to play games, dive into meaningful ideas, reach out to international exchange students who were participating in similar experiences, and dream of building their own lives better than their circumstances would generally predict. These TWP students were, by far, the most beautiful “sites” we witnessed.  Outdoor, interactive games that require running, chasing, yelling, hiding, cooperating, adjudicating, sneaking, and so many other “ings” that I know they, like frankly far too many of their peers, no matter their socio-economic situation, don’t get to do often enough.  They played a game called “Camouflage,” in which one person closes their eyes and counts to 10, during which time the other students run as fast as they can towards “the Counter.”  But once the Counter reaches 10, they open their eyes, and anyone they can see, who hasn’t “camouflaged” well enough to be hidden, gets called out and has to go back to the starting spot.  The game is athletic and engaging and fast-paced – but what I loved the most – was the shrill of giggling that filled this massive forested space.  The many deer and I were quite entertained by this bunch of silly kids playing silly games and feeling the beauty and intensity of childhood coming to life.

Yes, of course, these are young adults, and we are committed to providing them with experiences that will allow them to shift courses and improve their life trajectories so they can do better at school, skillfully navigate their lives with confidence, receive gushing letters of recommendation, and have access to limitless opportunities to live their best lives. But at that moment, what I loved was watching our TWP children at play!  Summer 2019 in Olympic, Donner, Yosemite, Glacier and the Apostle Islands once again changed lives.  And it also reminded these budding adults that life is only worth it if it makes you laugh, smile and giggle, even if just a little bit, each and every day.

2019 Summer Recap

168 Houston high school students experienced life-changing trips, along with their more than 50 volunteer leaders, thanks to your help! This year, we ventured into a new location in Olympic National Park in Washington, and rediscovered the beauty of Yosemite National Park and Donner Pass in California, Glacier National Park in Montana, and the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin. Throughout the year, The Woods Project relies on the support of our schools, donors, volunteers, parents, and so many others to achieve our mission. Everyone involved, from packing dehydrated meals, to resupplying first aid kits, to attending Wilderness First Aid training, to teaching club program, to volunteering as leader during weekend trips, and so much more, all play valuable roles in our student’s experience. From the moment students arrive at the airport, as early as 3:30 am, through being picked up, sometimes delayed to the following day, there are countless first time experiences that allow them to look back on their trip, applying what they learned from their challenges, lack of creature comforts, friendships, and so many new skills, to pushing themselves just a little further and harder to accomplish a goal they did not think would be feasible. Whether pursuing a job they don’t think they are qualified for, applying to the school they are not sure they will get into, or looking for future experiences to get outdoors, travel, and grow as individuals within their communities, TWP students have the developed critical life skills and drive to reach for new heights. From the bottom of our hearts, we cannot begin to express our gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the success of our program and the future success of 168 high school youth.

Building the Leaders of Tomorrow!

The Woods Project operates entirely on volunteer support, especially during the summer trip season where our tiny staff of 6 soars to over 50 staff and trained volunteer representatives. In 2019 our summer leaders included 4 alumni that have been part of every step of The Woods Project’s program. These leaders started off as students in club programming during the school year – where they learned skills from team building to how to pack a backpack. Next they went on fall and spring weekend trips, traveling with 40-60 of their fellow students to get a taste of our program and how beautiful Texas can be. Later they went on summer trips all over the country where they experienced airplanes, mountains, snow, and all sorts of animals. These students came back and were recognized by their leaders as exceptional, and were chosen to participate in TWP’s Junior Leaders Program (JLP). During the school year these JLP students go on monthly trips that range from camping to rock climbing to leadership exercises. Through JLP, the students built on their leadership skills and honed them during The Apostle Islands summer trip. All of these students went on to secondary education after high school and have maintained close contact with our program. During the 2019 Summer trip season they were chosen and trained with all of the other volunteers we take on and helped to lead backpack groups in the wilderness. We want to spotlight these 4 individuals for their years of work to get to this point and for the years ahead that they will lead students to success showing, firsthand, how our program can affect the students we serve.

Daniela Mulato 

What was your first TWP trip and what about it took you out of your comfort one the most?  Glacier National Park… I had never been on a plane! I was leaving my comfort zone when those wheels went up and we were in the air.

What are you currently working on (in life)?  I am currently pursuing a degree in Accounting at the U of H. At some point I would also like to pursue a degree in Education, so I can give back to the community. I believe every kid should have the opportunity to experience amazing programs like TWP.

