Anna and Jason Herd are passionate about helping kids and about the outdoors. So, it’s no wonder that in 2009 when they learned about Explore Austin from one of Jason’s business school professors who was also one of the organization’s founders, they had to get involved. Originally a host family, Anna and Jason have been involved in Explore Austin for the last 9 years. Jason joined their Board of Directors in 2016, and this year, the couple is chairing the organization’s big spring fundraiser, Quest for the Summit.
I sat down with the Herds to learn more about Explore Austin, their involvement, and the upcoming Quest for the Summit.
Mentorship and the Great Outdoors
Coming from outdoorsy families, both Anna and Jason felt that spending time outside and having strong mentorship in their lives was really important to them as children and played a critical role in who they are today. Growing up, Anna remembers: spending weekends and summers driving 4 wheelers; joining her dad on timber cruises on a lush family property in Mississippi full of wildlife; living in the mountains of Costa Rica (where she had to walk down the road to buy groceries from a local farmer); and doing Sail Caribbean a couple of summers in a row.
Jason grew up in a ranching family and spent his weekends hunting, fishing, working cattle, and fixing fences. He also was the first of his peer group to achieve Eagle Scout. Both of them say that they had excellent mentorship and a support system of family and friends that helped shape them and allowed them to excel. Jason said “You don’t get to Eagle Scout without strong mentorship. My dad was very influential and he wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license until I did it.”
These days, the couple and their two young sons love the outdoors and take advantage of any opportunity to be hiking, camping, skiing, doing sports, or anything out in nature. They try to include an outside component to any family vacation. During our conversation, Jason commented that his father was a successful entrepreneur but was always there for the important events and both he and Anna want to do the same for their boys. They would also like to provide this mentorship and these outdoor opportunities to as many kids as possible.
Explore Austin is providing both these outdoor experiences and long term mentorship to children who might otherwise not have these things.
Founded in 2006, the organization was put together to test a model of mentoring and outdoor adventure for underserved youth. They approached one of the local Kipp charter schools and essentially took a group of boys (Explorers) on a camping trip. Since then, the program has grown to around 270 Explorers and 90 Mentors with a mission to change the lives of underserved youth through leadership, mentoring, and adventure.
Each spring, Explore Austin recruits 2 new teams (one 6th grade boys team and one 6th grade girls team) primarily from schools where most kids qualify for free or reduced lunch and pairs each team of 15 youth with 5 adult mentors. They then provide these youth with leadership training, long term mentors and outdoor experiences. Both the explorers and their mentors spend one Saturday per month outside in Austin hiking, mountain biking, bouldering, canoeing, etc. In addition, they spend a week in the summer somewhere in the backcountry in Texas or states like Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Arkansas, or New Mexico on a much more challenging outdoor wilderness adventure. This is the first time many of these kids have been on an airplane, lived out of backpacks, and faced physically and mentally challenging activities.
The program is 6 years in duration and the Explorers and Mentors are asked to make a long term commitment. Currently, they have over a 90% Mentor retention rate and close to that for the Explorers. An unintended outcome has been that most, if not all, of these kids end up applying for and being accepted to college, something many of their parents have not accomplished.
2018 Quest for the Summit
The organization would love to expand it’s reach and add more teams in the next few years as the outcome for these students are tremendous. In order to do this and to support the existing program, they are holding the 9th Annual Quest for the Summit on April 5th at Fair Market. The fundraising goal for this event is $230k and close to 300 guests are expected for a night filled with music, food, drinks and outdoor games like corn hole and washers. The night will be more relaxed than a typical fundraising event and attendees will have the opportunity to mingle with other guests, Explorers, Mentors, and Explore Staff to learn more about the organization and how they can get involved. Explorers will share their stories and there will be opportunities to support the program and even participate in a mystery raffle for a Yeti filled with all sorts of fun supplies. Prior to the Quest, there will be a graduation ceremony honoring all graduating senior Explorers and their Mentors for six years of dedication.
It will definitely be a night not to miss and a wonderful opportunity to learn even more about an organization that is clearly making such a big difference in the lives of underserved youth in the Austin community.
If you would like to sponsor the event or purchase tickets for this year’s Quest for the Summit, you can do so Here.