Help Feet on the Earth Thrive!
Purpose: Bring our dream of providing community and nature-based rites of passage for youth and their families into reality.
About Feet on the Earth
The seed of Feet on the Earth’s mission and vision was planted in 2007 with one week of summer camp for five girls and has blossomed into a non-profit organization serving over 150 families each year in Boulder County and beyond through our homeschool and after-school programs, summer camps, community events, and classes. Throughout the year our dedicated mentors gather with children to explore parks, open spaces, and nearby nature while sharing the ancient arts of living-with-the-Earth practiced by our ancestors.
How We Started (written by Lorene Wapotich, Feet on the Earth Founder and Executive Director)
I started Feet on the Earth out of a desire to provide girls with what I didn’t receive as a child or young woman: guidance from adults to help me navigate life’s opportunities and challenges. My father died when I was 5 years old and my mother was left alone to raise two children. As the saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” With no village to support us my mother, brother, and I were left alone to navigate our grief and the complexities of the world.
If we’d had the container of community many things would have been different. If there had been other adults to mentor me, help me reflect on my experiences and understand what they were teaching me, and aid me in identifying and pursuing my passions, I would have discovered my path and purpose sooner and with more ease. I grew up feeling that I had to do everything by myself since there was no community to hold me as I went through life’s transitions and challenges.
Fortunately, I had access to nature, which became my refuge and source of nourishment. When I was outside under the sky and surrounded by plants, wild creatures, and mountains everything felt right. Nature was the place I went to for solace and inspiration, and that connection carried me through many difficult times. My love of the natural world rooted in my being and I grew up to become an herbalist and wilderness guide.
Wanting to see the magic and beauty of people’s deeply connected experiences in the wilderness take root and blossom in their lives, I searched for everyday routines to nourish our relationship with the natural world. In my seeking I discovered deep nature-connection mentoring.
This model, also called 8 Shields Cultural Mentoring, is what our staff is trained in and is a tool kit for building relationship with the people in our lives and the world of nature right outside our door. Using this model of mentoring, it quickly became clear to me that nature-connection mentoring provides an ideal foundation in children, and with their families, to support the kind of immersive wilderness experiences young people need to mark their transition into adolescence. From this awareness, Feet on the Earth and a dream was born.
Our dream is to provide wilderness based rites of passage for youth embedded in a nature-connected community built through long-term mentoring relationships.
Children need mentoring and community beyond just their immediate family and at Feet on the Earth we endeavor to provide this mentoring and create that community. Week after week I watch the mentors pour their hearts and souls into the children they work with, striving to give each one what they need. For us mentoring youth in nature-connection is more than the teaching of physical skills. While technical skills such as primitive fire making, plant identification and usage, wildlife tracking, and shelter building are some of the most cherished things we teach, they comprise only half of the picture.
At Feet on the Earth the physical skills are introduced within the context of exploring the full extent of what it means to belong to the natural world and a caring community of peers, mentors, parents and elders. There is extensive research demonstrating that nature and mentoring powerfully facilitate growth and learning and we see that these activities need to be planted in children within the container of community in order to nurture and sustain them. As a staff we spend hours planning, debriefing, trying to figure out how to support the child who is struggling, and celebrating the one who achieved a success this week.
Feet on the Earth is at a crossroads
We sit on the cusp of Feet on the Earth blossoming into what I dreamed it could be — a nature-based community that has the depth of relationship needed to provide meaningful rites of passage to youth. After nine years of building relationship with the land and our community in Boulder County, we are taking the next step towards making this dream come true by starting to integrate rites of passage fully into our curriculum.
“The onset of youth instigates a vision quest, regardless of whether a society consciously recognizes that or not.” - Michael Meade
This year, we offered the opportunity to participate in the first year of a multi-year rites of passage process to the youth in our weekly homeschool program who were ready to meet bigger challenges. Four youth and their families stepped in to participate this year and set their intentions at a Commencement Ceremony in March. We are meeting with the youth weekly and their parents once a month in preparation for a 5-day wilderness immersion that the youth will embark on in July.
One of the youth participating in this year’s rites of passage is 13 years old and has been part of our programs and community since he was 8. Over the past 5 years we’ve watched him grow up and have built relationships with him and his parents that allow them to trust us to guide them through the vulnerable process of a child moving out of childhood, into adolescence and towards adulthood. To be witness to and in support of a process like this is truly a blessing.
How do we move forward with the rites of passage work while creating a sustainable organization and providing right livelihood for the mentors who are supporting the future generations?
At Feet on the Earth we are creating a new model that weaves long-term nature connection mentoring together with wilderness rites of passage, so that the rites of passage ceremonies we provide for children will be facilitated by the mentors they have grown up with, and are held by the community of people who know and love them.
