Explore Austin 2022 Impact Report

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A Legacy of Firsts Continues

Letter from the CEO

Dear Supporters,

When I talk with my peers leading other outdoor adventure programs (and there aren’t many of us!) they are astounded by what Explore Austin does, year after year. In 2022, moving 300-plus people – including youth Explorers, volunteer Mentors and our professional guides – and all of the necessary gear across five states for Summer Wilderness Trips was a true feat.

championed or empowered a child in one way or another, family member, educator, or volunteer. The need has never been December, the U.S. surgeon general warned of a “devastating” mental adolescents.

But our impact goes beyond this: We are the only program in the state of Texas that combines long-term mentorship with year-round, outdoor adventure. In the U.S., there are fewer than five such programs. In 2022, 95 Mentors provided a collective 11,702 hours of mentoring to 266 youth over their 153 Saturday Challenges and 18 Summer Wilderness Trips.

Explore Austin has been there for our youth. We were there pandemic, when students were grieving the loss of school, sports and activities, and their friends. Because the communities in which disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, many also became the death of family members, and faced economic uncertainty.

Time in nature is essential for our physical, cognitive and emotional wellbeing, and studies find that outdoor education is particularly effective at helping low-income students perform better in school and problem solve. Additionally, equipping youth with caring adult Mentors and adventurous time outside facilitates trust, belonging, courage and perseverance. However, there is a “nature gap" that has become more pronounced in Austin, signaling our program is more needed than ever before.

essential for our physical, cognitive, and emotional well-being. caring adult Mentors and adventurous time outside facilitates as well as courage and perseverance. Explore Austin provided hours outside with their Mentors in 2021 and 169 opportunities for families to spend quality time outside.

A 2021 report by nonprofit American Forests found Austin's high-income and low-income neighborhoods have a 20% disparity in canopy coverage – the widest gap in the country. Additionally, low-income neighborhoods of color in Austin have 59% less nearby park space than high-income neighborhoods.

The majority of the youth we serve qualify for the Explore Austin program by being eligible for free or reduced lunch, and most live in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Despite having lived in the city limits or in neighboring counties for most of their lives, many have never been to Zilker Park or swam at Barton Springs before enrolling in Explore Austin. Some have never learned how to ride a bike. For the majority of our youth, their Summer Wilderness Trip marks their first time away from home and their first time on a plane.

Explorer, Anthony overcame many challenges, including a chronically ill mother, and responsibility for his siblings. male role model consistently in [his] life until EA.” Last accepted a scholarship to play college basketball, a dream realized! knew he would need continued support, so they checked in with graduated from the Explore Austin program, and they helped scholarship and financial aid applications.

Explore Austin creates a legacy of firsts, and 2022 was no exception. We began a new slate of Summer Wilderness Trips in South Lake Tahoe and Yosemite National Park, California, and City of Rocks, Idaho. We launched a partnership with the YWCA Counseling and Referral Center to provide free or low-cost mental health services to families, as well as Mentor training. One-hundred percent of our class of ‘22 Explorers graduated from high school with a detailed plan for their futures, with 93 percent of our youth planning to attend college or trade school, compared to 56 percent of youth from across the state of Texas

academically her sophomore year, at the height of the confided in her Mentor while they kayaked during a Saturday they made a plan to help her get back on track with her headed to college this fall. She received a full scholarship to the to study Mechanical Engineering.

investment in Explore Austin’s mission! Because of your continue being a trusted, consistent, and safe presence in the lives and Elyse.

Thank you for your investment in Explore Austin’s mission! It is only through your continued support that we can empower more than 250 Explorers annually as they explore nature, grow in adaptive skills and connect with caring adults. As we look to the future together, we will build upon Explore Austin’s legacy as a trusted, consistent and safe presence in the lives of local, economically disadvantaged youth. I am honored to be on this journey with them and with you.

With gratitude,

With gratitude,


Mountains Climbed in 2022

• Increased Explorer and Mentor program attendance to close to pre-pandemic numbers

• Forged new school partnerships

• Received Impact Austin’s Community Grant Award

• Began a new partnership with the YWCA to offer free-to-low-cost mental health counseling for our youth and families

• Launched a new slate of Summer Wilderness Trips to locations such as City of Rocks National Reserve, Idaho

• Facilitated a strategic planning process with a focus on adaptability

The Trail Ahead

• Launch an accreditation process through the Association of Experiential Education to deepen the program’s quality and rigor

• Elevate parent voices by re-launching our Parent Council

• Continue developing partnerships with community organizations, city programs and school districts to increase our reach

• Deepen training offerings for Mentors

• Locate land on which to build an Explore Austin headquarters



Seventeen-year-old Explorer Elliott Merryman-Stewart, now in her fourth year of Explore Austin, has learned to face life's challenges head on. Due to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, Elliott’s muscles are weaker on one side of her body, making many day-to-day tasks difficult, let alone intensive outdoor-adventure activities in the Explore Austin program like rock climbing, canoeing and mountain biking.

