This past summer I had the privilege of going on a day trip to Shenandoah National Park with a few young men from Southeast Washington, DC who had recently struggled with homelessness and unemployment. We had come to know these young men through our involvement with Covenant House Washington, a nonprofit organization focused on addressing the needs of young men and women who suffer from homelessness, abuse, and neglect in the Washington, DC area.
The Covenant House Crisis Center is a short-term emergency shelter for single and parenting young adults who lack a safe place to stay at night. Building relationships with these young men and women can be a humbling and emotional endeavor, as many of the young adults reveal to us over time the painful circumstances that have led to their involvement with Covenant House. Though we have witnessed incredible experiences and outcomes during our bi-monthly visits to the Crisis Center, I wanted the opportunity to engage the young men at the shelter in a setting far different than their typical environment in southeast Washington, D.C., an area where the presence of drugs, violence, abuse, exploitation, and homelessness heavily impacts the lives of its residents starting at a very young age.
Our desire to show these young men an experience far different from their standard daily activities manifested into an incredible day trip spent conquering the White Oak Canyon/Cedar Run trail within Shenandoah National Park. Having done this hike before, I felt the trail’s combination of length, physical difficulty, scenery, spectacular waterfalls, and the cliff-jumping and rock-sliding opportunities made for a fantastic opportunity to further bond with these men and to show them the rewarding experiences one can receive when investing extensive time and energy into exploring the great outdoors.
The day could not have been more rewarding for all individuals present. We engaged in conversations far more personal and meaningful than ever before. We also introduced these men to several aspects of nature that they had never previously experienced. None of these guys had ever seen a waterfall before, and until that day none of them had experienced the awesomeness of leaping from a ledge into a fresh natural body of water.
Though our legs were tired and heavy after completing the nearly 2-mile journey uphill along the Cedar Run portion of the hike, we received a tremendous amount of gratitude and feedback from each of the guys. After a delicious roadside dinner consisting of BBQ sandwiches, burgers, and ice cream, we made our way back to the city, thus ending an incredible day spent with good people in the great outdoors. And most importantly, as always, we completed the adventure and returned home safely.
The outdoors has played an enormous role in my spiritual journey in my 20s, and I have had the privilege of some truly life-changing experiences through outdoor conquests. I cannot imagine going through life without investing time, energy, and resources into pursuing such outdoor pursuits that have led to incredible personal, physical, and spiritual growth. I, along with many others, am truly blessed to have the ability to access nature and many of the outdoor experiences and challenges that exist all over this planet. However, I believe it is very important to understand how many individuals do not have such access or do not have influences in their lives who place great emphasis on the value the outdoors can have on an individual’s personal growth. Many residents in Washington, DC, and in places across the Southeast are only privy to life in the concrete jungle.