Brooklyn Heights

Brooklyn to Alaska: life lessons from rugged wilderness for urban youth

October 19, 2020 Michaela Keil

In a year when travel is nearly impossible, the Brooklyn to Alaska project, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit dedicated to exposing Brooklyn youth to Alaska’s wilderness, managed to make it work. Founded in 2007, Brooklyn to Alaska has grown from a trip with five boys, to multiple two-week excursions for Brooklyn youth.

At its heart, the project’s mission is to “bring brave and adventurous urban youth to the wilderness of Alaska… the organization strives to inspire and challenge the Brooklyn teens to overcome obstacles, develop self-confidence, and experience the power of open communication and teamwork.”

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Sam Gregory, the founder, is a Brooklyn native and defense attorney based in Brooklyn Heights. He started the project after visiting Alaska, only to fall in love with the wilderness and buy a cabin on Bonanza Creek, in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. From there, Gregory felt that he wanted to share the beauty with kids from Brooklyn. When asked about the program’s influence, Gregory explained that he has “gotten way more from this program than I have given to it. I have been able to share extremely difficult periods along with pure joy. To have watched these kids soar as they climbed on glaciers and floated on rafts. The supporters of this program represent the very best of America.”

The mission was not stopped by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, every participant was tested three times for the coronavirus, and they flew with masks and goggles. Ten young men went deep into the Alaskan wilderness to become trained Alaskan guides.

It’s timely that October 18 is Alaska Day, a day to celebrate the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867. As a backdrop, the Alaskan wilderness has changed the lives of all parties involved in the project. Since it’s foundation, the Brooklyn to Alaska Project has grown. A movie was made to bring audiences into the journey, and currently, they working on their next phase — the Brooklyn to Alaska Institute. The institute’s goal is to close the “adventure gap” that low-income youth face, by “providing excursive and educational experiences in the wild such that young people to develop the self-efficacy, grit, knowledge, and ethical understanding necessary to become change agents in their communities and classrooms.”

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