Enriching the outdoor narrative with GirlVentures

December 20, 2018

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A little over a year ago, Resource Media launched a pro-bono program to collaborate more with groups working in diverse and historically marginalized communities. This blog post spotlights one of the organizations we’ve worked with through this program, and we look forward to posting more soon.

Sarah Shimazaki, a Resource Media Program Coordinator based in Oakland, California, first got to know GirlVentures in 2015 when she began volunteering with the group as a rock climbing mentor. Since then, she has also served as a mentor to high schoolers on GirlVentures’ Youth Advisory Board (YAB). We interviewed Sarah about GirlVentures and her recent work with them on a new video

What is GirlVentures? What’s their focus?

Sarah: GirlVentures is a nonprofit in San Francisco that takes girls and gender-expansive youth on adventures in nature. There are multi-week programs in the summer, like backpacking in the Sierras, and also programs throughout the school year like rock climbing and leadership development programs.

On these outings the girls build confidence and skills, and learn how strong and capable they are. There’s a strong focus on social-emotional learning, on empathy and creating community. For the high-school age girls who are alumni of GirlVentures, there’s also a leadership development program called the Youth Advisory Board, where participants are assigned a mentor and play an advisory role for the organization.

GirlVentures’ office is located at the Women’s Building in the Mission district, which has a strong Latinx community. About a year and a half ago, the organization made a very intentional commitment to better serve and engage with the local community, as well as other communities of color. They held their first youth of color only backpacking trip this past spring and there’s a sliding scale fee structure for all of the programs, which is important for opening up participation to all. Today, a majority of the staff at GirlVentures are people of color. There’s huge emphasis on equity and inclusion.

Can you talk a little about the bigger context for outdoor equity work?

Sarah: Some people think that people of color don’t like to go outside — that it’s a “white person thing” to go camping or hiking or biking. The typical “outdoorsman” is a cis-gendered, heterosexual, white male with the means to buy expensive gear and technical clothing. You see that on TV shows, in movies, on the cover of outdoor magazines, for sure. This is where a lot of myth-busting and storytelling is needed, because really it’s human nature to connect to the outdoors, whether that’s in a neighborhood park, a backyard, or a forest or the mountains. We all hold personal and cultural relationships to nature, but many underrepresented communities have been excluded and erased from the traditional “great outdoors” narrative.

Access to these places for recreation and relaxation is also a human need – one that many in historically marginalized communities are denied. Is there green space nearby? Access to transportation to parks or outdoor recreation areas that are further away? What about gear or training? And is there someone from your community to act as a mentor and give you a little confidence, the nudge you might need?  

This is where GirlVentures is making a difference. They know that “outdoorsy” is in all of us in one way or another, and that access, representation and opportunity are the real issues.

This is where GirlVentures is making a difference. They know that “outdoorsy” is in all of us in one way or another, and that access, representation and opportunity are the real issues.

What did you collaborate with GirlVentures on?

Sarah: We made a short video to help tell the story of GirlVentures for its annual fundraising gala. In the past, these videos mostly featured instructors and staff members doing the talking, but this year we really wanted a video coming from the voice of the students, from the perspective of the girls.

So we identified one of GirlVentures’ participants to center the video around and I went to her home to interview her. Her name is Sara – she’s 13. The video needed to be made fast, so we used footage that had been shot with a GoPro on some of the outings from last summer. In addition to showing the video at the fundraiser, we also shared it widely on social media.

What’s next?

Sarah: We’re getting ready to talk more soon about what else we can do with the video. We’ll also be thinking together with GirlVentures more broadly about how the experiences and stories taking place through their work can contribute even more to the overall narrative around who wants to be outdoors — and what’s needed to keep growing more equity and justice in the outdoors in the way of access and representation.

The Equity Impact Program at Resource Media

Resource Media dedicates two percent of all our revenue to working pro-bono with groups working in diverse and marginalized communities, assisting with their goals and priorities.

In addition to GirlVentures, other organizations we’ve worked with pro-bono include Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Color of Change, The People’s Institute, Presente, NW Immigrant Rights Project, Restore Oakland, Downtown Emergency Services Center (DESC), and Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help (REACH).

For more information please email us at info@resource-media.org.