Miguel Esteban

What are you currently working on (in life)?Currently I am entering my Senior year of college and continuing working toward my nursing degree…in less than 4 semesters, I will have my BSN-Rn degree.

Favorite moment in TWP?  Seeing the transition of kids going from Week 1 to Week 2 and watching them starting to adapt to and cherishing their current experience off the grid from their usual social lives.

Davion Zeno

What was your first TWP trip and what about it took you out of your comfort one the most?  My first trip was to Donner Pass in 2015. It was my first time in my life being in a place where I did not know a single soul. I had to go out of my way to make friends and this was hard for my introverted nature.

What are you currently working on (in life)? I am currently a Junior at the University of Virginia. I am majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Environment Sustainability and a minor in Drama. I am currently considering law school for post-graduation plans.

Juan Zaldana

What are you currently working on (in life)?  I am currently working toward my bachelor’s degree. I am majoring in kinesiology and want to go to medical school to become an orthopedic surgeon. 

Where do you want to go next? Going backpacking/ camping has become my means to recharge and reset. I still go on small backpacking and camping trips around the Houston area on weekends, but I try to plan at least one big backpacking trip to a national park with friends every summer. I hope to summit Mt. Whitney and hike through the Great Smoky Mountains next summer.

2019 Fall Weekend Trips

The earth has music for those who listen.
– William Shakespeare

Pumpkin Spice Lattes and 90+ degrees means fall is here in Houston! While the leaves may not be changing color yet and it may feel more like pool weather than boot weather, it doesn’t mean that The Woods Project is not planning for when the temperatures dip and we are able to get into the woods with a new batch of students and volunteers. We are currently updating our application system, but there are a few dates we want you to save for an adventure into the woods. We will be sending out a future email when the links are live and we are ready for folks to sign up.

October 18th – 20th – Weekend Trips 1&2:

  • Stephen F. Austin State Park – Hike and Explore
  • Big Thicket National Preserve Turkey Creek – Backpacking

November 1st – 3rd – Weekend Trips 3&4:  

  • Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary – Hike and Service Project
  • Huntsville State Park – Canoe and Kayak

November 15th – 17th – Weekend Trips 5&6:

  • Huntsville State Park – Canoe and Kayak
  • Big Thicket National Preserve Turkey Creek – Backpacking

Also, if you are considering volunteering for the first time, we ask for all new volunteers to attend our weekend leader orientation session on Thursday, October 3rd 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.

2019 Fall Luncheon

Come have lunch with our incredible students and hear about their transformative experiences during TWP’s summer trips firsthand. Join us Tuesday, November 5th, 11:30 AM-1:00PM for 2019 Fall LuncheonTales from the Trails at The Junior League of Houston, Inc.

Please consider investing in our students and in Houston’s future by sponsoring a table. For more information, contact Development Director Jessi Manley at 816-507-3661 or jessi@thewoodsproject.org.

Thank You Donors!!

The Woods Project is so grateful for the incredible financial support we receive from a variety of entities, from young professionals to 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 high-potential, underserved Houston high school students into 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 10/1/2018 and 9/9/2019.)

Corporate and Foundation Donations Grants
Amerisource Funding Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation
Baker McKenzie LLP Andrew Delaney Foundation
Bank of Texas Brown Foundation
CarMax Foundation First Congregational Church Endowment
Chevron – Matching Gift Harris County Department of Education -City Connections
Dick’s Sporting Goods Herzstein Foundation
Dodge & Cox – Matching Gift Ironman Foundation
ENGIE North America Jewish Teen Philanthropy Initiative Houston
First Service Credit Union Junior League of Houston, Inc
Fishman Haygood, LP Lewis and Joan Lowenstein Foundation
G&A Partners Memorial Drive Presbyterian Foundation
Google – Matching Gift Powell Foundation
Greenberg Traurig, LLP Samuels Family Foundation
Harris Beach PLLC Stephen M. Seay Foundation
HEB Texas Parks and Wildlife Department
Hewlett Packard Enterprise – Matching Gift
Marathon Oil Corporation – Matching Gift
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Nikwax North America
Oberto Sausage Co.
Space City Credit Union
Spark Energy, LP
Taste of Texas
Thompson & Knight, LP
Uhaul Moving & Storage at Tacoma Dome
Wells Fargo Foundation
Xact Data Discover
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