by Sabine Kortals Stein
Women’s Wilderness ignites personal transformations and advances social justice through outdoor programming.
Specifically – to help girls and women become their strongest, best selves – the local nonprofit brings the gifts of the outdoors to people of all colors, backgrounds, sizes, gender identities and experience levels.
“As recreation nonprofits around the country took a hit during COVID, we made a conscious decision to deepen our work around mental health,” says Executive Director Sarah Murray. “Before COVID, we’d done quite a bit of work with veterans suffering PTSD and other mental health challenges. But as the pandemic worsened, we faced an existential question – do we go dormant until COVID passes and then resume normal programming?
“That didn’t feel right at a difficult time for so many people – especially for people who don’t have much of a safety net, and for kids missing out not only on school but on mental health services provided in schools. So we decided to lean into the moment.”
That meant re-starting Women’s Wilderness outdoor programming, focusing on girls in our community, people of color and LGBTQ+ people. Explains Sarah, “These groups’ social determinants of health are different from mainstream populations, which brought focus to our work during COVID-19, and inspired our resilience and financial growth during this time.”
According to Sarah – while she feared a backward slide due to the pandemic – it turns out that her organization’s vision of growth is becoming a reality. “We’re increasing courses by 25 percent and we’ve increased our staff,” she says, noting that Women’s Wilderness hasn’t had a single COVID case, thanks to diligent prevention efforts. “We’re seeing more interest than ever before and we’ve been able to create some new opportunities.
“Of course, there’s some risk in heeding the call to growth. But what we’ve seen over the past year is that it’s important to show up for people.”
The second headline news for Women’s Wilderness in the past year is the organization’s move to the historic Harbeck-Bergheim House.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for us,” says Sarah, describing how ever-increasing Boulder rents have made it increasingly difficult for nonprofits like Women’s Wilderness to find functional space.
The City of Boulder Parks and Recreation advisory boards voted to approve the lease agreement of the Harbeck-Bergheim House to Women’s Wilderness on February 25, 2020. On March 3, 2020, City Council voted unanimously to approve the lease. Sarah credits SVP Boulder County Partner Mark Bouzek in helping her and her staff think through the business end of the deal.
“I’m so grateful for Mark’s contributions, and for the broader SVP community who have been donors and supporters of ours over the years,” she adds.