Outdoor Education Builds Leaders Through YMCA

BOLD & GOLD outdoor education gives youth the chance to learn about nature — and themselves — while backpacking off the grid. No experience needed!

Outdoor education provides a world of learning, growth and leadership experiences that kids can’t get anywhere else. This summer for the first time ever, metro Detroit kids ages 12-17 can participate in BOLD & GOLD, a YMCA of Greater Seattle program with sites across the nation, including one in Detroit that puts kids on backcountry trails at some of our most scenic natural spaces.

An acronym for boys and girls outdoor leadership development, BOLD & GOLD gives kids the chance to backpack through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Hoosier National Forest or Isle Royale National Park. Through seven different 5- to 10-day expeditions, small groups learn to navigate, communicate, collaborate and lead each other through the challenges of living on the trail. All camping gear is provided by BOLD & GOLD and no participant will be turned away for financial reasons.

“Being outside, youth feel freer to express themselves and explore their voices and take on leadership roles. These expeditions create special opportunities that are difficult to replicate elsewhere. This is important, especially for those who don’t typically have access to the outdoors,” says Nat Ramos, Program Director of BOLD & GOLD at YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit.

The YMCA outdoor education experience

During a typical BOLD & GOLD day, kids will have breakfast together, participate in a stretch circle, engage in “solo time” to slow down and find their own space in nature, pack their gear and hit the trail. They’ll talk and play games on the trail, have lunch, then set up camp. Throughout, there are multiple opportunities for leadership and collaboration.

“Each night we follow a routine. We check in about the day and have an activity designed for youth group development,” Ramos says. “It might be related to understanding the land or building communication or conflict resolution skills.”

Each program is appropriate for kids with no prior experience and groups hike an average of 4 miles a day. “Apart from being willing to sleep outside for five or more days, all kids need is an interest in the outdoors. The rest we teach, including the technical skills of backpacking,” Ramos says. Kids will leave their tech behind and immerse themselves in nature. “Most kids are pleasantly surprised, even if they didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There are no showers, no amenities, but being able to slow down is something they appreciate.”

outdoor education
Photo credit: YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit

There are single-gender and all-gender trips and kids are encouraged to register based on the gender they feel most comfortable with. “It’s important for youth to have a space where they feel comfortable,” Ramos says. “We have found over time that for some youth, having single gender trips allows for conversations they wouldn’t have in mixed-gender groups, while having all-gender trips leaves space for all youth, including those who don’t fit into the binary.”

On trail, participants will learn the tenets of Leave No Trace and how to be a good steward of public land. They also build self-confidence, communication skills and friendships. “They’ll learn a lot about leadership and develop their own leadership styles. We emphasize the thousand different ways leaders can look and how each is valid and important,” Ramos says.

Each of the three natural landscapes is unique, but Isle Royale is Ramos’ personal favorite. “The seclusion got me. It’s a 10-hour drive, then a three-plus-hour ferry ride, but then you get some amazing experiences. You’ll see moose, foxes, beavers, all sorts of wildlife. To interact with nature that way is special.”

Learn more about YMCA of Metropolitan Detroit’s BOLD & GOLD at ymcadetroit.org/camp/bold-gold.

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