A Place Beyond Donations

To friends new and old to APB,

Our founder, Ciarán, often encourages us to “write like we’re writing to a dear friend,” so instead of a sterile 1-page prospectus for fundraising, we wanted to write an open letter to you about our journey in creating APB together so far, where we want to go to make this a more diverse, inclusive, and accessible community, and why this mission matters to us. 

In a nutshell, APB is an in-person learning community in nature for college students studying online. Ciarán began his first full day of work on this project on June 1st, 2020, with a couple observations due to COVID-19: that summer camp and other venues in the outdoors were underutilized during the school year, and hurting from a summer off; outdoor educators were largely unemployed (like he was from NOLS, who had ended their season early); and college students were struggling either at-home again with their parents or on-campus in lock-down. 

Two and half months later, 34 students and 8 instructors from different walks of life came together at Camp Friendly Pines outside of Prescott, Arizona in order to try out this new kind of community together. In mid-October, we welcomed 11 new students mid-semester, bringing our total to 45 students and 34 universities represented for this pilot. 

This fall, we’ve learned a lot about complementing online education with placed-based community and learning amidst a global pandemic. We’ve built COVID protocols and created our own NBA-style bubble. We’ve iterated on the heart of our programming, including one-on-one mentorship, small group meetings, all-community gatherings, instructor and student-led workshops, and guest lecturers. We’ve explored mountain biking and rock climbing within access 5 minutes away, and gone on weekend trips to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, Joshua Tree, and other areas of astounding beauty nearby. 

Of course, we’ve had conflict and disagreements, too. We’re constantly working through our interpersonal dynamics with one another and providing critical feedback for the program in its current form. Some particular areas of growth for us are building A Place Beyond into an anti-racist institution, expanding our access to those who cannot afford $10,000 out-of-pocket (or have their parents easily do so), and hiring a more racially diverse staff.  

For context, our initial cohort that joined in September was 85% white and 95% were paying in full. As we looked towards the mid-semester cohort joining in October, we crowdfunded over $16,000 from nearly 200 friends and family in order to support low-income students coming to APB, and we partnered with KIPP New Jersey to bring some of their college-aged alumni here. As a result, we flipped our previous trends: 64% of students that joined in October were either black, latinx, Asian or native American, and 55% were receiving some level of scholarship. 

Looking towards spring 2021, we’re excited to keep growing our community. We’re adding our second campus at Sanborn Western Camps in the Front Range of Colorado, and considering a third campus in California (pending regulatory approval) or somewhere on the east coast. Already, we’ve received 47 deposits to reserve a spot and more than a hundred applicants, including over forty from a partnership with the Morehead-Cain scholarship at UNC-Chapel Hill. 

However we feel an equal, if not greater, urgency to ensure we’re serving students from underrepresented backgrounds, especially those who couldn’t otherwise afford APB. Over the long-term, our hope is that more than half of APB in any given semester are lower income students—our proxy for which is that you're receiving some level of scholarship to be here. 

Assuming two campuses this spring, with a capacity for 120 students in total, our aim is to provide 60 scholarships to come to APB in spring 2021—10 of which will come from full-paying students subsidizing non-full paying students, and 50 of which will come externally from individual donors, corporate sponsors, and existing scholarship funds. We estimate providing $5,000 per student to come to APB, with some needing more and others needing less. 

That’s why we’re raising $250,000 over the next three weeks. By early December, we’d love to reach back out to students who’ve applied to APB requesting some level of need-based scholarship in order to attend, and update those we can bring into our APB family this spring. To us, raising this amount so quickly is doing the seemingly impossible, but we really believe that the stakes for students disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 calls for this urgency.

While nearly all college students have struggled in some way since campus shut downs earlier this year, we know many first-generation, low-income, Dreamer and BIPOC students have faced a different level of consequence than others. The rates of food insecurity, housing insecurity (if not homelessness), dips in mental health, and lack of a study space in which to complete coursework are alarming. We see it as our moral imperative to provide a safe and stable learning environment for as many students as possible who really need it this spring. 

As we bring these scholarship students in for the ‘project’ that is APB, we plan to build something together that lasts into a “post-COVID” world. We’re excited to explore how APB might launch any interested BIPOC students into the outdoors industry and more generally desegregate outdoor recreation like backpacking and skiing, pilot new models of student support only possible at our campus size of a hundred, vs. a thousand or tens of thousands of students on a traditional campus, and eventually become a partner for scholarships, foundations, and other organizations supporting low-income students with college persistence and college success. 

Think about the future of college, especially with shifts online and the rise of alternatives like Minerva, Lambda School, and Verto. We’re curious about how we might offer a co-curricular, residential experience to complement different online offerings, and to do so in a way that includes those who are excluded from higher education today. 

If you can sponsor one student with a $5,000 scholarship, that means the world to us. If you can sponsor all the students with a larger gift, that would be a game-changer. We appreciate in whatever way you can join us on this journey. We’d love to keep building this with you.

Donations

  • Sean Forester 
    • $100 
    • 5 d
  • Dan Forester 
    • $100 
    • 6 d

Organizer

Dan Forester 
Organizer
New Canaan, CT
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