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Out of the City Into the Woods
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by Nicole Veltre-Luton | 2011

“I feel like I can do anything!” were the words out of Delon Blanding’s mouth after the Digital Harbor High School junior reached the lookout at the top of the Overlook Cliff Trail in Harper’s Ferry. WV. Blanding was part of a group of 14 youth and adult leaders from Baltimore Inner City Outings (BICO), a non-profit volunteer organization that has been taking inner city kids outdoors since 1999. Others on the hike had similar reactions. “I am inspired!” exclaimed Shaquille Brooks, a freshman “It was worth it.” said Kevin Violenus, another freshman from the school.

Out of the City, into the Woods

 

By Nicole Veltre-Luton—“I feel like I can do anything!” were the words out of Delon Blanding’s mouth after the Digital Harbor High School junior reached the lookout at the top of the Overlook Cliff Trail in Harper’s Ferry. WV. Blanding was part of a group of 14 youth and adult leaders from Baltimore Inner City Outings (BICO), a non-profit volunteer organization that has been taking inner city kids outdoors since 1999. Others on the hike had similar reactions. “I am inspired!” exclaimed Shaquille Brooks, a freshman “It was worth it.” said Kevin Violenus, another freshman from the school. The group had voted unanimously to tackle the steep cliff trail ascent rather than the easier C & O Canal trail. “Maybe we can do that next time,” was the sentiment shared by all as they looked down at the waters of the Potomac and Shenandoah coming together at Harper’s Ferry. Certified outing leader and BICO student alumnae Tiara Barnes had this to say in a social networking post, “Back home from a trip with the AWESOME view! Feet hurt but every step was worth it.”

 

Students from Southwest Baltimore Charter School went on a BICO trip to the Jug Bay Wetlands Oct. 8. They kayaked and canoed through the wetlands of the Patuxent River, sighting more than a dozen turtles while paddling and other interesting animals while hiking the trails around Jug Bay. The students had to look closely to see the turtles because from a distance they just look like bumps on a log. Hiking along the wetlands, they saw a variety of amphibians, birds, and even some reptiles. This trip allowed them to see firsthand how important wetlands are to wildlife and protecting the water. Fifth-graders responded enthusiastically. “Kayaking was the best because we were on the water and we saw turtles. This experience made me feel happy and relaxed,” said Lee.

 

“Kayaking was new; it made me feel happy and cool,” said Vernon “I learned about photosynthesis and on the BICO trip I saw a lot of (plants that use) photosynthesis,” said Jahiem.

 

“Thanks for making kayaking so easy! Without you I have a feeling I would have fell out of that kayak. You really helped me face my fear. Love, Jordan,” another wrote.

 

BICO was founded with the goal of providing under-served Baltimore City youth with educational, enjoyable, and safe outdoor experiences at no cost to them. BICO is one of 48 members of the Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings. The program serves youth associated with its four city partners (two schools and two community associations). BICO’s volunteers nurture personal growth, inter-cultural and inter-generational understanding, and a community service ethic.

 

Our Partnerships

BICO maintains four successful agencies or partnerships who each take an outing every month. A typical outing could be a hike, bike, swim, or paddle at a nearby state/county park, sailing with the Downtown Sailing Center, or perhaps a two-day camping event at a regional campsite, such as Assateague Island National Seashore, Blackburn Cabin on the Appalachian Trail, Patapsco Valley, Pocomoke State Park or Meadowood in Lorton, VA. BICO typically averages 10 youths per outing. The youths are primarily African American boys and girls ranging in age from 10 to 18. The day trips last approximately five hours, overnighters from Friday afternoon or Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon.

 

The first agency is the YMCA at College Gardens Community Center. College Gardens seeks to build strong kids, strong families and a strong community through programs which focus on the development of mind, body and spirit. Comprehensive afterschool and summer programs for children and teens encompass a variety of activities including academic assistance, cultural arts, recreation, sports, outdoor education as well as leadership development, service learning and monthly family nights. ICO is one of the programs that College Gardens offers to their community. This agency is in dire need of volunteers to assist with and to lead outings.

