Once upon a time (on April 12, 1997), a group of youth from Transition House went on a kayak adventure in the Santa Barbara Harbor. Warren Brush and Cynthia Harvan started an adventure club to get kids out of the shelter and into nature, where together they would find adventure, learning and connection. Vans from Easy Lift helped Cyndi and Warren make weekend expeditions to local mountains and rivers.
These first participants faced multiple challenges, but time outdoors with caring mentors made a positive difference. Right away, news spread of the stories the adventurers brought back and their newfound confidence and joy. Soon other social workers and youth service agencies got wind of the adventures and sought to join in. As a result, Warren and Cyndi formed Wilderness Youth Project in 1999. From the beginning, we’ve known that all kids need nature. Our commitment is to serve youth and families from all walks of life and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Since then, our Bridge to Nature partnerships with most of Santa Barbara’s public schools and many local youth agencies have deepened our community connections. We hope that Santa Barbara is the epicenter of the movement to reconnection children with nature.
In the Summer of 2000, Sharon Tollefson became WYP’s first employee and became Program Coordinator through funding from the Santa Barbara Foundation. 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 in naturalist skills, earth skills and youth mentorship. The founding team included the first Board of Directors: James Smallwood, Cullen Carey, Whitney Ingersoll and Wells Hughes. Together, this small group of thoughtful, committed community members laid the foundation for Wilderness Youth Project’s work to change the world by creating nature connection for our community.