But she hasn’t let this stop her; in fact, from her patience and perseverance has come adaptation and growth, both on her part and Explore Austin’s.

When Elliott joined the program as a sixth grader, there wasn't yet the breadth of adaptive measures in place for Explorers like her. With the guidance and expertise of the program’s professional Trip Leaders, each discipline has been adapted to enable Elliott’s participation.

Early on in the program, Elliott tackled rock climbing using a modified harness to ascend sheer cliff faces. The next year, she trained hard at Saturday Challenges in Central Texas to learn to canoe with an adapted paddle, all in preparation for paddling 50 miles down the Buffalo River in Arkansas during her team’s Summer Wilderness Trip.

Emma Herzog, one of Elliott’s five Mentors, describes her as “fearless,” with a “never-giveup attitude that’s contagious. With a near-perfect attendance record with Explore Austin, she is a wonderful member of our team and brings humor, leadership skills and a positive

Elliott learned to mountain bike on an adaptive recumbent bicycle.

attitude every time she attends an event. We would not be the team we are without her.”

Most recently, Elliott and her team entered their mountain-biking year. Explore Austin initially borrowed a recumbent bike for Elliott to use during Saturday Challenges from Ghisallo Cycling Initiative, a nonprofit that helps people access the world by bicycle.

Said Emma, “It was incredible to see Elliott’s skills on the recumbent bike improve with each passing month. Explore Austin did a great job of adding enhancements to the bike, like an electric motor that I like to refer to as ‘turbo power.’ This gave Elliott the flexibility to add some assistance as she peddled, if she wanted to.”

Elliott ultimately saw the benefit this mode of transportation could bring to her dayto-day life – she lives only minutes away from school yet, due to her disability, was limited to taking a bus that took 20-plus minutes to get her there. As someone who tires from walking long distances, peddling to school with “turbo power” support would allow Elliott to get there efficiently and without exhausting herself. Seeing Elliott’s enthusiasm for biking and its potential to benefit her outside the program, Explore Austin worked with Ghisallo Cycling Initiative to get the recumbent bike permanently donated to her.

Elliott and her team capped their recent mountain-biking year with a weeklong Summer Wilderness Trip in Idaho where, said Emma, “Elliott was out on the trails with us every day. On the final optional bike day, she elected to ride the bike again over a nature scavenger hunt. This is just the most recent example of how Elliott takes every opportunity to participate in all that Explore Austin has to offer.”

While she's never doubted herself, Elliott has accomplished more than she ever could have imagined through the Explore Austin program. She says that when she's with her team in nature she feels peaceful and confident. Explore Austin has given her a place to push her limits, grow more self-assured and have a respite from everyday life. Trusting her Mentors and learning alongside her teammates, Elliott is ready to tackle any challenge – now and in the future.

Elliott (center) and her teammates on their Summer Wilderness Trip in Idaho. Elliott's Mentors are proud of her “never-give-up attitude.”


Gemma Galván has felt the ripple effect of Explore Austin. Because the program only served boys at the time, she didn’t have the opportunity to be an Explorer like her brother, Rodolfo Galván; but over the course of his time in the program, Rodolfo shared his newfound love of the outdoors with his family, which Gemma gladly soaked up.

Gemma and Rodolfo were born in Mexico and grew up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood of east Austin under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, learning English in elementary school. Their father eventually moved back to Mexico to take care of his ailing parents while their mother remained in Austin as a single mother, supporting the family as a breadmaker.

Rodolfo, who has been an alum of the Explore Austin program since 2015, joined as a sixth grader, having never before camped, mountain biked, canoed or rock climbed. He's now been on the Board of Directors since 2018.

Said Rodolfo, “My first Summer Wilderness Trip was hiking in Colorado. I wasn’t in the best shape of my life, and there was a peak we climbed that gave me a lot of trouble. This happened for a couple more years, but I stuck with the program. Eventually, I found myself at the front, leading the group. I found this new groove, and found so much beauty in everything we were doing.”

