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ANNUAL REPORT 2012

PRESIDENTS LETTER
Dear Friends, 2012 was the year of our first college graduatesand as I hear from them, it just warms my heart as I see people like Karen, a 2012 graduate of Smith College, who, six years ago with us was a young lady with the insecurities of a typical high school student. Her keystone moment came as she and a group of girls traversed a waterfall in the Jewel Basin, while the boys took the long route around, after which she stood in the cold water, kneedeep, and announced, This is the NEW Karen. Well, she WAS the new Karen, and that Karen today is a wonderful young lady, working as a chemist in a testing firm in Baytown with a great working career in front of her. As weve built from a start-up with a good idea to a fleshed out program, with over 3,500 days and nights of kids in the woods, weve seen a number of constants in the midst of change. Those constants include: Volunteer Leaders In 2012 __ leaders led our students for two weeks during our summer program and over 150 other leaders took part in weekend service projects and wilderness engagement activities in the Houston area. That totals up to an amazing _____ weeks of days and nights in the woods. These people are phenomenal folks with a passion for kids, a passion for low income issues, and a passion for the woods. School Partners- In 2012, we partnered with 17 high schools that are focused in low income communities15 of which were in Houston. Partner schools include schools in the KIPP and YES systems, Houston Independent School District, and several independent schools. Our schools are united by a desire to see kids succeedwhich means not only passing tests, but developing the character traits that will lead to success in life. Wilderness Partners- Our wonderful partners in programming include Glacier Insitute, Yosemite Institute, Gateway Mountain Center, Clair Tappaan Lodge, Bayou Land Conservancy, Katy Prairie Conservancy, US Forest Service, and a host of other organizations that gave our kids a home for their wilderness experiences and played a role in changing lives. Without them, we couldnt create the amazing transformations that we achieve. Funders- Our funders, corporate, foundation, and individual, have made it possible for all of this to happen. Thank you for your interest in what were doing. We look forward to pushing ourselves to do even more to change the trajectory of low income students lives and look forward to your engagement with us as we work to make it happen. Sincerely, Steve Rosencranz

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MISSION AND GOALS


TABLE OF CONTENTS
Letter from our President Mission and Goals Program Overview Building Character, Changing Lives After-School Program Curriculum Summer Trip Transformation Our Students, Our Community 100% Volunteer Driven Financials Supporters

OUR MISSION
To prepare low income students for college and beyond by developing life and leadership skills through wilderness exploration.

OUR GOALS
Preparing students for college and beyond by developing life and leadership skills through wilderness exploration. Encouraging interest in science and the environment through focused outdoor education programming and hands-on learning opportunities. Expanding students world view through exposure to challenging situations and diverse environments.

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PROGRAM OVERVIEW

To have to depend on ourselves as well as our teammates was a great experience and really showed how we can all pull together to accomplish a common goal.
-12th Grade Student, Chavez High School

a bachelors degree or higher. For students from low-income nating in an intensive two-week summer session. families, the college completion rate is much lower: Only 8.3 percent have earned a bachelors degree by their mid-20s. The program includes: After-School Clubs, hosted at several of our Houston The Woods Project focuses on two of the critical factors School Partners. The curriculum for these Clubs probehind these statistics: having a powerful set of character motes a bigger vision of the world and includes projstrengths that enable students to persevere in college even ects related to both outdoor and environmental studies. in the face of considerable obstacles, and social and academic integration that enhance a students college experi- Fall and Spring Weekend Trips, including environence and help them resist negative pressure to leave school. mental service projects, backpacking, canoeing and kayaking programs in the national forests and park arThe Woods Project understands the power of partner- eas near Houston. These activities are intended to imships to leverage the resources of different entities with prove self-esteem, self-reliance and leadership skills a shared mission. We partner with high schools that have while giving the students a preview of the challenglarge populations of students who are economically dis- es they will encounter during the summer session. advantaged or at risk of falling behind academically; with wilderness partners that provide programming and/or 14-day Summer Outdoor Education Program at nationlocations that dovetail with our Mission needs; and with ally recognized wilderness institutes which offer in-depth more than 150 trained volunteers who are committed work in the sciences, journaling, creative writing, as well to changing the life trajectories of low income students. as wilderness immersion experiences. The summer imStudents who join The Woods Project participate in mersion session reinforces the lessons learned during a year-round program, which is designed to provide the school year and exposes the students to a wide vaphysical, mental, and emotional challenges and op- riety of new experiences that serve to further develop portunities for leadership and character development. the character strengths and life skills necessary to funcThe Woods Project programming starts in Septem- tion effectively in the college environment and beyond.

