Blog: 2015

A Day of Firsts
December 28, 2015

“When we got to New York I saw a lot of diversity and tall buildings.  I felt like an ant.” – Yormelis

On December 16th, UrbanTrekkers went to NYC with the 11th grade from UrbanPromise Academy.  Most students had never been to NYC before, and none had been to the 9/11 Memorial museum. Just like a NYC block, our day was packed to the brim and had a whole smattering of emotions to accompany the diverse experiences. 

Trekking in a city is definitely a different experience from trekking in nature. It’s a miracle more people don’t bump into one another in Times Square given the fact that most people are looking up in wonder, taking in all the details. Even with all the stimuli, students were still in tune with their reactions and responses to the events of the day:

“The whole trip was fun.  We walked Times Square and the atmosphere and the people in it were electric.” – DaJuan

“When I lived in El Salvador, I always wanted to go to [New York City] and the Statue of Liberty!  When I watched movies, I always thought that most of the places I saw probably didn’t exist… [but] I saw where the Twin Towers were located, I learned things I never knew, and I went to many places!” –Alejandro

“The most that stood out was that in the 9/11 attacks there were kids that died. Some of them were born when I was born in 1999—they only had lived for 2 years.  The media always concentrated on the adults, but not really on the kids, which stood out [to me].” –Yormelis

“…our first stop was the 9/11 memorial museum. Going in there I kind of knew what to expect but I didn't think I would cry so hard. There was so much to learn and so much to see and explore. There was this room and on the walls were all the people who died in the twin towers. I walked away from the wall and walked towards these tables that were touch screen. On the tables were the victims who died and a short story about who they were and what they were doing on the plane or in the twin towers. I was scrolling and there was a little girl who was on the plane with her parents headed to Disneyland. The little girl never made it there and she was born in 1999, so she would have been my age. That touched my heart and I will never forget about that.” –Mary Janne

Seeing NYC in the movies is different than seeing it in person, and being there in person connects you to the reality that places like this are within your grasp. Visiting the Memorial and hearing the victims’ stories at the 9/11 museum brings the events of that historical day to life, giving dignity and humanity to an attack that affected so many in our area. Living these experiences is a valuable gift that we are blessed to give to our students.

Going places
December 17, 2015

 What do Santa on a Harley, a horse and buggy, a guy in a kilt, a man playing sax in a 3 piece suit, and a guy eating pizza on a sidewalk have 

in common? These are all the sights we enjoyed during one of our bike club rides through Philly. The last one was actually Coach Dan, but these rides never run short on interesting sights and people! With the weather being sunny and 53 degrees, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride over the bridge, up the Schuylkill and down the iconic South Street with whoever was available to ride. In this case, it was just Brandon B, but that didn’t stop us from logging in 25 miles before stopping for a super-size slice of pizza. I guess this could be a twist on Mother Teresa’s saying; “if you can’t feed 100 people, feed one.”

Just a few weeks later, our Environmental Educator, Ms. Vicki, joined the crew for another ride through Philly.  The weather continued to favor riding, so the “Urban Pedalers” weaved (safely) through the streets of Center City Philadelphia and along Penns Landing.  These trips are not only great experiences for students to connect with urban green spaces, get exercise, and see the city, but they also serve as preliminary training for two big events coming up: the 11th annual Pedal for Promise and Trek Malawi, a 300-mile cycling journey through Malawi, Africa.  Our students are going places—literally.  Thank you for being a catalyst for the movement!


Can you keep a secret?
November 16, 2015

Sometimes I feel like I’m the keeper of a secret.  I know of a very special place, a place of peace and solitude, a place of natural beauty, a place of incredible contrast.  It’s a river and it flows through a city that you would likely never hear defined with the words just written.  It’s the tidal Cooper River that winds its way through the city of Camden.

My students and I paddle this river in the wooden canoes and kayaks we build in our boat shop.  The shop is located in a century-old church that is now the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum in the city’s Waterfront South neighborhood.  We begin our paddle at the Kaighn Avenue dam and paddle through the city to the confluence of the Delaware River back channel behind Petty’s island.  This urban river flows through the tidal marsh, a lush and vibrant environment that for most of us goes unnoticed. 

And while this is Camden, a place known for extreme poverty and violence; this is not what we see.  We see magnificent Great Blue Herons, Snowy White Egrets, Belted Kingfishers, Red Winged Black Birds, and so much more.  We paddle past skeleton remains of old brick buildings that once housed the industries of a manufacturing Mecca, known as Camden.  Our journey takes us under highways and bridges where thousands of motorists pass overhead each day completely unaware of the amazing adventure we are having on a river they never see.

Once, paddling under the beautiful old swing bridge of Federal Street, a student who rode the bus twice each day across this bridge, to and from school, shared that he felt like a tourist in his own city; only the river could give him that perspective.

