Fresh Tracks Action in Aspen: Connecting Youth to Opportunities

Wednesday, October 11, 2017, Aspen, CO — This past summer, we sent five outstanding Gen-I Ambassadors to the Natural Leaders Network Train the Trainer Summit at the National Conservation Training Center in West Virginia to train them for a new cross-cultural outdoors-based leadership expedition called Fresh Tracks. The experience was a transformative – and as one of our Gen-I Ambassadors put it: “Fresh Tracks is family.”

Fresh Tracks is a new solution for emerging leaders (ages 17-25) who are determined not to let opportunity gaps stop them from creating positive social change in the world. Our three-to-five day training expeditions bring together participants from urban and indigenous communities for cross-cultural leadership experiences that tap into the power of the outdoors to unite and ignite, transforming personal dreams into civic action. Fresh Tracks is a partnership between Generation Indigenous through the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance (now a program of the Obama Foundation), the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, IslandWood, the Center for American Progress, and the USC Marshall School of Business, with generous support from REI, the Campion Foundation, and action-sports retailer Zumiez.

Last week, members of the Fresh Tracks family reunited again as guests of the Aspen Forum for Community Solutions‘  Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund 2017 Fall Convening. Gen-I Ambassador Trenton Casillas-Bakeberg, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, rejoined his Fresh Tracks siblings Devin Edwards of Boston, Israel Juarez from Denver, and fellow Native youth Kimberly Pikok, Inupiaq for the three-day gathering with other opportunity youth from 21 communities around the country. Over the course of three days, these young leaders led a hike up the snowy trails of Aspen, hosted a breakout session with community leaders and funders about the opportunities Fresh Tracks brings to youth, and made new connections with young leaders of OYIF communities.

During the final day of the convening, Fresh Tracks partners opened the day’s events with a morning plenary session. The session began with a conversation between My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Executive Director Michael Smith and Compton Mayor Aja Brown about the experiences of the inaugural Fresh Tracks expedition between youth from Compton and Alaska. Mayor Brown recounted the transformative experience her local youth constituents underwent as being part of Fresh Tracks. “The biggest thing you can do for a kid is expose them to something different,” said the Compton Mayor.

Following that conversation was a panel discussion between researcher and activist Arnold Chandler; Erik Stegman, Executive Director of CNAY; Monica Nuvamsa, Executive Director of the Hopi Foundation; Juan Martinez, Director of Fresh Tracks; and Fresh Tracks youth ambassador, Kim Pikok. Their discussion focused around how Native communities have the highest rates of opportunity youth, and how experiences like Fresh Tracks have been able to uplift those youth who have been involved. Alaska Native youth Kim Pikok, for example, spoke about how the outdoors-based expedition helped her make connections to youth in Alaska and California. While the two states may seem vastly different, she noted youths’ similar struggles to preserve their spaces and cultures between the two communities. Growing up in LA, Fresh Tracks Director Juan Martinez recounted how an outdoors-based community program transformed his path from one of trouble to one of leadership. “I didn’t feel judged by the trees. The river didn’t care about my bank account. The mountains didn’t care about what path I took to get there,” he remarked. At the end the plenary panel was met by a supportive standing ovation from the OYIF crowd.

To learn more about Fresh Tracks:

Watch a recording of the Fresh Tracks Youth Leaders’ breakout session Pathways to Prosperity for Leaders and Communities of Color through the Outdoors:

Watch a recording of the Fresh Tracks morning plenary, Native American Youth: Building Resilience through Action and Culture Resilience:

This post contributed by Bettina Gonzalez, Outreach & Engagement Program Coordinator.