Since our inception in 1999, WYP has grown into a well-established non-profit with strong support from our community. We offer after school, school-day and summer programs starting at age three and going through high school.
As a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, WYP provides scholarships to 60% of our participants, thanks to the support of community members like you. We served 675 un-duplicated youth in Santa Barbara’s south coast in 2015.
The mission of Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) is to foster confidence, health, and a life-long love of learning for young people and families through active outdoor experiences and mentoring.
WHAT WE DO
We take our participants to resource-rich locations such as the creeks, beaches, mountain trails, and open spaces in Santa Barbara’s abundant front country. Our core routines include child-centered exploration, awareness, and the building of naturalist skills. We use a nature-based mentoring curriculum that combines experience in nature with a hands-on learning process. We also teach the “Principles of Peace,” which focus on conflict resolution, communication and peacemaking. The improved outcomes we have tracked for our participants include individual growth and self-assurance, interpersonal skills, physical competence and an increased respect for the natural world.
Our four-to-one youth-to-counselor ratio affords participants a high quality of mentoring typically unavailable in youth services. This low ratio along with the flexible nature of our programs allows for individualized attention. Through the course of a season children grow in agility, self-awareness, and social awareness. We operate with a long-term mentoring model and most of our participants return for multiple years. Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) promotes meaningful social change through an innovative, nature-based curriculum and mentoring program. Our programs return children to the traditions of childhood: outdoor time, child-centered exploration, skill/self-esteem development and connection with the natural world.
WHY IT WORKS
Nature education during childhood has a potent impact on shaping both environmental attitudes and behaviors in adulthood. Nature stimulates powers of observation, creativity, and a sense of peace. Research shows that spending time in nature dramatically reduces children’s propensity for violence, stress, and symptoms of ADD/ADHD.
INCLUSIVENESS (East) We believe a connection with Nature is needed by everyone and for this reason we are committed to making our programs available to all children by bridging socioeconomic or cultural barriers. This means far more than “equal opportunity” to us. Inclusiveness requires an active effort on our part to create and maintain overlap between WYP culture and the cultures that contain and surround us. In this way, our programs are nourished by diverse perspectives and our entire community benefits from the teachings we offer.
NATURE MENTORING (South)
We use tools called “Coyote Mentoring” and “The Eight Shields Model” to engage people in place-based education and deepen their relationship with nature. Our curriculum includes naturalist and survival skills, animal tracking, edible and medicinal plants, and interpreting bird language. Our students are immersed in nature, utilizing all of their senses. We maintain a low student to teacher ratio of 4:1 to facilitate individual mentoring. Nature Mentoring develops stewards, mentors, and leaders who will foster sustainability for humanity and the earth.
We nurture an awareness of the vital interdependence of nature, community, and self. We encourage genuine relationships, service to community, and a lifestyle in rhythm with nature.
We strive to begin our interactions with thanksgiving. We have a commitment to cultivate peace in ourselves and to communicate honestly and clearly. In this way, we steward the earth and our children toward peace and well-being of body, mind, and spirit.
Program Activities (Our Core Routines)
Circle of Thanksgiving
Sharing words of thanksgiving for what we have and appreciation for others
Scout skills, blindfolded drum stalk, camouflage, and more
Outdoor exploring of the many magical things in nature
Telling our stories with words, journaling, acting
Art of questioning
The answer always leads to more questions…
Knowledge of place by observation and experience
Learn fire by friction, cordage, tracking, archery and more while building relationships with materials you use
The story of the origin of Wilderness Youth Project
On Saturday, April 12th, 1997 a group of youth from a shelter for homeless families called Transition House, went on a short kayak adventure out of the Santa Barbara Harbor. This trip was the spark that kindled the eventual flame of Wilderness Youth Project. Warren Brush and Cynthia Harvan started the Transition House Adventure Club to get youth out of the shelter and city environment and into nature where learning and growing were more easily weaved into their lives. Several weekends a month Warren and Cyndi would gather a couple of volunteers, borrow vans from Easy Lift and head into the mountains or out on the waters to share the wonders of the natural world with these children.
Many of these kids, who were living in extreme poverty, were having a hard time making it in their day-to-lives and found a welcome respite in being wrapped in a culture of nurture that helped them to process many of their discontents and imbalances in healthy and productive ways. Immediately, the kids showed signs of a healthier outlook and an ability to communicate that had long been isolated by the shame often felt in being homeless. The stories of these kids and their growth began to move out in broad concentric rings throughout the community which touched the lives of many other social workers and folks who work in other agencies with troubled youth. Within the first two years, numerous requests began to come in from other social service organizations to take their kids on our unique outings. This became the impetus for Warren and Cyndi to start the non-profit organization, Wilderness Youth Project in 1999. From the beginning, Wilderness Youth Project has been committed to serve youth and families from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds and this has been a unique component to its success in teaching community building skills to the youth.
In the Summer of 2000, Warren and Cyndi hired the first employee, Sharon Buczaczer, with help from a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation. Sharon naturally stepped into the role of Program Coordinator and quickly became a pillar of this budding organization. Early in 2002, Charlie Coupal and Shawn Perkin joined the staff as Lead Mentors and Kolmi Majumdar joined as the first Development Coordinator. In that same year, Mark Tollefson joined the staff to offer his many talents and gifts. This founding team of committed and heartfelt group of people, along with the board of directors headed by the first executive committee of James Smallwood, Cullen Carey, Whitney Ingersoll and Wells Hughes were key in laying the foundation for Wilderness Youth Project’s success.
In December of 2004, Warren stepped down as the Executive Director and Cyndi as a Program Coordinator after seven inspiring and instrumental years to pursue the development of Quail Springs, a land based sister organization to Wilderness Youth Project in the Cuyama Valley. On January 1, 2005, Mark Tollefson stepped into the role of Executive Director and his wife Sharon Buczaczer stepped into the Program Director position together becoming the next couple who would guide WYP into its next generation of growth and influence.
On October 15, 2008 Dan Fontaine, who had worked at all levels of the organization from volunteer to Program Director, took over as Executive Director. Michelle Howard and Erika Lindemann rounded out the team of directors. Under their continued strong leadership, WYP has nine full-time staff members and over twenty part-time staff members, along with more than thirty active volunteers. Read more about WYP staff.