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Finding Leadership in the Woods

More than 100 high school students leave town tomorrow for their first wilderness adventure. It’s a program called The Woods Project that takes inner city kids into national parks and campsites for the first time. Laurie Johnson has more.


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“I’ve always felt that I’m always a shy person and that I’m usually not the most outgoing person. And I want to do something that go against my normal life, something that would get me out there.”

Tec Ocampo is a junior at Lee High School. He heard about The Woods Project through an advisor at school. Prior to applying for the program, he had never been camping or even in the woods. Ocampo says the idea of hiking through the forest for two weeks seemed like a good challenge.

“I was hoping to develop my team-building and life management skills and to promote my leadership skills. And get out of the urban setting and to experience what mother nature has to offer.”

That’s exactly the point of The Woods Project, says founder Steve Rosencranz.

“The Woods Project uses wilderness education as a proxy to help students learn the skills they’re going to need in life — leadership, responsibility, teamwork. And we take the kids on a number of programs in the Spring, Fall and in the Summer to a number of wilderness areas.”

Rosencranz says he dreamed up The Woods Project about nine years ago as a way to get kids away from the noise of cellphones, iPods and city life.

“Students from the inner city, low-income students, have almost no opportunity to go in the woods. Why? Because to go to a national park or a state park is an expensive proposition. So what you find is wilderness areas tend to be a highly segregated place. So what we do is we give students who wouldn’t normally have the opportunity, the opportunity to do things in the wilderness.”

So Saturday morning, 115 high school students and 28 adult volunteers will load up their backpacking gear and spend the next two weeks Yosemite, Donner Pass and the Marin seashore. Paul Ellis just graduated high school and will start at Lamar University in the fall. He’s been in wilderness program for two years and says it changed his outlook.

“I mean going to a whole different state and hiking is like seeing a lot of things that we never see here in Houston because we’re in the city so much. Once I got to California the first year, it was a lot of fun because I got to see mountains — I had never seen mountains before — and I got to see snow and like big lakes and I had never seen something that big or something that beautiful out there.”

The Woods Project partners with five Houston schools. It’s a completely volunteer-run organization that, as  Rosencranz puts it, uses Mother Nature as a classroom.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.

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Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez

News Director

Laurie Johnson-Ramirez leads news coverage for Houston Public Media across broadcast and digital platforms. Ramirez is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. Before becoming News Director, Ramirez held the position of Executive Producer for Daily News, leading daily and breaking news coverage, helping...

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