The river has become our classroom.  Our students regularly test for water quality, seine, and analyze micro organisms for additional signs of the river’s health.  We advocate before city and regional government for better access to the river, and for an environmental justice that’s not being fairly shared between more affluent suburbs and the urban community.

Through our Trekker and BoatWorks programs we have been able to provide an alternate view for many teens throughout our city.  Whether pedaling or paddling, the effect--or ripple, if you will--can be the spark to bring transformation to the lives you help us impact by your faithful and continuing support.

Director of Experiential Learning
Close Encounters of the Equus ferus Kind
November 2, 2015

Despite what you may be thinking, this is not a story about a sequel to the 1970’s science fiction film about alien intelligence.  In fact, the only science fiction element of our trip was during our storytelling time around the campfire.  What we did experience were many encounters with the wildlife of Assateague Island with our UPA sophomores this October.

Our first close encounter with the Equus ferus, the wild horses of Assateague, was our first night. As we walked up the beach from our evening campfire, we were startled when we saw a small herd of wild horses grazing on salt marsh cord grass, their main food source. The wild horses’ eyes reflected the bright lights of our headlamps. Needless to say, our Trekkers hurriedly made it back to their tents that first night.

Fear soon turned to curiosity. The following day, we learned that there were a number of wild horses inhabiting our campsite. With daylight, the Trekkers didn’t seem as frightened as they had the night before.  From a distance, we watched in awe as the horses made their way around. This sparked a lot of conversation amongst the students about visiting natural places like Assateague and how humans and wildlife can co-exist.

Wild horses were not the only thing we were able to watch on the beautiful barrier island. We also had the chance to spot many different shorebird species like the brown pelican, the white-tailed deer and horseshoe crabs along the coastline.Now you may be wondering what the meaning of Equus ferus really is. Equus ferus is the scientific name for a wild horse. The sophomores connected what they had seen at Assateague in the classroom during their Biology class post-trip. While studying the classification of living things, the students used their experience to deepen their understanding of how scientists group living things based on specific traits. It goes to show that observing wildlife in their natural habitats can be both a fascinating and educational experience.

Keep on Trekking,

Victoria Carberry

Environmental Educator, Urban Trekkers

Lessons from the Land & the Old Sage
October 14, 2015

The UPA seniors are beginning their journey towards their Senior Rites of Passage, a tradition each spring that will take them on a journey of self-discovery to the Adirondack Mountains of NY State.  But before that experience, there is much preparation that goes into the Rites and it begins with a local wilderness experience not far from home.  They’ve discovered an amazing wilderness area only 30 miles and less than 1 hour away,  an area of about six hundred and fifty thousand acres, equal to the size of the Grand Canyon National Park, known as the Pine Barrens.

To help our students become familiar with this Garden State gem, they’ve been reading the John McPhee classic, The Pine Barrens.  We begin our adventure with a twelve mile two day paddle on the Mullica River.   We are a group of nineteen:  students and chaperones, 9 canoes and a kayak.  We carry all our gear in dry bags: clothes, tents, sleeping bags, food and camp stoves.  The upper Mullica, especially after heavy rains, is a fast, winding and narrow river that requires a level of expertise in order to navigate the canoe down river.  With recent storms, downed trees, and a few beaver dams you can be certain you’ll need both luck and skill to stay afloat.

I had to be thoughtful in the pairing of paddlers for each boat and particularly who sat in the stern and would be responsible for the steering.  One of the young men, Angel, transferred to the Academy in his junior year, had little experience trekking, and was canoeing for his first time.  I paired Angel with my friend Bernie.  Bernie has volunteered with Trekkers and BoatWorks since we began these programs over a decade ago.  Bernie, a retired college counselor, world traveler, and avid outdoor adventurer has been a mentor to me and my Trekkers over the years.

With our paddle trip finished, onour final night in the Pines I asked the students to share lessons learned and highlights from our Pinelands Adventure.   As we sat around the camp fire Angel began with a story about Bernie.   “Bernie is a very patient man and I’m not.”  He went on to say how at first he became frustrated every time another canoe got close and came up on his and Bernie’s boat:

Bernie would say, “Let them pass, we don’t want to get to close to the other boats.” He asked me what’s the rush?  Did I see the old growth cedars?  And the turtles and the beaver dams?  Or had I noticed the wild cranberries floating?  He told me the river flows to where we’re going, let’s just follow it.  After a while I felt relieved.  No longer did I have the need to feel like I was in a race.

My friend Bernie is the “Old Sage”.  Angel and all of us were given a valuable lesson that night around the fire under the star-studded sky.  I couldn’t help but think of a quote from another old sage:

“Travel by canoe is not a necessity, and will nevermore be the most efficient way to get from one region to another or even from one lake to another anywhere. A canoe trip has become simply a rite of oneness with certain terrain, a diversion off the field, an art performed not because it is a necessity but because there is value in the art itself.”
John McPhee

Keep on Trekkin,


Director of Experiential Learning 





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