Project overview: Help teens from underserved California communities connect with nature and build academic skills through the two-year ARC Community Leadership Program, which includes a summer course in Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada.

The backstory: Adventure Risk Challenge (ARC) builds bridges between high school students and public lands. Along the way, it engages participants in programming that helps them hone academic, leadership, and stewardship skills.

ARC works with high schools in California’s Merced and Fresno counties. Most ARC students live in predominantly low-income communities, have limited access to their nearby national park, and are often the first in their families to graduate high school and go on to college.

By supporting this program since 2011, Conservancy donors have helped ARC provide opportunities for hundreds of students to experience Yosemite and find connection, community and confidence outdoors. In 2020, donors’ support helped ARC complete the pilot year of its Community Leadership Program, which includes weekend outdoor retreats, in-school workshops, and a monthlong summer course in the Sierra Nevada. The two-year program combines core elements of ARC’s original model into an even more in-depth, engaging, and enduring experience that provides more opportunities for students who might not be able to participate in the summer course due to work or family commitments. Graduates receive a $1,000 college scholarship. ARC also quickly adapted to ensure student and staff safety during the coronavirus pandemic, including by implementing strict precautions to keep summer-course participants together in a tight “bubble” throughout their weeks in the mountains. (Read our recap of the 2020 summer course.)

According to ARC data, 98% of program graduates have completed high school on time, and 80% have gone on to college. Post-program surveys show a notable positive shift in students’ sense of appreciation for and connection to nature. Alumni have become park rangers, pursued advanced environmental science degrees, worked with our art team in Yosemite, and more. Several program graduates have even joined the ARC staff.

This year: In 2022, you can help ARC engage and inspire dozens more California high schoolers through academic activities, mentorship, and immersive outdoor experiences, all at no charge to students and their families. Participants in the ARC Community Leadership Program will complete two semesters of curriculum and workshops, and, if it is safe, they will head to Yosemite and other outdoor destinations for weekend hiking trips.

As part of the Community Leadership Program, up to a dozen ARC students will complete a 40-day summer course, which takes place in Yosemite and other parts of the Sierra Nevada, and includes outdoor activities, such as backpacking and rock climbing, plus meetings with park staff and lessons on writing, public speaking, and ecology. Throughout the course, students work on poems that blend observations of the natural world with personal experiences. They then present their pieces at a closing celebration. (Check out the story on ARC in our November 2020 magazine for a recap of last summer’s “Voices of Youth” virtual event, and learn more about ARC on their website!)

Project partners: Yosemite National Park and Adventure Risk Challenge.

Sarah Ottley

Executive Director, Adventure Risk Challenge

Project Notes

“ARC develops a community of diverse youth leaders who become advocates for environmental protection and public lands.”