Impact Stories

Who will be the changemakers, leaders, and environmental stewards of tomorrow? 

Below are a few of their stories. Your support makes experiences like these possible. By connecting people of different ages, backgrounds, and experiences to nature—especially young people—you are helping to ensure a bright future for all.  

Mia

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"I’m a small town girl and member of the Swinomish Tribe. My dad taught me how to hunt before I could walk and I hold the record for the 3rd largest elk taken out of Western Washington. Since 2015, I’ve participated in a Youth Leadership Adventures trip, the Summit, and Ambassadors. Before YLA, I had a close-minded view on people. My first thoughts when I arrived were: this place is beautiful, and what did I get myself into? The woods aren't new to me, but these activities with 9 strangers, felt awkward.

During our trip, we hiked over 90 miles, completed stewardship projects, studied wildlife and glaciology, and helped each other grow. I pushed myself and came to know myself in a new way. After my trip, the Youth Ambassador program taught me useful college skills.

These programs shaped my environmental consciousness by changing my actions. I used to not think twice about the ground I walked on. Now, I've seen the effects on an environmental area when we complete a project together. Even more, YLA shaped the way I view people. I realized that we all share commonalities. I formed connections with peers who are now my friends, with mentors who work for the park service, and most of all, with people who care about me. Thanks to the people at the North Cascades Institute, I know that I'll always have someone in my corner.

Today I'm at Skagit Valley Community College, working toward a degree in environmental conservation. I am pursuing my dream job to be a wildlife biologist, so that I can preserve our wildlife for future generations to come."

Tina

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"I grew up in Mount Vernon, WA. I spent my childhood summers climbing cherry trees and swimming in Lake Samish. I love calling the beautiful Skagit Valley home, from the farmlands in the lower valley, the Salish Sea to the west, and the North Cascades to the east. Although I grew up with a view of Mount Baker, my first time visiting the North Cascades was not until the 5th grade when I went to Mountain School.

Mountain School was the first time I ever camped. I remember sleeping on a small cot and wearing plastic bags on my feet to keep them dry. Most vividly, I remember the unbridled excitement I felt to be in this wonderland of tall trees and snow-capped peaks. Here, anything seemed possible. Had it not been for my experience at Mountain School, I wouldn’t have known about this extraordinary wilderness so close to home.

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My connection to the North Cascades deepened over two summers spent with the North Cascades National Park Service. My job was to introduce and connect my community and Spanish-speaking audiences to the park so that we would all enjoy and protect these lands. I tried to answer the same question North Cascades Institute still asks today: How can we make our organization and programs more accessible to the diversity of people that live in this region?

A two-summer job has turned into a life-long passion of advocating for equity, diversity and inclusion within the outdoor recreation and environmental movement.  I’m thrilled to now be on the Institute Board of Directors to further this work and inspire the environmental stewards of tomorrow."

Eric Henry, Science Teacher

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"The 8th graders at Mount Baker Junior High grow up in the shadow of Mount Baker,  yet half have never gone up the highway to the stunning vista of Artist Point, played at the Mt. Baker Ski Area, or hiked the nearby trails. Although many hunt or fish or engage in other outdoor sports, they often have no understanding of public lands, including their national forests and national parks.

Our annual field trip to Mt. Baker Snow School shifts that paradigm. Students are exposed to the value of public lands. They explore the national forest outside their door. They travel on snowshoes to experience the mountains in winter. And they engage in “real-world” scientific experience, which is a vital component of Next Generation Science Standards and a core part of our science curriculum.

Working with outside organizations is another vital part of science education. Through Snow School our students learn from representatives of North Cascades Institute, US Forest Service, Mt. Baker Ski Area, Northwest Avalanche Center (NWAC) and with students & professors from Western Washington University (WWU). Imagine … eighth graders working directly with a university professor!

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In 2018, students deepened their knowledge with post-trip school visits. WWU research students from Dr. Kodner’s lab worked with one group of students on snow algae. For some, this was their first experience using compound microscopes or seeing live microscopic organisms. They got to think about organisms in new ways and have a fun and educational experience that built on the abstract event of melting snow and filtering melt-water for organisms. The other group focused on snow science and worked with NWAC scientists. They used their knowledge of variation in the snowpack and snow water equivalent together to examine the effect on rivers. They also observed how water can compact as it goes from snow to melt-water, and therefore have a much different volume.

We created a Community Symposium that allowed students to evaluate their own work and learn from others, and gave them an opportunity to articulate their learning to the community. The Snow Algae group found repeatable results that even surprised Dr. Kodner! And we were able to inform the general public about both snow science and snow algae, which many people had been completely unaware of before.

