If someone had told me last Summer that in a year I’d be giving a keynote speech to dozens of teenagers about a nonprofit that I was going to co-found, and that the nonprofit was going to be about nature, hiking, and helping my community, well…. I would’ve said, “that’s awesome!!!”
It was a year ago that John Binninger and I sat at a café on York Street in Highland Park, a neighborhood here in Los Angeles, for our very first meeting about this “thing” we wanted to do. We knew we wanted to do something to give back to the community, but at the time we had no idea what it was actually gonna be, let alone that it would be a nonprofit.
So, I am very stoked that this summer we not only have a name, but also are incorporated, have a board of directors, bylaws, have filed for and later received IRS 501(c)3 status.
In March, we picked Camp Brave Trails as the financial beneficiary for our fundraising this year. CBT provides educational services and an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ teens to flourish. In June, we threw a successful launch party and on the weekend of July 19-21, we climbed over 6,000 feet to summits up to 12,400ft, raising $25,000 (way more than we expected) in our first fundraiser as a new nonprofit.
Though far-fetched at the time, the idea of engaging directly with members of the community was present since the very beginning of our journey. The main reason Trailmixer’s board of directors picked Camp Brave Trails as the beneficiary – besides the amazing work they do – was that CBT is a small organization, with a small annual budget. Being smaller meant that the money we raised would make a greater impact, and that we would partner with them and have direct interaction with the campers.
So, this brings us back to giving keynote speeches to teens…
It was with all this in mind that three of us Trailmixers, John Binninger, Alberto Ortega, and me connected for the first time with the campers from Brave Trails. On June 30th, as we took the one-hour drive to the north side of San Gabriel Mountains, where camp was located, we were super excited and also just a bit terrified.
The prospect of speaking to teenage campers seemed fun at first, but as we started preparing the material to present to them, we realized the importance of what we were doing. The theme: “Finding Your Passion to Achieve Your Life Goals”. “WTF??? That’s not easy!”, we thought. We are still trying to figure this out ourselves. How would we present something this important and essential to a group of 20 or so teens without looking like fools? We then decided to tell our own personal stories and share our unique backgrounds and the different ways that each of us dealt with life, and a few common steps we took to achieve our goals at this point in our lives.
On July 25th, only three days after returning from Trailmixer’s 3-Day Climbing Event, I was back at camp again for my first keynote speech. The theme this time was “Passion to Action” – Notice that all themes at Camp Brave Trails are related to leadership, which is infused in the programs of all summer sessions.
This time, I was speaking alone. Those who know me well are aware that I am terrified of speaking in public, and this was no different. But I managed not to freak out completely and started my speech. The audience of 60+ were welcoming and engaging. I told my own story from when I was about their age, and the challenges and the thrills of moving to another country on my own at 23 years old. I put myself through college for a 2nd degree in Arts, which gave me a career in Interactive Digital Design. Now I create design work for marketing campaigns and other graphics for Trailmixer, a company born from a passion for hiking, nature and community that both John and I share. The hour flew by, and we continued on with another 30 minutes of Q&A.
A week later on August 3rd, Jake Noonan and I presented a workshop: “Queer History – We’ve been here all along”. We wanted to show campers a little bit of our own history since Stonewall, and people (famous or not) who made a difference. We talked about well-known heroes like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson, and unsung heroes like Ruth Cocker Burks, a nurse who helped dying AIDS victims, giving them care, and even providing them a decent funeral after their deaths. Later we asked the campers to tell us, based on what we presented, how they could make a difference in the community right now.
Yes, it was a busy summer. Speaking for myself and all who participated in this adventure, I’ve learned a lot. This is exactly where we wanted to be in our first year of existence: building relationships, having our hiking community engage with the beneficiary organizations, exchanging experiences and stories from our lives.
We are about to start Trailmixer 2.0, and we are excited to implement some of the ideas we already have. Stay tuned.
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Trailmixer, Ulisses Guimaraes