My name is Jonathan and I've been volunteering with Seattle ICO for the past five years and am gearing up for my sixth season leading trips. Volunteering with Seattle ICO has been some of the most rewarding work I've done and I'm super proud of this organization and the impact it has had on the community. Each year we provide hundreds of Seattle's inner-city youth with opportunities to go hiking, camping, canoeing, sledding, snowshoeing, skiing, backpacking, rafting, kayaking, and more.
There are so many reasons to volunteer with Seattle ICO but here are five of my favorites.
1. Sharing Nature
Imagine getting to have lunch at the base of Mt. Rainier! I was extremely lucky enough to grow up with the opportunities to explore the wilderness and try things like skiing and hiking in our National Parks and I remember the incredible memories and experiences that came with them. With ICO I not only get to plan these trips but I also get to see the wonder, excitement, and growth that these students get from these outdoor adventures. Our outings are a perfect blend of fun, adventure, and education. Students are able to be immersed in nature in a fun way, plus along the way, we give them some lessons on everything from Leave No Trace to the difference between pine trees. I've been on trips with students that have pretty much never left the city or seen snow or even gone hiking, imagine the joy those kids get seeing their first waterfall or riding a horse... Witnessing these moments is truly priceless.
2. Pushing Past Barriers
The outdoor setting allows for new experiences and barriers to come down. A place where students can feel confident, somewhere everyone is on the same playing field. That environment creates a great atmosphere for learning and a better appreciation for the company around them. It’s very cool to see students that you know never have talked at school because they are in different social groups or have different backgrounds and by the end of the trip they are best buds. There are also students who are terribly shy and you know may struggle with making friends but, once again, when everyone is participating in something new, everyone is in the same boat and you’ll see the shyest kid being the most outgoing in some situations. In addition to seeing social barriers come down, I also see physical limits being pushed. I've been on so many trips, probably every trip, where a student doesn't think they can accomplish our daily activity and even though they whine a little along the way that moment when they overcome their fear and push to the next level is the best feeling to watch.
3. Making New Friends
There’s no secret recipe for making quality and meaningful friendships as an adult, but I will tell you that starting by getting involved with a group of people who share the same passions is a great place to start. I’ve met so many amazing friends through volunteering with Seattle ICO, friends that I now hangout and explore with on a regular basis. Climbing mountains with and participating in bike tours, and even a handful of volunteers build a team each year to race in Ski to Sea together. On top of the great times we have on trips and in our own free time, we also have several events each year where all of us get together. These are the types of events where you end up staying way later than you thought you would because of how much fun you were having. So if you like the outdoors, inspiring the next generation, and love adventure then come make some new friends.
Have I mentioned how rewarding volunteering with ICO is yet? I’ve even been lucky enough to bear witness to the growth made by a few students since they were in elementary school and have gotten to watch them evolve and change through our outings. A few of them even now volunteer with us as part of our EYES Program.
On top of how rewarding it is to see the students grow and enjoying the outings with them, I also get a lot of enjoyment out of the other roles we fulfill through planning ICO. Being a 100% volunteer-run organization there are a lot of roles to fill and I’ve enjoyed being able to be active in many different areas from helping organize fundraisers to promoting outings on social media to working on this website. It’s a great opportunity to experience other roles that you might not participate in your daily life and it’s a great place to bring your talents to let them shine.
One of the best things about our outings is they are so so so much FUN! From the second the students arrive until the last one is picked up we are all having a blast. Volunteering with ICO doesn’t give you the feeling like you’re “giving up” your Saturday, it feels like you are making the most out of it. I get to not only do the stuff I love in the outdoors like hiking and rafting but I get to do it with likeminded people and a dozen or more students that couldn't be more excited to join. Like I mentioned earlier, from our trips to our board meetings to our fundraising events, we HAVE FUN. So much fun that we continue to have volunteers come back year after year because Seattle ICO is so much more than just volunteering. It’s honestly a blast. If you want to have fun, make the most out of your Saturday and give back to your community in a meaningful way - then come join Seattle ICO.
If you’re interested in getting involved check out our volunteer page and join us at New Leading Training this Saturday-Sunday, September 7-8, at Guye Cabin at Snoqualmie Pass.
Finally, I want to leave you with this video I made from an overnight trip we had with Washington MS. We created our own adventure race in the spirit of Ski to Sea and here’s what happened: