AUSTIN (KXAN) — Growing up, Victoria Uriostegui never went on hikes.
“It was not something me and my friends talked about or me and my cousins ever did,” she said. “I was not around people who had that interest so I couldn’t just drive myself or even knew where to go in the outdoors in Austin.”
Then, five years ago, the now 18-year-old joined Explore Austin. The nonprofit works with hundreds of kids in hopes of teaching them outdoor skills and getting them involved in nature.
“Seeing people who looked like me was eye-opening,” said the former participant turned intern. “I didn’t know that this is something that the Hispanic community does.”
“Looking around Austin we do have a decent amount of green space but we don’t really have the same amount of access and opportunity to that green space,” added Kathleen Schneeman, the nonprofit’s CEO.
The nonprofit’s CEO said their goal is to help kids develop the confidence to feel comfortable and welcomed in spaces where they may not always feel that way or see others who maybe look like them.
“Especially in the adventure outdoor space it does tend to be a lot of white people,” Schneeman said.
Activities such as kayaking, canoeing, hiking and more are all now being introduced to the young kids.
Today, Uriostegui is passing on that knowledge to her family and said one of her favorite memories now includes a hike with her dad.
“It was definitely a new experience for me and my dad and I know he particularly doesn’t love hiking, but he did it because it was with me and that just brought us closer,” she said.
Currently, the nonprofit serves around 300 kiddos. This weekend, the group will host Wilderness Camping Skills classes for its current program participants.
Starting next month, the nonprofit plans to recruit a new class of youth to join the free program. They do ask those who are interested are asked to commit six years as the students spend their time from sixth grade through twelfth-grade learning and growing together.
The group meets once a month and takes a summer trip. Those at Explore Austin said most of the kids the group serves are on free or reduced lunch meal plans.