June 2, 2021

While the school year is wrapping up, we've been gearing up for our long-awaited return to in-person wilderness experiences for our students! 

Our staff has been hard at work preparing for this summer, from:

  • Communicating with students and their families on logistics and safety questions,
  • Coordinating with our summer partners to ensure all experiences follow CDC guidance for COVID safety,
  • Packing bags of everything students will need to stay safe, dry, cool, or warm in the elements, and much more!

This year, we are also partnering with a few new organizations that not only offer empowering opportunities for our young people, but who share our values of racial justice and educational equity.

So, we're proud to introduce Mastermind Connect, one of our new Summer Partners in New York City!

Camping to Connect - NYC Summer Partner

Photo: A Mastermind Connect group on a wilderness experience, with co-founder Manny Almonte (far right, red shirt). Photo taken in 2019, prior to COVID. Courtesy of Mastermind Connect/Camping to Connect.

Partnering For Change

Mastermind Connect's Youth Empowerment Services ("YES")  was created to offer Black and Brown young men an opportunity to participate in uniquely designed life skills and pre-college programs, with awareness and empowerment as a core focus.

Mastermind Connect ("MC") is a resource group and thought incubator for progressive Men of Color, seeking to empower the realization of deep connections with their passions, higher self, and community.

The MC YES curriculum is not often addressed as part of student’s common in-school learning, and is meant to be relevant, forwarding, engaging and impactful, with topics that cover core social skills, career/creative interests, current events, and mentoring.

"We are an experiential learning and mentorship program for underserved young men from New York's inner-city communities," explains Manny Almonte, MC's co-founder. "Led by adult Men of Color, our transformative outdoor journeys instill values of leadership, cooperation, and brotherhood."

That representation is a key pillar of their program, not only serving, but being led by young men of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.

As Almonte says, "We believe that with leadership that reflects the backgrounds of our youth participants, we can create an important paradigm shift in how these young men see themselves and their place in the world."

For 31 years, we at Summer Search have been working toward the same goal -- to provide opportunities for our young people to carve their place in the world. Almonte recognizes our similar approaches, making for a strong partnership.

"I see Summer Search as an ally, as a cousin. We're family. It's about these kids. We all want the same thing for them."

The Power of The Outdoors

As MC and Summer Search both know, positive outdoor experiences can have powerful benefits for young people -- reducing stress, improving overall health, and leading to better education outcomes.

However, communities of color already face historic barriers to outdoor recreation opportunities (often referred to as the Nature Gap). This year, the social isolation from the pandemic has doubled down on that inequity. 

"COVID affected us all, especially these young men who may not have been able to express how they were feeling," Almonte explains. "It's so important to them. These kids need to get into the outdoors for their physical and mental health."

Camping to Connect is MC's experiential learning and mentorship program that addresses the issue of Nature Deficiency in urban youth. In the coming months, their teams will be leading approximately 20 Summer Searchers on hybrid experiences, with a combination of in-person hiking and camping, along with virtual learning opportunities.

Our young men will not only be learning outdoor skills -- like setting up a remote campsite, trail route finding, and leave-no trace principles -- but they'll also have opportunities for deeper learning and self-reflection.

As Almonte describes: "Immersed in nature, we help connect young men more deeply to their friends, their lives, and themselves. We offer them a space to be transparent, honest, and vulnerable, as well as a new perspective on what it means to be a man. Having adult leaders of color also helps change the narrative of who 'belongs' in outdoor spaces."

We are so grateful to have partners like Mastermind Connect. And we look forward to all that our young people can discover by getting outside this summer!

Please consider making a donation to continue to provide our young people with meaningful and empowering experiences in the outdoors.

Summer Search NYC students and staff on a wilderness hike, in preparation for summer. From 2019.

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