"Casting Across" article about Elevate Youth by Matthew Lourdeau
Elevate Youth: Nature, Fish, & Transformation
When his Little Brother through Big Brothers Big Sisters didn’t understand why anyone would want to go into the woods to just walk around, an idea began to form in Alec Griswold’s mind. He had the opportunity to share the outdoors with a young person. More than that, it was a young person who had never spent any time out of an urban setting. He had the opportunity to share everything that goes along with being outdoors: adventure, wonder, and fun.
Griswold appreciates the opportunities he had growing up. “We lived on a 100-acre farm in Maryland. I would come home from school, go out the backdoor, and just cruise around. I’d spend my days hooking fish and building forts. It had a large impact on my life, and what would be my profession.” He also spent time away from the waters and woods. Griswold volunteered in inner city Baltimore throughout high school, learning about experiences and perspectives other than his own.
After college, his journey had several other formative stops. In Patagonia, Chile, he participated in and worked for NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School). Moving to Nantucket, he ran a kayak rental company and learned the inner workings of business. Then, he spent time in community-based conservation with the Waterkeeper Alliance in Boston.
In 2015, while working in marketing, Griswold became a Big Brother through Big Brother Big Sisters. “Things began to click. I remember always looking for things to do with my Little Brother. We would do things that were completely new for him, like hiking or fishing.” Adding those activities to the long-term mentor relationship really made a difference in the young people he was working with. Moreover, it fueled a passion in his life to do something meaningful.
Alec Griswold and an excited Elevate Youth student
After getting a crash course in youth development, nonprofits, organizational research, Elevate Youth was incorporated in 2017. This mission would be this: Elevate Youth empowers youth from underserved neighborhoods by cultivating long term mentoring relationships through engagement in transformative outdoor experiences. Seeking to reach youth in and around Boston, local partnerships were made and plans were set for a full year of programming in 2018.
“We’re an organization that is committed to facilitating healthy, long-term relationships through outdoors experiences. Close to 90% of the youth we work with, this is the first time they’re doing anything like this. With the support of a positive adult, they get out of their comfort zone and into a learning zone.”
This plays out in a number of ways. Communicating a conservation ethic isn’t just making sure that teens leave no trace, it is explaining why it is important to pick up trash. Conversations like these open doors to discuss personal choices, environmentalism, and how those two things can and should intersect. The experience of hiking, sailing, and fishing are catalysts that open eyes and expand possibilities for young people.
“With fishing, in particular, we see kids anticipating and focusing on possibilities. They really get into it: ‘there is a chance I can catch a fish’ or ‘there is a chance I can catch a big fish!’ If you take a child that has been surrounded by concrete their whole life and let them explore a waterway, you’ll see joy and excitement and a little bit of nervousness – but it is transformative.”
That transformation is the real benefit of Elevate Youth. Landing a fish or summiting a hill is truly just the vehicle for something more profound.
“It happens all the time. We’ll pick a child up, and through their attitude or behavior we can tell that something is going on at home. They won’t want to talk. But once we get on the hike, we see them lose their defenses and open up. Wild spaces are a conduit to conversation; to confidence and self-efficacy. And being with people who are really interested in them improves their outlook on life.”
In just over a year of operation, Elevate Youth is seeing that. Having proved that their model and their mission works, they are excited about impacting more young people with the adventure, wonder, and fun of the outdoors.
Do you live in New England? Here‘s how you can help Elevate Youth: Volunteer. You don’t have to sign up for an indefinite time to be a mentor. It is just about spending time in the outdoors with the next generation. In 2019, Elevate Youth is looking to incorporate fly fishing. Regardless of your favorite outdoors activity, consider taking the opportunity to unplug, share your passion, and impact the life of a young person.
If you don’t live in the greater Boston area, but the mission of Elevate Youth sounds like something you want to support, consider reaching out to your local Big Brothers Big Sisters program or Trout Unlimited chapter to find a way to invest in the lives of young men and women.