Snow School is providing excellent opportunities for Mount Baker Junior High students to better know their local natural area as well as rare, real-world science experience!"

Imara

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"I came in as an apprentice with very little experience, but that changed quickly. I received Wilderness First Aid certification, learned how to create lesson plans and gained valuable experiences as an educator. I also learned how to be a leader and make decisions in tough situations.

There aren’t many opportunities for low-income or people of color to get this kind of experience. I never imagined that I could be an outdoor educator because I never had the opportunity to go camping, much less encounter a park ranger. I didn’t know jobs like this existed until now. I suspect that is true for many kids coming on courses.

Youth Leadership Adventures means so much to me and to so many students. For a lot of kids in the program, the North Cascades become a second home, and they saw us apprentices as role models - people who they could be one day if they work hard and pursue their outdoor interests.

This apprenticeship allows students to pursue outdoor education as a realistic career; it helps create the next generation of outdoor educators!"

Kang Pu

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Kang Pu is the oldest of 5 children, born in a small village in the Zogam region of Burma. He started helping on his family farm at a young age when he wasn’t in school. He was 10 years old when his mother passed away in childbirth and he bottle-fed and slept near his baby brother every night.

At 13 he needed to start providing for his family so he walked for two days to India with a water buffalo, which he sold to buy a plane ticket to Malaysia.

I worked for three years helping to prepare dim sum at a Chinese restaurant. I could not go to school there, but could send almost all of the money I earned to my family in Burma. I missed my family and my country very deeply, but I knew that there was more opportunity elsewhere.”

In 2014, he flew to the US with his aunt and uncle, and they got refugee status. Kang Pu now attends Foster High School and is working on his English. He told his school newspaper in February,

When I first arrived here, I just walked around and looked at all the trees; there were not very many of those where I was living in Kuala Lumpur.”

Being in a national park particularly inspired Kang Pu during his Youth Leadership Adventures course in 2015. After completing his education, he hopes to return to Burma as businessman to help with education and perhaps even start a national park.

After we cut down all the trees, the birds and animals went to other places. I want them to come back. I want to create the first Burmese National Park to protect the land, animals and birds, including Zomi’s national emblem, the hornbill. The hornbill symbolizes a noble and beautiful life characterized by love and faithfulness.”

Youth Leadership Adventures taught Kang Pu how to be a good follower and good leader.

I learned how to speak in front of others and why getting outside is important. Other students should do this program because if they just stay home they won’t learn anything. We learn how to take care of the environment when we face challenges, go outside, and meet new people.”

Kang Pu was featured in The Everett Herald!

JJ

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JJ first attended Youth Leadership Adventures on a scholarship in 2014. Early on JJ recognized the importance of the outdoors for personal renewal and growth. In 5th grade he was regularly bullied because of his weight and he began abandoning his friends, schoolwork, and other activities.

But in 6th grade he started biking and skiing. This newfound connection to nature led to participating with local environmental groups and starting an environmental club at his school. But he still didn’t consider himself a leader and in fact had a deep fear of public speaking.

By the end of the first day of his Outdoor Leadership course, his group had nicknamed him Smiley.

I was told by my group that my smile had an impact on them. Being told this really boosted my self-confidence because it let me know that I’m not negative and I’m easily liked.”

When JJ first began getting outdoors it had been as an escape from the realities of everyday life, but he now understands the connection between his life in Yakima and the natural world.

JJ waxed poetically about his time.

I was once eroded by other forces, torn down, rolled down to the bottom of valleys, canyons, and crevasses. But now I’m a mountain reaching to the skies, a tree growing up to the top of the tree line, and a rock continuing its journey in the rushing river of life. Thanks to my summer experience in Youth Leadership Adventures, I have learned that I am a positive and successful leader... I will help protect the environment because the environment is just like me.”

JJ came back in 2015 for the Science and Sustainability course and is now president of his school’s ecology club, increasing the number of club members and days in the field. Read about why this was the 'best summer ever' from JJ and other student success stories here.

Joseph

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To watch a friend die and not be able to help can be debilitating for anyone. For Joseph, who was born in Myanmar and fled at a young age with his family to find safety in Burmese refugee camps, it was a calling to learn how to save a life. He vowed at an early age to do something to save lives, yet he felt guilty for not being able to save his friend and was ashamed to talk about his past.