 

 Digital Harbor High School, also an Inner City Outing agency, is an innovative technology-focused high school in Federal Hill. The DHHS agency serves 9th through 12th graders and participates in many one-day and multi-day outings, such as hikes, camping and kayaking. This agency is also in need of volunteers and leaders.

 

Paul’s Place, another agency, is in Washington Village/Pigtown in Southwest Baltimore.This non-profit outreach center provides programs, services, and support that strengthen individuals and families. For children and youth, Paul’s Place offers daily after-school programs for grades 1 through 12, with activities including academic support, health and wellness, personal enrichment, and fun. Summer camps keep children and youth learning and growing between the school years. This agency is also in need of volunteers and leaders.

 

Southwest Baltimore Charter School is a K-8 public school serving over 400 students in Baltimore’s Washington Village/Pigtown community. The school views field work as an integral part of learning, believing that community and outdoor experiences foster engagement, curiosity, and health, and promote personal responsibility. This agency is also in need of volunteers and leaders.

 

The Importance of BICO

The impact that our program has on the youth we serve is life changing. I personally wouldn’t still be teaching in Baltimore City if it were not for my involvement with Baltimore Inner City Outings. I am passionate about this organization because I have seen firsthand so many times the difference it makes in the lives of children and do not want to see it end. I see every day the value that volunteer hours can have because I am also an agency representative. Every minute you volunteer makes a difference in the life of a child who has never done or seen something done or seen on an outing. Kids experience some notable firsts on outings—like riding a bike, fishing, catching a fish, completing a hike, identifying a rock, smelling a flower, learning about trees, paddling a kayak, and other really incredible things.

 

But despite its successes over the years, like many non-profit organizations, Baltimore Inner City Outings is in crisis. BICO has no paid staff, and though we have over 350 people on our gmail list, the organization is at risk of collapse because we do not have enough volunteers to staff the outings. This means that kids suffer.

 

Since its founding, BICO has conducted over 400 outings, allowing nearly 5,000 youth to experience the outdoors. Approximately 4,000 volunteer-hours have been devoted to the delivery of these outings. Volunteer officers help keep BICO afloat. The chair is the point of contact for volunteers, coordinates trainings for leaders and helps  the fundraisers and team leaders for each agency. The vice-chair handles all van reservations, statistics and trip insurance reports, combined into quarterly reports to Sierra Club National. The treasurer pays bills and reimburses volunteers for expenses. The grant coordinator ensures that the program remains funded and grantors receive timely spending reports. The certification coordinator ensures that all volunteers obtain and maintain credentials. The webmaster maintains and updates the website and communicates dates of upcoming outings. The gearmaster helps with organization of the gear necessary for outings.

 

Despite recent trainings, we are really stretching to make sure that we have two certified leaders on every outing. Becoming certified does not have to change the level of commitment or involvement once you volunteer, but it does make it easier to run trips when more of the adult volunteers are certified as leaders.

 

Decide how you are going to volunteer and just do it. All of our agency representatives are highly skilled and know their students, so if you are new to volunteering, you should not worry that you won’t know what to do during an outing. Choose the agency you want to volunteer with or come to an informational meeting on the third Wednesday of the month. All outings and meetings are posted on our website calendar of events. When more people volunteer, it means our organization is more sustainable.

 

 All of our trip dates are posted on the calendar at www.ico.sierraclub.org/baltimore/. Let the team leader know you want to volunteer!

There are several requirements for volunteer certification. All of the documents may be found on the website at www.digitalharbor.org/bico/?n=Resources. Start with completing the volunteer forms, background check, application and the CARP test. (This is Child Abuse Recognition Prevention). Email the completed forms to bico.certificationcoordinator@gmail.com, with a copy (cc) to baltimoreinnercityoutings@gmail.com.  If you must use regular mail, please refer to our website for the mailing address to use.

More information about BICO’s outing program and how you can volunteer can be found at our website: http://ico.sierraclub.org/baltimore/ or email baltimoreinnercityoutings@gmail.com. You may also contact us at 410-357-6242.

 

Nicole Veltre-Luton is a co-chair of BICO.

 

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