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Executive Director’s New Year’s Letter

A Message for the New Year

Thank you for your support and partnership for Outdoor Lab. This valuable community asset has enhanced the quality of life for generations of Jeffco youth and has been a moment of joy for thousands who still reflect fondly about their time at Mount Evans or Windy Peak. You are ensuring more Jeffco youth get the opportunity to engage in meaningful outdoor experiences at a formative age in their development. Your involvement is essential because it allows us to plan confidently and build a sustainable and impactful program year over year. Together, we are connecting the importance of the outdoors to the next generation in ways that will last a lifetime.

We are thrilled to be back to residential programming this year and look forward to finishing out the 21-22 school year with a flourish. Outdoor Lab was founded on the intuition that nature, and experiences in nature, have tangible benefits to our life. Now, increasingly, research shows that experiences in nature reduce stress, improve our physical health, lead to better education outcomes, and build civic-mindedness. Specifically, Outdoor Lab is impactful because it carefully integrates proven youth development models, including experiential education, life-skills training, outdoor recreation, and mentorship. The curriculum and program format work in tandem to help students deepen their understanding of classroom curriculum through hands-on experiences, realize their leadership potential, and advance their social-emotional learning. Not only is it a fun rite of passage, but it is an institution that positively develops our young people into the well-rounded, confident, empathetic leaders of tomorrow. 

At the Foundation, our mission is to nurture and sustain this institution, and the organization's overall direction heartens us toward this end. Programmatically, we introduced more youth to the natural heritage of Colorado, deepened our relationships with schools, and advanced programs that allow our young adult leaders to take important steps in their careers and education. We are growing stronger as a nonprofit organization as well. We have earned GuideStar Platinum Status and a 100 point "Give with Confidence" rating from Charity Navigator for our commitment to organizational transparency and financial stewardship. We have expanded our Board to broaden our reach into the community. And we have added new staff positions to build our organizational capacity. Lastly, we are in awe of the contributions from our volunteers, donors, corporate sponsors, and foundation supporters. Without them, we could not provide the transformative outdoor experiences we all know are so vital for our students' long-term health and well-being.

While we have made great progress on our goals, we know we have much more work to do under increasingly challenging circumstances. Fewer youth are connecting meaningfully to the outdoors. As the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on school schedules and out-of-school activities, community connections are fraying, the mental health of our young people is at a crisis point, and other "hot button" issues of the day pull time and attention away from our mission. In a resource-thin and competitive environment, relevance is key. We must constantly strive for increased relevance in our work with students, our partnerships with schools, and our impact within the community.

With this in mind, the Foundation will embark on crafting a new multi-year strategic plan in 2022. We will be comprehensive in our outreach efforts, seeking input from as many stakeholders as possible, including teachers, students, alumni, principals, and administrators. Moreover, we will work with nonprofit partners, community leaders, and experts in education and positive youth development to inform our future goals and strategies.

While we develop our new direction, we will not lose sight of what we do best – deliver important resources to the sites, schools, and students so Outdoor Lab can be a fantastic experience for all. For over 60 years, Outdoor Lab has been helping youth grow, heal, and experience a sense of place. That will always be our focus. Yet, while this new plan will allow us to reflect on decades of success, we also know that what got us here won't get us to the next level. We must strive for increased relevance and meaning with the communities, schools, and students we serve

Is going on a hike a panacea for all the challenges our youth face today? Not likely. But our program has been proven effective at positively impacting our students' mental and physical well-being every year – both analytically and anecdotally – now totaling over 6,000 per year, contributing to over 24,000 nights out under the stars. We know so many kids out there who need the unique experience Outdoor Lab offers. To be sure, many kids have more reasons today to get inspired by nature, reconnect with their peers, and seek healing than ever before.

As a leader and philanthropist dedicated to getting more youth outdoors, we know that you recognize the positive impact Outdoor Lab experiences have on young lives. Your support ensures more kids get the chance to experience the inspiring and regenerative effect of nature, the thrill of hiking in the mountain, the excitement of catching a fish, the joy of taking in a scenic vista, and the friendship of a caring mentor. Moreover, you have given more youth an increased sense of self, an understanding of their place in the world, a passion for life-long learning, and a commitment to environmental stewardship.

I look forward to working with you and on behalf of Outdoor Lab in the year ahead. Thank you.