The Hiking Club
Rise & Shine scholars explore Brevard trails
The best thing about the Rise & Shine hiking club was the way they connected, say some of the young people who took part. This summer, they explored trails in Bracken Mountain Preserve. The preserve is just blocks from Rise & Shine, their after-school program in the Rosenwald neighborhood of Brevard. Still, some of them had never been there. And, honestly, they didn’t love everything about hiking.
“Our legs got tired,” says L’Tien Collington, a third grader at Brevard Elementary.
And it was hot, says Nichelle Stanton, a seventh grader at Brevard Middle.
Nichelle says best part was “being together—like, friends talking about how much pain we were in and all of us laughing and stuff. And being with Miss Maggie before she left.” (Maggie Grimm was a staff member at Rise & Shine.)
“I loved it,” says Riley Blackwell, a fourth grader at Brevard Elementary. She says the best part was “being together with everybody.” Some of them had been to 4-H camp and they had fun singing camp songs. It makes her laugh to remember how they all ran so fast downhill, even though she fell and cut her knee.
Kim Coram, a retired volunteer who co-led the hiking club, also says it was about the bonding. “We love spending time with the scholars and we like to connect them with nature.”
Last year, Kim and her husband John Wiseman led biking activities with the Rise & Shine summer program. But they only got to spend 4 days with the scholars. This year, they led the hiking club, which met twice a week for six weeks.
They kept going back to the same trail, so the scholars would grow confident on it. They did longer and longer hikes until, one day, they reached the waterfall. The older kids, including Nichelle, went on to complete the full six-mile loop.
The waterfall was fun, says L’Tien. They waded in and got their feet wet. Some of them let the cold mountain water pour over their heads.
“Some of them never wanted to go back,” Kim says. “They really got into immersing themselves in water.”
Different volunteers offered different ways to engage with the woods—using binoculars, taking photos, reading maps, keeping journals. Torry Nergart, a Conserving Carolina staff member and a Brevard resident, led activities on how to pack for hiking and trail stewardship.
Nichelle says, on one hike, “I had the camera, so it was really fun taking the pictures. I took a picture of the waterfall and also I took this picture that is really postcard-worthy. I would totally put it on a postcard.”
Nichelle’s photos are displayed on a bulletin board at Rise & Shine.
Another scholar, 13-year-old Kelsey Morrow, wrote about the club for the Rise & Shine newsletter: “You walk up steep trails surrounded by green leaves and trees of all sizes. You can see other people in front of you walking the same path and some going the other way. Trails with twists and turns of different heights. Every time you do the same trail you get farther toward your goal.”
The Center of Attention
Laura Leatherwood, a reading specialist and tutor coordinator at Rise & Shine, says the program came out of efforts to address racial tensions, starting in the 1990s. Several churches, representing all races, came together to work toward solutions. They decided, at the urging of Rev. Frederick Gordon of Bethel “A” Baptist Church in Rosenwald, to focus on the needs of children in that community. Since then, the program, which is housed at Bethel “A” Baptist, has grown from about 20 scholars to 50, which is the max that the building can hold.
Many of the scholars don’t have someone at home to help with their homework, Laura says. They may come from single-parent families or live with grandparents. Their guardians may be working when they get out of school, or may have several children to look after. Some families struggle with poverty, drugs, or violence.
Rise & Shine offers nurturing academic support, including one-on-one tutoring by volunteers.
Laura says, “Our purpose is multifaceted. We want to support the education that’s happening in the classroom. We want to help the scholars understand that they are important in this world, they matter, and they can do anything they want to do if they work hard. And we also want to cultivate relationships across racial lines.
“Most of our tutors are Caucasian. A lot of them are retirees who have moved here. But these scholars, most of which are black, they don’t see that color being different, they don’t see the economic level.”
Some of the volunteers have grandchildren who live out of state, and they only get to see them on special occasions. But they see the kids they tutor four days a month. They remember their birthdays and go to their graduations. “The tutors say they get just as much out of it as the scholars do, as far as the bonding,” Laura says. “The kids are really receptive.”
The scholars thrive on the attention. Laura says, “They’re the center of attention a large portion of the time they’re in this building.”
The same goes for outside the building. Kim says that during the hikes, having a lot of volunteers meant they could pay attention to scholars’ individual interests. She says, “It was really nice because we got to spend quality time with a lot of the scholars and we built some bonds.”
Kim and John are passionate about the outdoors. They mountain bike, kayak, garden, and build trails. After she retired from the military, they ran a bike shop in her home state of West Virginia. But after fracking contaminated their water supply, they decided to move on. They bought a property in Transylvania County where clean water is all but assured—on the rim of the Eastern Continental Divide, in Cedar Mountain. This private property is protected through a conservation easement with Conserving Carolina, made possible by a bequest from the late Ruth Jones.
As a multiracial family, Kim and John were especially motivated to share their love of nature with people of color, who often don’t benefit from parks and public lands as much as white people do. “Nature’s important for everybody,” Kim says.
Kim and John recruited Torry, Conserving Carolina’s conservation easement manager, who is also an environmental educator, to lead some of the hikes.
Torry says, when the program started, “It wasn’t cool. There was a lot of resistance to it right away. ‘Black people don’t hike,’ was a direct quote from one of the kids. But when some of those first groups got out there, it was like, okay, off we go.”
Kim says that, in thank-you notes from the scholars, the day they did trail stewardship with Torry often comes up as a highlight. She says, “They got to dig and play around and move sticks and play with tools and they just really enjoyed it.”
The scholars dug out clogged water-breaks and piled branches to block unofficial trails. “We learned about staying on the trail,” Torry says. “We learned about how cutting switchbacks leads to erosion. We learned about using hand tools. We learned about how to shut down outlaw trails properly. They really got into it. Of course, it was like a competition to see who could drag the biggest log out.”
Their Own Way
Hiking club is back this fall, with hikes every Friday. But it’s set up differently. During the summer program, all 50 scholars participated, with different groups for different ages. Now, the club is an opt-in activity for older scholars and it may go on to become a 4-H club.
Kim says that one thing she hopes will come out of club is that “they’ll be more motivated to protect and to be a part of keeping things preserved, like doing trail work.”
She saw the kids engaging with the woods in their own ways. “Some kids would hike really fast and try to get the most distance and some would hike super slow and take pictures of everything,” she says. “A lot of them would just go and sit by the waterfall. One girl took a book out on the bridge and just read it for an hour.
“It’s about finding those spaces where they can just relax, connect, rejuvenate. We just want to get them out there so they can have their own personal connection and learn.”