[Noozhawk’s note: This article is the second in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]

Hosting and staging a large event or gala can be not only time consuming but expensive. So, in this season of giving, the Wilderness Youth Project chose to invite the community to join a virtual celebration of the nonprofit organization’s 15th anniversary.

“The most exciting part is that two of our donors banded together to create a challenge in the hopes of recruiting 150 new donors to WYP,” Michelle Howard, Wildnerness Youth Project’s development director, told Noozhawk. “For every dollar from a new donor to WYP, they will match it — up to $35,000!”

The Wilderness Youth Project is also launching “15 days of giving to WYP,” starting on Giving Tuesday, Dec. 2. For those 15 days, the WYP’s website, Facebook and Instagram pages will all be updated daily with campaign progress and new photos.

Support from the Santa Barbara community includes 1,000 contributors. With only 150 new donors, the Wilderness Youth Project would be on the path to providing services in the New Year.

“We need to raise $150,000 by year end to start 2015 with our scholarship fund ready,” Howard explained.

Supporters contribute 50 percent of the Wilderness Youth Project’s budget. More than 60 percent of program participants receiving scholarships.

“This is definitely the giving season, and it’s a great time for folks to spread the word and join the family of WYP supporters,” Howard said.

The organization could also not thrive without the support of volunteers who help drive the mission of WYP.

Wilderness Youth Project started in 1997 as a teen adventure program from Santa Barbara’s Transition House homeless family shelter. In 1999, it became an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

The mission utilizes unique mentoring and active outdoor experiences to establish a lifetime desire for learning for young people and families.

Outings for the groups, which have a maximum of 12 children and three adults with two staff members and one volunteer, are all different, and are dependent upon the weather, tide charts and other factors.

Wilderness Youth Project volunteers usually commit to four hours on the same day each week, leading sessions at local open spaces and parks. (Eric Isaacs photo / EMI Photography)

Wilderness Youth Project’s Mario Mendez, Lead Program Staff, works with participants and volunteers leading sessions at local open spaces and parks. (Eric Isaacs photo / EMI Photography)

“We depend highly on volunteers for Wilderness Youth Project, and we can’t run our programs without them,” said Mario Mendez, lead program staff member. “And most of the staff, if not all, started out volunteering at WYP — including myself.”

Programs are offered year round and throughout the week during the school day or after school, plus weekend camping excursions with summer and family camps with children from Santa Barbara County schools, including from Adams School, Adelante Charter School, Brandon School, Crane Country Day School, La Cuesta Continuation High School and McKinley School.

Volunteers commonly choose a day in the week to assist a group of two staff members and 12 children for at least a season, a period consisting of Fall I, Fall II, winter and spring. The amount of time typically required for the volunteer commitment is four hours on the same day each week, meeting at open spaces and local parks.

Responsibilities of the volunteers include greeting children on arrival and taking the initiative to learn their names and, over time, cultivating friendships. Being approachable to parents and staying informed about the program schedule also is part of the program awareness to know where all kids are at all times, with a keen awareness of their special needs and interests.

Other essential tasks include safety — staying aware of potential hazards such as rattlesnakes and poison oak or making sure that the proper amount of sunscreen has been applied on the children during sunny afternoon hikes.

On-going training is open to local residents interested in volunteering and learning about the unique culture and methods of the Wilderness Youth Project, which include an introduction to core routines, such as sharing gratitude and wandering, sensory awareness activities and an overview of WYP’s codes of conduct. The code of conduct incorporates avoiding profane language and conversations about religion, intimacy, politics and drugs.

The winter 2015 volunteer training session date has not yet been scheduled but will be held at the trailhead gate at Tucker’s Grove Park, 805 San Antonio Creek Road. Registration is encouraged, and interested volunteers should contact WYP volunteer coordinator Jessica Sieber Grasso with the potential volunteer’s name, birth date, intention for attending the training, and the volunteer program of interest.

The area traveled for Wilderness Youth Project outings encompasses Santa Barbara County from the Gaviota coast and foothills to Carpinteria and the Santa Ynez Valley.

“If we’re working on basket making, we go to places along the Santa Ynez River that has good tule — tule is a long, fibrous plant that grows along the river and along creeks and also the cattail leaves,” Mendez said. “So we go to places where we can harvest using safe and responsible harvesting techniques.”

What strikes a particular youth to make a connection with nature is often dependent upon the age group.

“I work with kids from 6 years old to 17 years old, and each group has a different mechanism of them being like wow, or having a really magical moment of being out in nature,” Mendez said.

“It’s a different relationship — the kids often say you’re not my teacher and you’re not a family member, but I have fun with you and I learn with you.”

Click here for more information about the Wilderness Youth Project, or call 805.964.8096. Click here to make an online donation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Melissa Walker can be reached at mwalker@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Wilderness Youth Project outings take advantage of all Santa Barbara County has to offer in the outdoors. (Eric Isaacs photo / EMI Photography)

Wilderness Youth Project outings take advantage of all Santa Barbara County has to offer in the outdoors. (Eric Isaacs photo / EMI Photography)