Today, 30.6 percent of all Americans age 25 to 29 have earned ber and continues through the school year, culmi-

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BUILDING CHARACTER, CHANGING LIVES


The Woods Project uses wilderness exploration to develop character skills that will create better chances for low-income students to be successful in life. Our program and team of dedicated leaders is constantly working to make sure our outcomes are aligned with developing the critical character skills listed below.

Independence/Self-Control - Student will be able to independently make decisions that impact their lives and think through the consequences Adaptability - Student will be able to embrace new
environments and function effectively in them

Grit/Perseverance - Student will be able to accept


failure without accepting defeat

Zest/Curiosity Student will be more outwardly fo-

cused on the world around them i.e. more enthusiastic and engaged in class, in their communities and in their educational endeavors.

Social Intelligence Student will be able to work collaboratively with a group to achieve a common goal and will understand the importance of working as a group to solve a problem

Critical Thinking Students will be able to work

through complex challenges and ask the questions necessary to achieve a solution

Environmental Awareness - Student will be more

For me, the biggest change is when the hard things are happening, I tend to be more optimistic and hopeful that I will find an answer to things. - 11th Grade Student, Yes Prep Southwest

aware of environmental issues and the natural sciences that explain those issues

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Throughout the school year, The Woods Project works closely with our school partners to prepare the students for their 2 week Summer expedition. Students participate in a weekly after-school club and learn basic principles of en- Student wil vironmental conservation and surival skills. Fo- Read a l be able to: nd navig ate cusing on these hard skills during the school Follow Leave no with a map and c ompass Tr year allows us to devote more time during the Adequ ately pac ace principles k a backp Summer to building community, leadership and sion ack for a weeklon communication skills. During the Summer, the Identify g excurimportan t plants a students take everything they learned during Assemb nd wildli le proper fe shelter the year and apply that to a real life situa- Cook w ith a bac kpacking tion where they are making decisions that Tie k stove nots app ropriate impact themselves and those around them. f o r the bac and mor kcountry e...

After-Sch

ool Prog Curriculu ram m

Fall and Spring Weekend Program


During the school year, students participate in weekend wilderness excursions around Houston. Activities include hiking, backpacking, service projects, canoeing, kayaking, and more. Students interact with teachers and students from other schools and play a significant role in leading activities throughout the weekend using the lessons learned in the after-school club program. 6 -The Woods Project - Annual Report

2011-2012 Weekend Trip Locations


- Alabama Coushatta Indian Reservation - Sam Houston National Forest - Turkey Creek Trail, Big Thicket - Katy Prairie Conservancy

A students journey with The Woods Project culminates in a 2-week long Summer outing to a national park or forest in California and Montana. The Summer program involves two distinct parts: a 6 day backpacking trip and a 7 day stay at base camp. The backpacking trip is entirely led by The Woods Project staff and volunteers. Gear is provided so that each student carries their own backpack weighing about 40 pounds after it is filled with personal and community gear. Students work with the leaders on navigating the trail, picking a good campsite, cooking food and leading the group in

SUMMER TRANSFORMATION

different activities. Students learn to rely on one another and to function within a team environment. Over the course of 6 days, the groups hike 35-40 miles at high elevations in some of the most beautiful sites in the country. The base camp portion of the trip is led by The Woods Project volunteers and local wilderness educators provided by our partners Glacier Institute, Yosemite Instiute and Gateway Mountain Center. Students participate in hands-on science lessons to learn about the biology and geology of the surrouding area.