Already over 70 hours of mostly volunteer staff time have been devoted to developing this year’s rites of passage pilot program and another 400+ hours will be invested before it reaches its culmination in August. With the staff time and other expenses such as food, materials, and insurance, the actual cost of developing and running the program is about $8,000 but we are asking only for a nominal contribution $500/family since it is a pilot program and we want to ensure that this work is accessible to the families participating. Raising the $6,000 difference allows us to compensate staff for the hours they are putting into developing the curriculum and facilitating the three months of preparatory work taking place with the youth and their parents.
Raising an additional $8,000 to reach our campaign goal of $14,000 provides us the opportunity to devote over 500 staff hours in the coming year to integrating rites of passage fully into our nature-connection and community-building curriculum. Our aim is to sequence the curriculum so that each skill is delivered with timing that supports mastering of key developmental tasks at each stage of a child’s life.
These are lofty goals and the reality is that the money our staff earn is paltry compared to how BIG their hearts are, how much they care about the children, and how dedicated they are to creating a better world for the future generations. I watch the mentors give so much while at the same time struggling to fix their cars, afford healthcare, and stay focused on the work that matters most to them while piecing together low-paying part-time jobs, so they can continue working for Feet on the Earth, which currently can offer them only part-time, seasonal work.
Last year, following my guidance, our board of directors voted to give all of the part-time staff a 10% raise and put them on payroll instead of continuing to hire them as independent contractors. As an organization we took on social security and Medicare matching, unemployment insurance, and an increase in workers compensation insurance cost to make this change. We also invested in more paid planning time for staff so that we could create the best experiences possible for the children, all while keeping our staff to participant ratios 1:6 and often as high as 1:3 to provide most personalized, hands-on learning for the children.
There is no doubt that making these changes was the right thing to do, but we tried to do too much too fast and for the first time in our 9 year history (4+ years as my sole-proprietorship and almost 5 years as a non-profit) we are looking at a budget deficit. We need to raise at least $15,000 to meet our budget for the year or we will find ourselves in June or July unable to pay our bills, make payroll, and continue our work. I take responsibility for not reviewing the numbers more carefully and have learned so much from this experience. As an organization we have done an internal assessment and are creating a plan for how to go forward in a more sustainable way to ensure that we don’t end up in this situation again.
We recognize that we have to do fundraising and more marketing to support this vital work. Do we expect to do all of that with one crowd funding campaign? No. We are reaching out to individual donors, personally and through this campaign, seeking support from the business community, and applying to foundations for grants as part of our long-term fundraising strategy.
The past five months have been an incredible journey for me, testing over and over my commitment to the vision I have for what I want to bring to the world. At times I’ve felt tremendously afraid, wondering how we were going to stay afloat. There have been days when I wanted to give up, but the support of the dedicated people around me, the smiles and laughter of the children, the beauty of the Earth, and the longing in my own heart have urged me to keep going. Since we began on this journey what I’ve learned most is how much people care about what we are doing at Feet on the Earth.
While Feet on the Earth is the culmination of my life’s work and journey so far, it is clear that Feet on the Earth has grown into something bigger than just my offering of love and gratitude to the world. It has taken root and become a place where others can show up to be of service to an eco-centric community, and a home where our collective dreams and vision for a sustainable future can grow and blossom.
Gratitude for Your Support
Like a bright faced youth coming of age, Feet on the Earth is ready to blossom from a growing, jumping, running, giggling child into a self-possessed, full-hearted, giving, nurturing, flowering presence of the community. It is with full hearts that we humbly ask you to stand as supporters and witnesses of this initiatory moment for Feet on the Earth. Your support of our work is an act of solidarity with our desire to recreate nature and community-base rites of passage as a way of life in our culture and communities.
Your support, in whatever form, is of great benefit to us:
° Please make a donation to our campaign. Note: all donations go directly to Feet on the Earth and are fully tax deductible.
° Share the campaign with friends and family via email and on social media.
° Join us for a community event to hear more about our vision and see it manifesting into reality. Visit website for details.
° Write a supporting comment on our campaign page or our social media pages to give us encouragement and help to spread the word.
