A Village of Volunteers

Big City Mountaineers’ (BCM) network reaches across the United States to encompass mountain ranges, national parks, boundary waters, and wild seashores. Each year BCM organizes nearly 90 outdoor trips to six wild regions for more than 300 youth who might not otherwise get the opportunity. The scale of the endeavor requires a unique mix of strategic planning and just-in-time choreography.  The force behind this powerhouse? A team of only 12 dedicated employees … and hundreds of volunteers.  

“Our BCM volunteers are vital,” says BCM National Volunteer & Operations Coordinator Hillary Chavez. “BCM staff are a lean team with a gigantic passion. We need, and have, volunteers who share that passion to help youth from historically marginalized communities  access the outdoors.”

 

In the Backcountry 

As of June 2024, BCM has a total of 456 volunteers registered for the current year. The volunteers are divided into two broad categories–on-trail, or “backcountry,” volunteers and those helping out in the “front country.”  The on-trail volunteers assist BCM instructors and the youth participants with day trips, overnight trips and multi-night expeditions. Many on-trail volunteers are staff representatives from the youth agency partners (YAPs) participating in the program. Other adults on the trips typically include professional BCM instructors and other vetted volunteers. The number of adult participants on the trips is dependent on the number of youth. The goal, according to Hillary, is a ratio of one adult per three youth participants. 

On-trail volunteers must go through BCMs volunteer application process, in addition to a background check. They are trained on program fundamentals and most have considerable wilderness experience. 

 

The Front of the House

Less physically challenging, but equally as important to Big City Mountaineers is the work that the front-country volunteers provide. There are opportunities to contribute by coming out to an in-person event or working remotely from home. In-person volunteers assist with gear management – preparing the gear for each outing (a reminder: all gear is provided free to BCM’s youth participants) and repairing, cleaning, and shelving gear after each trip. 

Additionally, in-person volunteers help with the dozens of events that BCM participates in across the country every year. The volunteers staff tables representing BCM at concerts, outdoor festivals, and road races, among others. Two of the main goals at these events are to strengthen BCM’s name recognition and to attract future supporters and partners. A common bonus for volunteers is free tickets to attend popular events while also sharing the good work of BCM with a diverse audience of equity engaged communities, outdoor enthusiasts, and civic leaders.  

Remote front-country volunteers are typically professionals providing pro bono services. Like any group running a nationwide program, BCM requires legal, fundraising, marketing, and communications help. The pro bono volunteers, both individuals and corporations, provide their professional expertise to keep BCM up and running at top efficiency. 

In addition to the on-trail and front-country volunteers, BCM is led by a volunteer board of directors and a national council. These individuals advocate for BCM and each represents an area of expertise or perspective in youth outdoor spaces. They come from academia, experiential education, the outdoor industry, civic leadership, philanthropy, and other organizations that have a deep commitment to the mission of BCM. 

 

The Mission and the Magic

That mission and a personal love of the outdoors are the attraction for many BCM volunteers, including Tom Miller.  Tom has been volunteering since 2008 and will participate in his 12th BCM expedition in Colorado at the end of July 2024. 

“BCM is my summer camp,” Tom says. “I already enjoyed hiking and the Colorado mountains when I discovered BCM online. They are involved in the things I love to do.” Tom grew up in Mobile, Alabama, where he says his summers were mostly “free-range” explorations of the city streets and the woods. The outdoor adventures offered by a move to Colorado and the access to the outdoors that BCM provided youth were a perfect match for Tom’s passions. And they continue to be. 

“Every time I go on an expedition, all this magic happens,” Tom says. “It is impactful, transformative, meaningful and profound.”

For more information on volunteer opportunities with BCM, see the Volunteer page on the website or contact hillary.chavez@bigcitymountaineers.org.

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