Accomplishments 2012
xxx Students participate in programming 143 Students experience Summer Trip 200 Volunteer Leaders 3,542 Nights in the woods
I had the opportunity to see and experience life in a extremely different way. The way I saw how different people reacted to the challenges that the mountains had to offer made me realize that every one can do it. I saw people struggling and that gave me the chance to encourage and help others reach the top. I had the chance to prove my self that I am able to be a good leader. - 10th Grader, Chinquapin Preparatory School 7 -The Woods Project - Annual Report

$748,822 Funds raised 4 National Parks and Forests Visited

BEYOND THE BACKPACK


SERVICE ORIENTED
In 2012, our students spent several weekends ensuring that natural areas around Houston would continue to be preserved for others to enjoy. From trail restoration at Sam Houston National Forest to removing invasive species at Katy Prairie, our students understand the importance of giving back to the community and conserving the environment. Katy Prairie Conservancy and Bayou Land Conservancy are just two of the partners we worked with this year to help maintain and improve natural habitats in and around Houston. The Katy Prairie Conservancy (KPC) was founded in 1992 as a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization focused on preserving at least 50,000 contiguous acres on the prairie. KPC is making significant progress toward this goal, with nearly 18,000 acres now protected 13,000 acres through direct ownership and the remaining acreage through conservation easements, purchased development rights, and public ownership. Bayou Land Conservancy is a community-sponsored land preservation organization working with willing landowners to permanently protect land in the greater Houston region. We preserve river and bayou corridors, other properties with significant wildlife habitat value and places where family recreation can occur in harmony with nature. Bayou Land Conservancy is proud to have conserved over 10,000 acres in the greater Houston region.

SCIENCE IN THE WOODS


The Woods Project experience includes significant exposure to hands on science and STEM subjects in general. For instance, for many of our students, a weekend trip with The Woods Project is the first time theyve actually seen stars. During spring and fall trips, well spend the first evening walking in the woods without a flashlight, with an I-Phone app that show the night sky. Something as simple as one of our students seeing stars can develop that students interest in the sciences. Opportunities such as these bring out the inquisitiveness in our kids.

My favorite activity was getting to study the marine life and seeing plankton glow in the dark. During the Summer, our science - 11th Grade Student, Yes Prep immersion goes much deeper. As Southwest part of our programs in Yosemite, 8 -The Woods Project - Annual Report

Donner, and Glacier, our students spend nine days in the woods with highly trained wilderness science teachers. A typical day will include walking five miles in what, to our students, is a foreign environment, and learning about invasive species, or fire ecology, biology, astronomy, or geology, or practice math skills through map and compass work. In addition, our students are given time to reflect about their experiences and journal about their thoughts. For many of our students, writing letters are a new experience, and each of our students, during the course of the program, writes at least three letters to friends of TWP about what theyve learned. Science is a big part of the TWP experience!

Rafael Soto was a freshman at Yes Prep Southwest when he began participating in The Woods Project. He grew up in Southwest Houston, where temptations and opportunities to go down the path of drugs, violence and gangs are plentiful. Almost all my friends in third grade had some sort of drug problem or involvement with drugs or an older sibling that was part of a gang, Rafael recalls. Rafael fought back the peer pressure and knew he had to find a way out of his neighborhood and the cycle of poverty surrounding him and his family. Rafael heard about The Woods Project when he was in middle school and quickly recognized it as an opportunity for him to grow beyond the challenges of his community. As a freshman in high school, he participated in the after-school club program and went on weekend trips with TWP. Reflecting on his experience with club and weekend trips, Rafael says, It taught me not only how to behave in the wilderness but how to appropriately communicate with my peers and develop the skills to create bonds with adults and look to them as mentors. Prepared with all of the skills he learned throughout school year, Rafael joined 40 other students from all over Houston and headed to Yosemite National Park for the two-week Summer Program. At Yosemite, Rafael remembers climbing mountains, seeing giant Sequoia trees and learning how to slow down to appreciate life. His favorite and most challenging and formative part of the two-weeks, however, was the 5-day backpacking trip led by TWP volunteers. A key aspect of TWP programming is handing leadership responsibili-