On his first day of class in the US, Joseph was intrigued by an opportunity offered to him during a North Cascades Institute presentation: spend 8 days in the wilderness learning outdoor, stewardship and leadership skills with Youth Leadership Adventures. Four months later, he was on the trail with a backpack and team of peers and mentors that would change his life.

Because of his background as a refugee, he assumed people wouldn’t like him and so was always on the defensive. And despite speaking six languages, Joseph was uncomfortable speaking English in front of others.

Youth Leadership Adventures gave him the opportunity to conquer these fears in a safe, supportive environment and to learn, alongside his peers, the value of nature and how he could make a positive difference in the world.

Joseph began to understand that others didn’t hate him, but rather the hate and guilt he had carried within himself all these years following his friend’s death had drastically impaired his ability to make friends. The most challenging experience was presenting his story, in English, to the adult visitors who came midway through the trip. He challenged himself and was able to share his aspirations to one day become an EMT or Search and Rescue member.

My experiences from my summer trip influenced me to become a man who values nature, animals, and friends. Also, it made me become a more confident and social man than I was before."

Joseph was nominated to participate in the national program, TEEN CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) in Tukwila, and is now a trained volunteer able to assist in his community. Joseph’s path to achieving his life-long goal to help save lives was jumpstarted through his participation in Youth Leadership Adventures

Crystal

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Coming from a Puerto Rican-American single parent household, transportation and income kept Crystal from participating in ‘typical’ community activities. She wanted to become the first person in her family to go to college, but didn’t know where to start. Then she found the Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth program, which helps make environmental education more accessible in one of the Skagit Valley's most racially diverse neighborhoods. Crystal loved the Kulshan field trips and began to wonder if biology could be a potential career path for her. She was the perfect candidate for our Youth Leadership Adventures Science and Sustainability course!

She was elated when she received a scholarship that enabled her to take the course:

I felt so blessed! When the Institute assured me that things I didn’t have, like a sleeping bag and hiking boots, would be provided to me, I just remember feeling so welcomed!

Camping, canoeing and hiking were all new for Crystal, and her ability to look at any situation with a positive attitude turned these challenges into opportunities. 

After this summer, I feel like I can do anything! The leadership skills and confidence I gained is something I will never forget.”

And we’re lucky that Crystal’s story continued with us. She spoke to an adult audience for the Wild Nearby North Cascades book, organized a fun run at her school to raise money for the Kulshan Creek program and came back as a Youth Leadership Adventure apprentice in 2015. She's now attending Pacific Lutheran University and continues to look for opportunities to help others grow and connect with nature. 

Bianca

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Bianca participated in North Cascades Wild, a precursor to our Youth Leadership Adventures program, in 2009.

I can still remember all my emotions I got that phone call saying I was accepted to go on this trip! Pure shock, excitement, anticipation, and wonder overcame me. Once I actually got to go on the trip, my whole point of view of the world changed, and many doors opened up for me.”

The following summer, Bianca participated in a 3-week Watershed Ecology program in Alaska, then came back to attend our inaugural Youth Leadership Conference.

Once I viewed the beauty of the North Cascades, I realized something. I actually want to help preserve this captivating place for many future generations. My group leaders taught me how important it is to care for natural areas, and what we can do to help conserve it."

Bianca continued her work on public lands in the summer of 2015. After the Goodall Wildfire blew up in the Newhalem Gorge that summer, it began spreading toward our Environmental Learning Center. Two fire crews were called in, including Bianca who was working on the North Zone fire engine for Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. 

It was amazing returning to North Cascades Institute not as a wide-eyed student just starting to learn about nature and stewardship, but as a wildlands firefighter working for the Forest Service. It really felt like coming full circle, and I don't think I'd be where I am today without those early experiences with the Institute."

Indira

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Indira attended Mountain School with her fifth grade class in 2004.

It was totally different—a whole new world I’d never seen before and it was pretty cool.”

She recalls how the Mountain School trail groups broke up the cliques and brought everyone together.

While Mountain School made a big impression on her, Indira didn’t stop there. In 2009 and 2011 she participated in what is now our Youth Leadership Adventures program. She spent over a month in the North Cascades overcoming the challenges of being placed far outside one’s comfort zone.

I grew so much from this opportunity to lead others.”

Indira went on to become an assistant with our Kulshan Creek Neighborhood Youth program that provides monthly field trips to youth and their families from three Skagit Valley neighborhoods. “It’s a great opportunity for families to bond, to go outside and do fun things that they wouldn’t otherwise have the means to do.” Having grown up having to make do with less, Indira knows the importance of these opportunities. Indira came full circle last year when she returned to Mountain School as a chaperone with Kulshan Creek.