Pride Month is an important time to think about how we’re supporting marginalized communities – especially in the sustainability world. Living sustainably, connecting with nature, and finding community in those spaces are incredible tools for learning about ourselves and coming into our own. For the LGBTQ+ community, those tools aren’t always readily available – but 1% For the Planet organization Brave Trails is looking to change that! During June 2021, we donated to the Brave Trails Outdoor Adventures program for orders placed on EarthHero.
We sat down with Brave Trails co-founder Jessica Weissbuch to learn more about the nonprofit organization, its incredible programs, why they’re so important, and how we can each get more involved. Keep scrolling to learn more!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q1: Can you tell us how Brave Trails was founded, and what your mission is as a nonprofit?
A1: The idea of Brave Trails was born from a late night conversation between myself and my wife, Kayla, while on our way home from the movies. Kayla received a scholarship to attend a summer camp when she was 8 years old and quickly fell in love with the supportive, warm, and transformational environment. She returned to camp every year until she became a staff member, and always dreamed of one day becoming a camp director. I am a licensed marriage and family therapist, and I focused my academic life on studying LGBTQ+ youth affirmative therapy practices.
The combination of Kayla’s love of summer camp and my passion for LGBTQ+ youth leadership are the cornerstones of Brave Trails. Most importantly, we dreamed of a space that LGBTQ+ youth could always call a home away from home. Thankfully others felt the same way, and the first ever Brave Trails summer camp session was fully funded by small, individual donations from our community. We say, “Brave Trails was born out of a labor of love and passion for something that desperately needed to exist when we were growing up, and is even more needed for this next generation of LGBTQ+ youth.”
Brave Trails’ mission is to build the next generation of LGBTQ leaders. Brave Trails is a national non-profit organization dedicated to LGBTQ+ youth leadership. We offer accredited summer camps, family camps, mentorship programs, meet-up groups, and year-round leadership programming. All of our programs focus on helping LGBTQ+ youth find what they need most to thrive: their people, their place, and their passion. Nothing makes us prouder than seeing our youth take the skills they gain in our programs and use them to create meaning change in their communities.
Q2: What are some of the larger programs Brave Trails engages in?
A2: Our summer camp is our biggest program. In a typical year (not COVID year) we have five weeks of camp in southern CA and one one week in Maryland. We have 300-350 campers throughout the summer. We also fund a family camp that is one long weekend a year and we serve approximately 100 people. This past year, due to COVID we have been running a lot of on-line programs and have seen over 1,000 queer youth utiltize these programs.
Q3: What are some of the programs and activities your campers experience?
A3: Campers have the opportunity to do many different activities – we like to say it is like “choose your own adventure” while at camp! We have what we call Build On Programs. These are programs that the campers attend everyday to build a skill throughout their time at camp. Some examples of these programs are dance, outdoor adventure/education, photography, theatre, drag, farming, and zine making. We also offer one-off programs such as swimming, archery, and hiking.
One of our main focuses is our leadership program. We have four to five different leadership workshops for the campers to pick from everyday. Some examples of leadership workshops are outdoor education, queer sex-ed, public speaking, mindfulness, knowing your rights as an LGBTQ youth, environmental sustainability, learning about the land we use, and hiking (with leadership twist). Our other leadership program is called Passion to Action: this helps the campers learn how to identify their passion and turn it into action in their community. The campers also participate in a service project, in addition to our evening programs, which are just a lot of fun, and include activities like dances, campfires, and inflatable carnivals.
Q4: How does Brave Trails integrate sustainability and environmental experiences into camp?
A4: Brave Trails incorporates sustainability and environmental experiences in everything we do! We teach about it explicitly in our leadership workshops such as outdoor education, learning about the land, and hiking, with education about sustainability and the environment throughout. We work with the influencer, Pattie Gonia, who comes to camp and has done drag workshops on how to create your look with recycled materials. This summer Pattie will be on our staff for a whole session! We also incorporate sustainability into our everyday living, leaving the place better than we found it. We compost at camp and recycle as well.
Q5: Between June 16 – June 22, every order made on EarthHero.com using code PRIDE15 will get 15% off sitewide, and will contribute $1 to the Outdoor Adventures program at Brave Trails. Can you tell us more about the Outdoor Adventures program, and how these donations will help Brave Trails?
A5: Our Outdoor Adventures program is a build-on program so our campers learn the skills over the whole week, ending with a huge campout under the stars! Some of the things the campers learn are how to cook using a campfire, care for and pitch a tent, tear down a campsite and leave no trace, and the basics of map reading, and trail maintenance. The program also incorporates an extension activity they can implement in their own community/friend group that involves planning logistics, organizing, and implementing the mapping of their community to identify gaps in resources such as green space, food deserts, healthcare access, etc., and begin to formulate an action plan to effect change. Your very generous donation will help us buy the supplies we need to teach these things!
Q6: What do you see as the future for Brave Trails? What are some of your goals?
A6: We have a lot of visions for our future – one of them is to eventually start a backpacking session for some of our campers! We are also focused on the mental health of our campers and are launching a new mental health program in September. There’s one other big announcement that will be coming soon, so please stay tuned for that!
Q7: If you could say one thing to someone just getting into sustainability, what would it be?
A7: Even small steps toward sustainability makes a big difference and to continue to learn and challenge yourself!
Q8: How can people get involved with Brave Trails?
A8: There are many ways to get involved with Brave Trails. You can come and volunteer as a staff member for a session, come and do a leadership workshop for our campers, do a virtual workshop for our camper during the school year, and become a donor to help us continue to offer these programs for our queer youth!
Brave Trails is a non-profit organization with the mission of connecting LGBTQ+ youth to their people, place, and passion. They offer leadership summer camps in California & Maryland, family camps, mentorship programs, and year-round leadership programming. You can learn more about Brave Trails at www.bravetrails.org or by following them @bravetrails.