Breaking Barriers in the Outdoors One Kid at a Time
By Cari Morgan1 Min. Read
For OARS’ 50th Anniversary season, we had our sights set on getting more than 500 kids on rivers. Reaching that goal, which we’re proud to say we surpassed by donating fully-outfitted rafting trips for more than 600 under-resourced youth in 2019, was made possible with support from the Pam & George Wendt Foundation.
Recently renamed in honor of OARS’ founders, the foundation was their vision. George Wendt had spent his early years as an educator and was deeply invested in connecting young people to our natural environment and inspiring the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts and environmental stewards. The foundation now carries on that legacy.
“George had the heart of a teacher, and his belief and investment in youth being the stewards and hope of the future was contagious,” said Ashley Sozzi, coordinator for the Pam & George Wendt Foundation. “We’ve built something sustainable and worthwhile here, and are standing on the infrastructure Pam and George built, still trying to steer the future of the Foundation through their visionary eyes.”
Working in partnership with a variety of groups serving a range of backgrounds, including Latinx youth, Native American youth, rural and inner city kids, as well as many other mentoring and leadership development programs in the communities we serve, OARS has provided free or highly-subsidized outfitted trips for more than 2,000 under-resourced youth since 2015.
One of the groups we partnered with in 2019 was Ríos to Rivers. The trip, which was on California’s Klamath River, brought together youth representatives from seven different river basins around the world that have been or could be impacted by dams. Some students in the exchange came from as far away as Myanmar and Chile and as close to home as the Klamath and Colorado Rivers.
“Many of the students who joined the trip depend greatly on their rivers but they’ve never had the chance to recreate in them. The joy and liberation that running the Klamath brought them was notable on their faces,” said Weston Boyles, founder and executive director of Ríos to Rivers.
A trip through lower Grand Canyon with Adventures for Hopi provided a similarly special experience. As an organization, we had the privilege to row these young adults through their ancestral lands, which was a really powerful experience for both them and the guides, according to Sozzi.
In Utah this year, OARS joined forces with the Escape Club at Uintah Middle School in Vernal, Utah to take 40 kids down their local waterway–the Green River.
“Many of these kids were introduced to a world they didn’t know existed,” said Zinna Eaton, 8th grade teacher and Escape Club advisor. “The majority of these students are from families that struggle financially and this generous donation allowed them to have the opportunity to experience the outdoors and witness first-hand the beauty of nature. Many of them were able to find a sense of solace and belonging they were never able to find before and this trip forever changed their lives.”
Moving forward, OARS has committed to donating 500 trips for under-resourced youth every season. “We know time in nature is physically and mentally crucial for wellness, and not everyone has access to these places or feels welcome in the outdoor recreation space,” said Sozzi. “By offering programs to youth organizations and schools working with underserved youth populations, we hope to use the access we have to help create a more diverse and equitable outdoors.”
If you’d like to support our mission, or know a group of kids who would benefit from this type of experience, you can learn more about the Pam & George Wendt Foundation and help here.
In addition to providing trips for under-resourced youth, OARS donated more than $80,000 to youth, guide and conservation organizations with the help of you, our guests. If you traveled with OARS this year or attended one of our Boathouse Tour events, you were part of making a difference. We thank you!
More than $29,000 in voluntary pass-through donations from guests to support regional conservation efforts. OARS asks travelers on each of their trips to donate a minimum of $1 per person per day to a local conservation organization. This is part of our Responsible Travel Philosophy.
More than $20,000 donated to organizations that support the health and wellness of guiding communities and to the next generation of river lovers through the OARS Boathouse Tour.
Photos: Lower Klamath Rafting with Rios to Rivers; Pam & George Wendt Foundation trip on the South Fork of the American River; Adventure for Hopi in Grand Canyon with OARS; Latinos in Action with OARS in Cataract Canyon