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Participation fund aims to help lower-income students enjoy the outdoors

Westminster College students Annie Brown, Annie Vreeke and Lancee Whetman walk through a washed-out canyon during an outdoor leadership trip in May 2016. The Outdoor Program’s Participation Fund, which started in 2014, helps students financially who otherwise wouldn’t be able to attend a weekend trip with the college. (Photo by Jesse Cervantes)

Nearly 19 percent of non-outdoor participants ages 6 and up said they don’t engage with outdoor recreation activities because the equipment is “too expensive,” according to the 2017 Outdoor Participation Report.

With the price of tuition, textbooks, housing and other expenses, the cost of a trip could be the last thing on a student’s mind. But the Outdoor Program’s Participation Fund at Westminster College looks to change that by working with students who love nature and the outdoors but may not have the financial resources to embark on a trip.

“One of the last things we want is for people to perceive the fee for going on an [outdoor] trip to be a barrier for them to be able to go,” said Tiana White, director of the Outdoor Program. “We want anybody who wants to come on a trip to come on a trip.”

The registration fee for the program’s upcoming cross-country skiing and yurt camping trip is $65, and purchasing gear can add up fast — a new tent, shelter, sleeping system, footwear, clothing, food, permits and guides could cost thousands of dollars in gear. But Westminster’s program works to alleviate these costs.

“We ask people to consider what they would spend on a weekend anyway and come to us with how much of the trip fee they can manage with their budget,” White said. “We usually meet them somewhere in the middle; $60–$65 [for] gas, food, campsites, entrance fees, all the things you need [and] equipment for Friday through Sunday is pretty darn good.”

The money for the Participation Fund, which started in 2014, comes from sales on the program’s used gear, according to White.

“We kind of invented it,” she said. “No one told us we had to do it.”

“One of the last things we want is for people to perceive the fee for going on an [outdoor] trip to be a barrier for them to be able to go. We want anybody who wants to come on a trip to come on a trip.” — Tiana White, director of the Outdoor Program

The Participation Fund may also help reduce the social isolation that some students from lower-economic classes might feel on college campuses.

“Colleges now are more divided by wealth than ever,” said Vicki Madden, who works for the New York City Department of Education, in an article for The New York Times. “When lower-income students start college, they often struggle to finish for many reasons, but social isolation and alienation can be big factors.”

At Westminster, students don’t need to know how to rock climb, backpack, cross-country ski or do any other activities — which sometimes cost exorbitant amounts of money to learn — in order to attend any of the Outdoor Program’s trips.

“The biggest thing that I think deters people from signing up on trip is that they feel like they need prior experience, which really isn’t true,” said Sam Siller, a senior and outdoor trip leader.

Harrison Buck, a senior environmental science major and outdoor education and leadership minor, has been involved with the outdoor community since his outdoor orientation trip and said Westminster is working to close both income and knowledge gaps in outdoor participation.

“The Outdoor Program does a good job of making all of the trips accessible disregarding [your] experience level,” he said. “You don’t have to know anything about camping, rock climbing or whatever the activity is. You can go on a trip and learn stuff, be involved and have a good time and you don’t have to have any prior knowledge.”

The Outdoor Program encourages students who want to experience a trip, learn new skills and become part of the outdoor community, but have a financial barrier to ask about the Participation Fund.

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Jesse is a junior communication major who loves graphic and web design. His work is rooted in research, experimentation and finding imaginative solutions to complex problems. His ultimate goal for his design is to enhance a user’s experience when he or she navigates through his work. When he isn’t designing, Jesse spends most of his spare time traveling and hiking in his backyard, the Wasatch Mountains. Jesse is excited to put his background and skills to use designing The Forum’s monthly newspaper as its production manager.

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