SUCCEEDING AGAINST ALL ODDS

tiestothestudents,encouragingthemtoworkasateamtomake decisions while on their backpacking trips. As Rafael recalls: I remembered standing there numb, looking around at the rest of the students in my group, waiting for someone to take charge. I dont know what happened, but something inside of me sparked and I decided to take charge. I grabbed the map, unknowingly taking the responsibility of the group. I started delegating tasks and encouraging others to also take part in the responsibilities. I didnt run to the front of the group to lead from there, instead I stepped back and slowed my pace to inspire and help those that were behind me look forward to the beauties that were around us and in this situation. He noticed a significant shift in group dynamics from that point on. We not only shared the roles as leaders, we shared tears, sweat, and the determination to keep pressing forward in our individual desires. The leadership skills Rafael developed during those 5 days ended up becoming critical five months after his return from Yosemite when Rafaels father passed away in a tragic accident. I found myself at a cross roads in life and again, I felt that spark inside me. A spark to lead only this time, I didnt have a choice. My mom needed me. My sister needed me, says Rafael. Rafael credits The Woods Project with building the skills that allow him to push through obstacles, no matter how big or small. Even up until this day, the ideals, beliefs and determination to endure and push through obstacles that were instilled upon me during those two weeks out in the wilderness have carried me to this point today, and will continue to guide me as I walk forward in life. Today, Rafael is a junior in high school and is the only kid on his block that is still in school.

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OUR COMMUNITY
Participant Ethnicity
8% 5%

24%

White Hispanic Black Other

63%

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100% VOLUNTEER DRIVEN


The Woods Project is a volunteer-driven organization. Volunteer/mentors join our program out of an intense desire to make a difference in the lives of youth. Our volunteer/mentors come from all walks of life and range from 21 to 75 years old. Volunteers include teachers who have free time in the summer to retired or semi-retired people who have the time for such engagement. The common denominator is that all have a passion for making a difference in the lives of low income youth and being in the outdoors. Staffing, using a 3:1 or lower ratio of students to staff, includes both The Woods Project volunteers and wilderness partners personnel working together to provide numerous opportunities for individual mentoring experiences as well as communal learning experiences. They challenge students, making them think through the possibility of answers to different problems the students may encounter. A goal of The Woods Project is to develop student leadership and initiative, and, to that end, volunteer/mentors teach and not do; they show the students how to do a task and then step back. Our leaders guide, but let the students earn success with the activity whether it is doing the dishes, cooking breakfast, setting the hiking pace, or other activity. Volunteers become trusted mentors and friends, and serve as role models.

Its a really great experience for the kids, undoubtedly, but I was enamored with the difference it makes in the lives of the adults involved, as well. -Rae DD Collins, Volunteer Leader

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MEASURING IMPACT
Over 600 students were served in 2012 totalling over 3,500 program days!

Surveys of participants demonstrate the effectiveness of The Woods Project in developing life and leadership skills. When asked to comment on a range of qualities after the program as compared to before, students reported feeling the following: 89.4% less afraid of things 92.1% more confident in their abilities 92.9% more responsible 88.9% learned a lot about team work 94.8% better at dealing with different situations 89.4% more likely to volunteer 92.9% more likely to take on new challenges 90.8% more likely to take the lead 82.8% more likely to question things 82.8% more likely to go to college I think the parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends of the students are all encouraged by seeing community youth go do something that most of them havent even considered a possibility. And when they see their youth return with a new maturity, most realize that leaving home and attending college is a real possibility. - Connor Parker, Volunteer Leader 12 -The Woods Project - Annual Report

OUR FINANCIALS

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BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Terry C. Bruner Carlton Cook Mike Feinberg Claudia Minor Micheal Palmer Joe Richardson Steve Rosencranz Vic Samuels

Advisory Board
Doug Leyendecker Faith Edwards Allen Mike Barone Brent Bersin Read Boles Pat Buckley Bryan Contreras Casey Doherty Joel Landis Mike Marsh Larry St. Martin Mark Montgomery Nicole Moss Kevin Rafferty Jeremy Samuels Chip Schneider Steven Sheldon Scott VanBeck Victor Tekell Champ Warren Andrea White

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OUR GENEROUS DONORS

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