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A Letter From Our Board

To the Big City Mountaineers (BCM) family:

As we enter into 2021, we the Board of Directors wanted to share our thoughts on some of the lessons learned in 2020 as we continue to engage in introspection so that we can constantly improve to meet our mission.   

There are three key areas of change we’re focused on driving forward for 2021

  • A review of our language and culture with the goal of BCM becoming an organization that equally contributes to Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) action;
  • Our recent change in leadership; and
  • Adjustments to course offerings and curriculum to reduce barriers to entry and better serve more students while maintaining our flagship week long expeditions.   

In order to move forward, let’s look back at 2020.

In the Spring of 2020, BCM made the difficult decision to cancel the vast majority of our in-person programming as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the health and safety of our staff, students, and agency partners. In the absence of in-person events, BCM had time to reflect and brainstorm on how the organization and programming could adapt. BCM’s talented and brave team members championed change because they knew the organization could better serve its students in a variety of ways.

The board spent time thoughtfully gathering information and input on what we could do better, what changes the organization needed to make, and who within the organization was best suited to do the hard work to effect change. Change takes time and rarely happens as fast as you want it to – both too fast or too slow can have negative consequences. In the time it took to understand the most crucial changes that needed to be made, BCM lost a few really good people who all wanted to see the organization thrive. We’re sorry to see them go and we believe that the changes we’ve outlined below will make past, present, and future staff, partners and volunteers all proud of the work BCM is doing.

Let’s talk about real changes BCM is making in 2021.

Search for a new executive director:  After careful consideration and introspection, and multiple discussions with past and present staff and the board, BCM’s executive director has stepped down. The board is actively looking to engage a DEI-focused executive recruiting firm with a proven track record and we encourage potential companies to reach out to the board at (recruiting@bigcitymountaineers.org). For individuals interested in becoming an organizational and culture leader at BCM, please view the job description here. In the interim, BCM will be led by its working Board of Directors and experienced staff until the right candidate is found for the job through a new and transparent hiring procedure. 

Updating our mission statement: Words matter, and over the past 31 years BCM has updated its language sporadically. In 2020, we took the opportunity to consider our mission statement through a DEI lens and how we can more mindfully and routinely reflect on the impact of the language we use. For too long BCM and our non-profit industry has used a deficit mindset in its terminology. BCM has launched a process to thoughtfully review the language used to express our mission, vision, and values, as well as the language used in our programming and curriculum, to better reflect our shared dedication to DEI, and will engage in regular reviews of this language to ensure it continues to reflect our values and empowers the students we work with. BCM encourages its donors and industry partners to do the same. 

Commitment to DEI:  BCM hired Groundswell Change to perform an organizational structure assessment and help implement DEI prioritization through BCM’s core mission to provide trips to connect youth with the outdoors. The board will also require DEI training for ourselves, staff, and future team members. We’ve also hired a DEI-focused HR consultant for ongoing staff support and will audit for potential funding needs for ongoing in-house HR support.  

Increased opportunities for the students we serve: With COVID came the closure of many city parks and playgrounds, yet local trail systems were still open to the public. Due to this disparity of access to local recreation, BCM is performing an audit to modify our course curriculum to make better use of local resources close to our youth agency partners and, if necessary, teaching the skills needed to access these areas so that students can use them beyond a BCM-led trip. We believe that by adding trips of shorter duration closer to the communities our partners serve, BCM will be able to provide an increased benefit to more students long after our staff has packed up the last piece of gear. BCM will still maintain its multi-night and week long trips, as we also believe the more time humans can spend outside, the better.     

In the interim, BCM will continue to develop digital courses as the COVID-19 virus still makes group travel unsafe in many parts of the United States. Our Regional Program Managers will continue to maintain consistent communication with their local youth agency partners, local government regulations, and our internal Risk and Safety Committee to determine when and where we can return to in-person trips.  

If you have questions on any of these changes, please reach out to us directly at (boardofdirectors@bigcitymountaineers.org).

BCM can’t do this alone, we need your help.

We the Board enjoy the outdoors and are privileged to have the knowledge, gear, and physical access to recreate outside. In 2020, we spent more time outside than ever before: it was a safe space to bring our families, take a break from too many virtual meetings, and feel the natural healing of the earth. For many of the communities BCM serves, this pandemic has shone a light on structural inequities that have existed for generations and at this moment in time, the pandemic is widening the adventure gap. Those who did not have access, feel safe, or have the knowledge that outdoor spaces were available to them continued not to go. Underrepresented groups will continue to be underrepresented outdoors without action.  

Though we continue to improve, some things will not change.  As always, the core of BCM’s mission is to provide outdoor trips but more trips, more resources, more staff, all require support and support comes in many forms. For ways you can partner with BCM to help fulfill this mission, please check out our volunteer and mentor page, discover multiple ways to fundraise for BCM, or encourage your company to become a sponsor

Thank you to all of our tireless team, family, and partners who’ve endured 2020. We’re here for you and look forward to the task of continuing to improve Big City Mountaineers’ legacy of providing youth with opportunities to explore the world and discover their personal skills and strength in the great outdoors.

On behalf of,


Paul Thompson, President of the Board

Reyna Alishio, Karen Francis, John Andriola, Kevin Hackett, Carly Huey,  Karma Giulianelli, Mitsu Iwasaki, Darren Josey, Drew Kern, Andrew LeCuyer, Jay Steere, Rachel Worth, Christian Weaver, and Jessie George

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