There are few things as empowering as learning to rely on oneself in the Colorado mountain wilderness. For underserved urban youths, the shift in perspective can have a positive and permanent impact on the trajectory of their lives.
Big City Mountaineers (BCM) — a Miami born nonprofit now headquartered in Golden, CO — has spent the last 26 years transforming
the lives of young people in their community by doing just that. The results have been nothing short of inspirational.
“When you put everything you have into a backpack and hike up a mountain for five days, sustain yourself, learn about the environment and reach some goals, it’s impactful,” said BCM advisory board member Drew Kern, whose father, Jim, founded the organization. “We’ve witnessed that for over 20 years now and have seen several kids come back as counselors.”
BCM first began when Jim Kern — a lifelong backpacking enthusiast who created the American Hiking Society and cofounded the Florida Trail Association in the 1960s with his wife, Lynn — took Drew and a 13-year-old Overtown boy from a single parent home on a week-long hiking trip in 1989 with the help of another adult. Recognizing the potential effect a one-toone youth to role model ratio could have in wilderness mentoring expeditions, he officially founded BCM soon afterwards.
Today, close to 1,000 youths go into the program every year with the participation of vetted local youth agencies. The excursions improve their senses of responsibility, decision-making, communication, integrity and self-esteem through trust exercises, group projects and goal reassessments. All BCM volunteers undergo a rigorous screening and training process. Kids who partake in the program have proven to be more likely to stay in school and are less likely to engage in violence and drug use.
“We are proud when we look back at the kids we’ve impacted and the amount of volunteers that have stepped up,” Kern said. “One of the best success stories we have is of a Miami teen who went out 15 years ago. He is now a juvenile justice officer and points to his experience with BCM as one of the things that helped turn his life around.”
BCM is an open book; visitors to their website can look over detailed annual reports on the group’s accomplishments and finances. In 2014 alone, 976 underresourced urban youths developed critical life skills, 452 adults volunteered and logged more than 42,500 hours in the field, and their customizable “Summit for Someone” charity climbs for adventuresome adults—whose proceeds go to fund BCM—raised more than $550 thousand.
On Oct. 23, more than $30 thousand was raised at the 13th annual Business Network International (BNI)/BCM Charity Golf Tournament at the Melreese International Links Golf Course.
“While BCM is a national organization, all the funds we raise here [in Miami] through this golf tournament and private donations stay here,” Kern said. “We partner with local people and businesses. One of the groups we partner with is Touching Miami With Love, a nonprofit that serves youth in the Overtown area. People can volunteer in a ton of different ways. You don’t have to spend time on the trails to donate to or help this worthy cause.”
Big City Mountaineers is located at 710 10th St., Suite 120, Golden, CO 80401.
For information, call 303-271-9200 or visit BigCityMountaineers.org