Kirk Reynolds is a Missouri native who moved to New York City with his corporate job twelve years ago. On weekends, he took friends on outdoor excursions just outside of the city, and that hobby quickly became a business.
He officially launched Discover Outdoors in 2004, and now oversees fifty professionally licensed guides who take about 10,000 urbanites on day and multi-day adventures year-round.
In 2012, Kirk and his team launched the Discover Outdoors Foundation, a non-profit organization that offers immersive outdoor learning programs for inner-city students in New York City.
More from Kirk on why the outdoors matters:
Q: There are a lot of problems in the world. Why should people care about children spending more time in the outdoors?
A: Good question. Because there are a lot of problems in the world and generations born now or being reared now that can address them. Our planet is in trouble, our local and global communities are struggling and in this country, we’re medicating everything from boredom to high energy.
Simultaneously, study after study proves that for children and adults, exposure to the outdoors is beneficial to physical, mental and emotional health. True, we are not asking people to support a cure for cancer, but we are asking you to help us support the students who may later find one.
Q. What was your reason for starting the Discover Outdoors Foundation?
A: It started with a stat I read – on average, New York City kids spend 45 minutes outdoors each week. 45 MINUTES! That was devastating, particularly when we dug into graduation rates, gang violence and dropout rates. Then, I learned that physical education and after school programs were being sliced. There had to be a correlation among all of this.
So we looked at the Discover Outdoors Youth Program and thought about how we could offer it to inner-city schools without going under. Naively, we decided, “We’ll launch a non-profit!”
Flash forward and we’ve all learned a lot about what that actually means. We’re still learning, but I’m proud to say that almost every dime donated goes directly to programming and we’ll keep it that way.
Q: And in those two years, you’ve taken nearly 2,000 inner-city students on adventures. How so many?
A: Honestly if we had more resources, the number would be higher. Administrators, teachers, educational program directors are yearning for this. They know the truth – that kids need the outdoors and that learning by sitting at a desk isn’t always the most lasting or productive way.
I have such compassion for them because they want the best for these kids but their hands are often tied by budgets. As soon as they hear that there is a New York City approved vendor who will take their kids into nature to learn STEM essentials, work as a team and get exercise, and all they have to do is cover the cost of the outing, they’re thrilled. They’re on board.
Q. What’s the best anecdote from a Discover Outdoors Foundation student you can share?
A. On the days when we’re exhausted or didn’t get a grant or a school lost the little funding we need, it’s these stories that make you keep going. The one that stands out is about a young girl named Genesis. She was selected from one of our day programs to go on a 3-week camping trip in the Adirondacks with eight other campers, and she had the time of her life.
She learned how to swim and was so proud.
She learned how to cook by the campfire and she made new friends.
She came back with a different approach to her situation.
She even felt differently about her chores.
Now, we have her connected with another non-profit organization for girls and she has been named class Valedictorian at her high school. She’s a star and we had nothing to do with that – she was a star already – but she realized her potential and she overcame fears.
She saw that there’s more out there for her, and that can only mean positive things for her future.
In 2015, the Discover Outdoors Foundation is asking for just $1 a day, $30 a month, or a one-time gift of $365 to help them reach their goal of taking 3,000 kids out this year.