Underserved rural youth in Bonner County and beyond will soon have a mountain field campus where they will be able to explore and learn about their winter wildlands and the greater Lake Pend Oreille Watershed.
Leading the charge is Sandpoint-based, Selkirk Outdoor Leadership & Education. SOLE’s effort has been supported by various local and regional partners, including the recent addition of the Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health and the city of Sandpoint with a recent grant award of $28, 413.64. Through support from the High Five Community Transformation Grant, SOLE is one step closer to completing a major $70,000 fundraising campaign to establish a mountain field campus at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. This will serve as a hub to educate and empower the community’s underserved local area youth through outdoor physical activity, said Dennison Webb, SOLE founder and executive director.
SOLE also has garnered support from local business, agencies, and corporations to ensure that local area youth have affordable access to the intentional experiential education programs that SOLE offers. These partners have included, Schweitzer Mountain Resort, Bonner General Health, Kochava, Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters, The William Wishnick Foundation, Panhandle Alliance for Education, Innovia Foundation, Equinox Foundation, and Lake Pend Oreille School District, along with the support of many generous personal donors. With continued support, SOLE’s will not only reach their fundraising goal, Webb said the organization will be able to actualize its vision of providing affordable and accessible experiential education programming for underserved local youth throughout the year.
“It is our vision that this community multi-use facility will serve as an outdoor learning center to educate and empower our underserved local area youth through purposeful place-based experiential and outdoor education programs which utilize mountain-based outdoor recreation as the mode of travel,” he said.
Since 2010, SOLE has been focused on providing intentional and transformational experiential education programs for youth in the Sandpoint community, and beyond. SOLE’s programs have served well-over 3,000 underserved rural youth, most notably through SOLE’s signature program — SnowSchool Experiences. In partnership with the Boise-based nonprofit, the Winter Wildlands Alliance, SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program provides novel, on the snow, hands-on outdoor experiences, where students are able to explore and learn in their winter wildlands through lessons related to snow science, winter ecology, conservational literacy, avalanche awareness, and outdoor living and travel skills. While there are 66 SnowSchool sites nationwide, SOLE’s SnowSchool Experience program at Schweitzer was recognized as a National Flagship SnowSchool Site in 2017, becoming only the second site to receive this designation. In addition to this prestigious recognition, SOLE earned regional accolades in 2017, when its program received an Innovation Award from the Idaho Nonprofit Center for its innovative approach to education, specifically its novel E-STEM place-based experiential education curriculum.
Initially, The Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation for Health awarded a Community Transformation Grant to the city of Sandpoint to fund projects that encourage healthy eating and physical activity for children. The $250,000 grant was awarded from High Five, the foundation’s childhood obesity initiative. The allocation of the grant funds was determined by the Bonner County Coalition for Health, which partnered with the Foundation to identify projects that supported either increased physical activity and access to healthy, affordable foods.