Gemma saw Rodolfo’s confidence and resiliency grow – both in the outdoors and otherwise – and came to understand that the outdoors is a space for everyone. Each year, her brother would come home from his Summer Wilderness Trips talking nonstop about his adventures. Descriptions of the “impossibly tall mountains he

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Brother and sister Rodolfo and Gemma

climbed and treacherous rivers where he whitewater rafted” in landscapes he said “looked like paintings” piqued Gemma’s curiosity – she had to see what he was talking about for herself.

“I set off to Colorado as soon as I could. With $200 in my pocket, I drove 16 hours in my friend’s old, beat-up car. I had never driven in snow or put tire chains on a car, and I would soon learn how severely underdressed I was for the weather. But none of that crossed my mind.”

Gemma is now an avid adventurer who summits mountains, camps in extreme weather and has kayaked in Alaska. In addition to being inspired by Rodolfo’s love for nature, Gemma also saw – and herself felt – the impact of Rodolfo’s relationship with his Mentors in the Explore Austin program.

Said Rodolfo, “My relationship with my Mentors was much like a father-son relationship, especially because I didn’t have an active father figure for much of my adolescence. Some of my Mentors were leaders in the tech field, and I realized I wanted to pursue a computer-science degree in college, which they encouraged me to do.”

Today, Rodolfo is a software engineer with IBM and Gemma is a software development and operations senior team lead at Accenture. They balance work with time in nature and know the ripple effect of Explore Austin has only just begun in their lives – and beyond.

Gemma was inspired by her brother to go on her own adventures.
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Rodolfo began the Explore Austin program as a sixth grader having never camped before.


Hispanic 67% / 14% Black/African American 7% / 5% Two or more races 6% / 3% White 3% / 58% Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 0.4% / 6% Spanish speakers 66% / 35%







*Corporate Partner Program members make an annual gift of $5,250 or more to invest in Explore Austin’s mission. If your business or organization is interested in partnering with Explore Austin, email us at lauren.zurbrugg@exploreaustin.org. SailPoint • Slalom • Frost Bank • River City Capital Partners CBRE • Studio8 Architects • HID • Live Oak • Whole Foods Market • Brigham Minerals MANIFOLD




Buena Vista Foundation

Morgan & John Burnham

The Cooper Matthews Foundation

Regan & William Gammon

Margaret & John Matthews

Marjorie & Mark McClain

Scott Munro

The Pine Foundation

The Springhouse Foundation


Edith & You Kin Chin

Laura & Paul Detke

Weslie & Stephen Elliott

Laurie Humphreys

Crystal & Daniel Perry

Lee & John Rippel

Christine & Christy Yonge


Laura & Steve Beuerlein

The David Wallace Smith and Joan Stowell

Smith Charitable Foundation

Jessica & Carter Fields

Eric Loeffel

Danielle & Cory Older

Cheryl & Walt Penn

Kamila & Kent Radford

The Schneeman Family

Anne & Richard Smalling

Kevin Walbrick


Malia & Steven Aycock

Kathy Bowles & H. David Hughes

Zawadi Bryant

Sophia Bera Daigle & Bryan Daigle

Lauren Dupuis

Leslie & Brandon Easterling

Morgan & Ben Gaddis

Emelie & Will Graham

Don Hammill

Anna & Jason Herd

Dean Lammert

Carlotta & Bill McLean

Medlock and Nelson

Clarke Nolley

Nancy & Mark Pollard

Charlie Rice

Andrea Torres & Lawrence Lyman

Amy & Harvey Zinn


Austin Bouldering Project

The Barilla Foundation

Cathy & Michael Godfrey

Kevin Henry

Kathleen Irvin Loughlin & Chris Loughlin

Mitchell Kalogridis

Jennifer Long

Molly & Sam McBirney

Margaret Ann & Chad McEver

Merriman Pitt Anderson, Inc

Alexia Rodriguez & Scott Hoopman

Jonathan Saad

Kim & Mark Voss

Courtney & Rob Wilson

Catherine & Anton Zurbrugg


Alice Kleberg Reynolds Foundation

Clif Bar Family Foundation

HDR Foundation

Impact Austin

McBride Conservation Fund Foundation

The Powell Foundation

Seawell Elam Foundation

Shield-Ayres Foundation

Swantz Family Foundation

WoodNext Foundation


Laura Detke, Chairman • Isaac Albarado • Simms Browning • John Burnham

Alex Castillo • Mica Crouse • Rodolfo Galván • Sam Gammage • Jason Herd

Robert Malina • Caroline Newman Phillips • Mike Nink • Daniel Perry

Kent Radford • Alexia Rodriguez • Catrina Salinas

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1111 W 24th St #201 Austin, TX 78705 exploreaustin.org

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