Paying it Forward: NYC Students Became Outward Bound Instructors

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NYC Outward Bound Schools was established 30 years ago as the first independent urban Outward Bound center in the United States to bring wilderness experiences to urban youth. Christian Narvaez, now the organization’s Director of Character, Community & Culture, joined his school’s NYC Outward Bound program when he was a senior in high school and had never been outside the city in a outdoor setting. “It was my first time being outdoors overnight when I went backpacking at Harriman State Park. There was a snowstorm and one of our friends got frostnip, so we had to make a litter and to carry him all the way the last day. It was tough, but it was a great experience,” Christian says. “Everyone would say that they hated it, but we kept coming back because it was something different from being in the neighborhood.”

The organization introduced its outdoor and community-building programs at a number of public schools throughout the city starting in the late ’80s, including a peer mentoring program Christian participated in called Rebels with a Cause, which was launched in the South Bronx by Carmen Martinez, now the NYC Outward Bound Schools Admissions Manager and Head Medical Screener, in the early ’90s. “The younger kids in our neighborhoods needed us to be their role models. There weren’t a lot of options for positive role models during that time period, so the idea came: we would be Outward Bound instructors for the kids in the hood, essentially,” says Carmen. “We recruited kids from the hood, the street, went to the projects, knocked on kids’ doors and said, ‛Hey, we wanna bring Outward Bound to you.’”

Shannon Gilmore, who is now a Course Director, reflected on his experience as a student in the Rebels with a Cause program and growing up with NYC Outward Bound Schools. “Even as a youth, to be able to teach other youth, to have them relate to you, gave me a boost of confidence,” says Shannon. “As I grew up in this organization, it was no longer about me. It was to affect the students.”

Over the years, the organization has continued to incorporate adventure and team building outdoor programs to build community among students, their teachers and the leadership at their schools. Furthering its mission and impact, NYC Outward Bound Schools also operates a network of 11 public schools across the five boroughs providing a high quality education to students who can benefit most using Outward Bound founder Kurt Hahn’s Expeditionary Learning school model. The lasting community of continued learning the organization created resulted in Carmen, Christian and Shannon, now all grown up, giving back to other NYC students as staff members. “Because I was someone who benefited from the experiences of Outward Bound, it’s a personal attachment. It’s important that in whatever I do, I provide the opportunity for other young people to experience what I experienced,” says Carmen.

“I’m still an instructor because I’m very happy where I’m at. I’m very happy with the learning process over the evolution of NYC Outward Bound Schools and with the community. Most of all, I’m very excited about my learnings… [The organization] really lines up well with what I want to be as a person, who I want to become, and is unlike any place I’ve ever worked… the core values aligned with my life values and the flexibility really allowed me to be myself.”

“I’m doing what I love, so it’s been over 22 years and everyday I’m learning something new. I’m very content with how NYC Outward Bound Schools has supported me with my learning, growing up, as an individual and as a person,” says Christian. “I feel I’m lucky because I had the opportunity to challenge myself and I’ve seen the things that I can do. Not a lot of people have that.”

Images courtesy of NYC Outward Bound Schools.

xx Alex

This article was originally published in RANGE Magazine Issue Eight.