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NON-PROFIT SPOTLIGHT: WILDERNESS WORKS

“Wilderness Works means neglected children have a safe and enriching alternative with friends and experiences that last a lifetime.”

Connection is a fundamental human need. It is a requirement for living a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life. However, finding a support system can be particularly challenging in impoverished neighborhoods, especially for children who often struggle with feelings of abandonment and low self-esteem.

Wilderness Works maintains that “children in despairing, neglected circumstances find any attention—positive or not—to fill the gap.” Wilderness Works was established to become anecessary and positive alternative”—something they have accomplished through hard work, dedication, and the assistance of a supportive community.

Wilderness Works maintains this status through the programs they offer, strengthening the interpersonal skills and self-confidence of the children who participate in them. In addition, these programs grant young people the opportunity to learn, grow, and bond with friends in a safe and supportive environment. 

          

History

As an educator and lover of the outdoors, William “Bill” Mickler, founder and Executive Director of Wilderness Works, saw the value in integrating outdoor activities into the education process. He founded Wilderness Works in 1997, intending to provide cultural enrichment and outdoor living experiences to children living in and around the properties managed by the Atlanta Housing Authority.

In the beginning stages, Wilderness Works primarily served the Atlanta Housing Authority properties and relied upon their partner and fellow Atlanta-based non-profit organization, Hands On Atlanta, for volunteer support. They have since then expanded and have become a pillar in the Atlanta community. 

In 1999, Wilderness Works established a relationship with Camp Evergreen, an organization located in North Georgia that provides summer camp experiences to children in need. Through this relationship, Wilderness Works began offering summer camp services to the children who were involved in their programs.

Expansion took off in 2004 when Wilderness Works began reaching additional Atlanta neighborhoods, and in 2005, the organization partnered with Atlanta elementary schools and the area’s leading homeless shelters. Over the next several years, Wilderness Works formed several additional partnerships, allowing them to provide a wider variety of programs, services, and experiences to the children they serve. These organizations include Atlanta Mission, Camp Bob-Kanuga, Camp Grace, and more. 

These partnerships helped Wilderness Works continue its growth and strengthened its positive impact on the Atlanta community. The Wilderness Work impact has been so significant that it attracted Al Roker’s attention from the NBC Today Show in 2008 on his Lend a Hand segment. According to Wilderness Works, Al Roker coined “City Camp” for their second-level camp program.

The Wilderness Works Program

The Wilderness Works program operates as a pyramid, requiring children to complete one program before graduating into the next. This model ensures that campers are ready for the different adventures each program has to offer and helps build the children’s self-esteem as they are earning their way to the top. 

Children begin their Wilderness Works journey at Day Camp, a program where children participate in enrichment-based activities, such as going to local parks and museums. They develop friendships with fellow campers and mentors and begin to see and experience everything nature offers them. Day Camp serves as an introductory program and prepares children for the camps that require higher camping and life experience levels. 

Once children are active in the Day Camp program, they will then have the opportunity to climb the pyramid. The ultimate goal of Wilderness Works Campers, according to the organization, is being accepted to the Field Camp program. A Field Camper, along with their fellow campers, mentors, and friends, can put their developed camping and life skills into practice in beautiful national parks and forests.

Day Camp

  • For elementary-aged children
  • Takes place during the school year on weekend days
  • Meals with great friends
  • Includes enrichment-based field trips (area venues, museums, parks)
  • The first step in moving up into City Camp

City Camp

  • For elementary-aged children
  • Held at the City Camp facility in Atlanta
  • 20-hour enrichment experience
  • Operates on Friday with an overnight stay 
  • Chaperoned by trained, background-checked volunteer staff
  • Three meals provided by civic and corporate partners
  • Includes enrichment-based experiences (area venues, museums, parks)
  • Takes place on several weekends throughout the school year
  • The next step to moving up to Summer Camp

Summer Camp

  • A week-long summer camp that takes place on multiple occasions throughout the summer
  • Experiential learning and summer camp activities (swimming, campfires, hiking, canoeing, camping, zip-lines, cabin life)
  • Counselor and fellow camper friends
  • Spiritually uplifting camp experience
  • Made possible by leading civic organizations, corporate donors, churches, Camp Evergreen, Camp Glisson, Camb Bob, Camp Grace, and more
  • Comes with the ability to be eligible for Core Camp upon successful completion

Core Camp

  • Requires invitation and prerequisites (Day Camp, City Camp, and Summer Camp)
  • For those with excellent behavior and attitude
  • Camps assigned by gender
  • For middle school-aged children
  • Occurs monthly
  • Includes two overnight field trips
  • Service work 
  • Prepares campers for Field Camp

Field Camp

  • For the most focused and serious campers
  • Comes after years of experience in Core Camp with strong camping experience required
  • Adventures in national parks and forests
  • Requires completed service work hours focused on younger campers and building maintenance at the City Camp facility

Why Wilderness Works?

Wilderness Works states that the program’s overall result is character development, cultural enrichment, experiential education, and face-to-face relationship building. The impact of the Wilderness Works program stretches across many facets of a child’s life. According to the Wilderness Works website, “children participating in Wilderness Works programming are more interested in and better prepared for school, showing improved academic performance, better school attendance, better grades, and improved classroom behavior.” 

Additionally, the interpersonal skills and self-confidence of Wilderness Works campers develop throughout the experience. Campers show improved relationships with adults and peers, display an enhanced interest in hobbies, and develop an increased excitement and hope for their future. Finally, through experiential learning alongside supportive mentors and peers, Wilderness Works campers can better express themselves and their emotions. 

The aforementioned gap that neglected children sometimes attempt to fill becomes filled by Wilderness Works with positivity through friendship, spirituality, education, and support. 

Wilderness Works Has Space

Wilderness Works is currently accepting enrollment for Day Camp and is currently in the process of planning the 2022 Summer Camp season! Although COVID-19 has presented some challenges to the Wilderness Works programs, they have been overcome. Wilderness Works operates with solid COVID-19 safety policies and procedures in place to provide the safest experience possible for all children, volunteers, and staff. 

You can register a child for Wilderness Works Day Camp here.

Contact and Donate

You can contact Wilderness Works Day Camp via their contact form if you have any questions or want to volunteer, donate items, or register a child for camp. You can also contribute to the organization today by visiting the donation page. With the community’s help, Wilderness Works can provide the best services possible to children in need. 

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