Grassroots opens doors to new world for ‘at-risk’ kids
Aspen Grassroots Experience is a local nonprofit organization that was established in 1991 to give hope and a future to “at-risk” youth through transformational outdoor experiences combined with extensive follow-up activities at their home locations. Participants come from inner cities around the country, as well as the Roaring Fork Valley.
Bringing youth from their home environments to participate in these programs allows them to look beyond the limitations they previously understood. Guiding them through challenging outdoor activities reveals their strengths and capabilities.
These new experiences form the groundwork for the facilitated rap sessions where youth share the struggles and traumas they are faced with at home, build a connection to the successes they experience during the program activities, and set ambitious, yet realistic, goals for their future.
Many youth enter these programs having never expected to finish high school, yet a majority of AGE alumni are now attending colleges across the country. Many more have gone on to work with other youth as part of the AGE outdoor programs and with agencies in their communities.
The stories of how the lives of AGE participants have been changed (and in many cases, saved) are inspiring examples of the capabilities and strength that lie within us all. A profile of a different AGE participant each month will be presented in The Aspen Times as part of an ongoing series to introduce these remarkable youth to the Roaring Fork Community at large.
One local participant who is enjoying her relationship with AGE is Esme Salvatierra of Basalt. Esme is 14 and has participated in a Latino Youth Camp (as well as a summer program). A freshman at Basalt High School, she lives with her family, which, she explained, includes “six sisters and only two bathrooms.”
Esme was introduced to AGE as a student at Basalt Middle School when a program coordinator was visiting the school, seeking participants for the Latino Youth Camps. Esme registered for her first camp in 2002 and instantly developed a close rapport with staff and the other participants.
“I loved that I got to talk at the Rap Session about my problems and find out that everybody has their own problems,” she explained. “Also, realizing that I’m not alone and that I have a whole new family to turn to when I ever need anything is wonderful. … I have more than 50 people I can open my heart to and actually trust.”
At each of the programs she has attended, Esme has been supported with setting goals for the future, encouraged that she can achieve whatever she sets her mind to and made new friends from all over the country, as well as locally.
“If I’m ever slacking off, I have a couple of people in school and the valley that will put me back on my feet. So I can’t and won’t slack.”
She also notes that the opportunities she was afforded in learning outdoor skills have been inspiring in more ways than one.
“One thing that was really cool is that I got to face some fears of mine and help those who had larger fears than I did. For example, I got to totally get rid of my fear of heights when I rock climbed and rappelled [during a summer program held in Marble]. I was actually able to trust strangers.
“I made some goals with Grassroots and I can say I have achieved some of them. I’m working really hard on the other ones.
“For example, I recall one of my goals being that I said I was going to try really hard on my school grades. So far, this goal has been a success since I got an A in all my classes. Another goal was that I was going to try harder to get along with my sisters. Even though I still get into some arguments with them I can actually say that we’ve come a long way.”
Esme plans to continue participating in AGE programs, graduate from high school and become a nurse.
Aspen Grassroots Experience conducts outdoor youth programs in the winter and summer along with ongoing follow-up activities. There are many ways to support and participate.
Community volunteers frequently comment on how deeply moved they are by the program and its participants. To learn more about the organization, log onto http://www.agae.org or call 925-6671.
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