With our hearts and minds united in gratitude and in service to the future generations,
Lorene & the Staff and Board of Feet on the Earth
Testimonials from Parents
“The gifts that you have given Julia (independence, self confidence, awareness of her leadership abilities, myriad of nature skills, community...that's the tip of the iceberg) are priceless. These things enrich her as a person, and will remain with her her entire life.” - Steve
Thank you for all you are doing. We just love you guys. The personal energy you are putting into my kids will impact them for a lifetime!” - Jennifer
“From the bottom of my heart I really want to thank you for the scholarships for my son Nicholas, without those this experience would not have been possible for him or me. Many, many blessings. Infinite love and gratitude to you and all your group.” - Elma
“I just wanted to share Rose’s first words in the car yesterday: ‘That was the most awesome day of my life.’ FOTE has a huge fan.” - Paula
“My girl left camp empowered, centered and nourished from the earth." - Anglea
“We continue to love what you and the mentors provide to Jameson and all of the children. FOTE plays an enormous role in helping these kids shape themselves. Thank you!” - Chris
First, we want to thank all of you for your continued support as we move through the process of getting "back on our feet." There have been a number of challenges and it has been a trying time for all of us. However, we want to give you a quick update on how things are going.
Due to everything taking longer than expected, we will not be offering summer camps this year. We are disappointed that this is the case, but anticipate that 2018 will see us offering camps again. In the meantime, we have a lot of paperwork, planning, and organization to do before we can be up and running again, and right now that is our main focus.
We have thought a lot about different ways we can support our community and our children and we have decided that in order to create the best Feet on the Earth experience, we need to rethink how we do things and take the time needed to figure out what that is. That has been the blessing of this interruption, it has given us the opportunity to take a step back and think about how we can build better programs going forward.
There are still a lot of hurdles in our way, but we will be sure to let you know more as we continue.
Thank you again for all your support.
You are amazing! You have given us a tremendous gift: new life.
With your patience, understanding and generous financial support – we’ve received over $10,000 in donations in the past 2 weeks! – you have given us the opportunity to continue serving this community. Thank you. It is such a blessing to know how much our weekly outpouring of passion, inspiration, and love over the years has affected your lives in positive ways, and to know that we can move forward with the steps needed to continue bringing the deep nature-connection and community building work that we love to this community. For both these things, I am truly grateful.
I also feel deep appreciation for all the ways you have offered to and are stepping in to help: meeting with public officials, answering phone calls and emails, organizing community events, helping with fundraising, and so much more. You are strengthening our foundation, building the community, and supporting Feet on the Earth to emerge from this challenge healthier and more sustainable for the future. I am heartened to see our community grow stronger through meeting this challenge, and am inspired by our collective ability to turn this difficulty into a gift that benefits not only Feet on the Earth, but also the generations to come. Thank you!
Thanks to the generous support of our community, and the patience and understanding of families whose programs were cancelled, we have moved past the first hurdle: impending bankruptcy. While we don’t have all the resources needed yet to provide refunds for families who have requested them, we are able to pay our immediate bills and move forward with navigating the regulatory process.
Board member Linda Whitedove met with a code compliance specialist from Boulder County Land Use yesterday regarding zoning issues. While it could take several months to go through a review process, the outlook is hopeful. In the coming weeks we will be meeting with Public Health officials and people from the Colorado Department of Human Services’ division of Early Childhood and Learning to work with them regarding meeting their requirements. We hope to have a sense of what is needed and a timeframe for completing the steps by mid September.
On the immediate horizon, I am organizing volunteers for this coming Saturday, August 27, to help us move our program equipment and supplies out of our storage unit and onto the land in Lefthand Canyon. Let me know if you are available to help. We will be starting at 9 am and will continue until everything is moved and safely stored.
I have been in conversation with some FOTE parents and staff about the possibility of having a community gathering this fall. We will keep you posted about what might be unfolding and how you can get involved.
Thank you again for your belief in Feet on the Earth and the importance of the work we do. Thank you for your support, not just to continue, but also to grow stronger and more vital as an organization and a community. You rock my world!
Love and blessings,
Founder, Feet on the Earth Programs
I am amazed and uplifted by the emails from community members offering to help us work with regulatory agencies, read and reply to emails, or assist in any way they can. My heart busts as I talk with staff willing to donate their paychecks back to Feet on the Earth and parents who pledge their support to “keep our FOTE family together.” I am humbled by our board of directors who have stepped up with courage and passion to help me guide Feet on the Earth through this challenge.
You all rock my world in ways I never could have imagined. I am deeply grateful for your belief in me, Feet on the Earth, and the vision of what we can create now and for the future generations.
Together I know we are going to make it through this challenge. Please keep the support coming. I am holding so much gratitude in my heart for all of you and the magic in our world.
During the Return Ceremony, one at a time they stepped forward and faced their parents, grandparents, and siblings across the circle. Each one spoke about what they learned about themselves and then shared that they came to appreciate even more how much their family means to them. The teary-eyed the parents, longing to embrace their child, invited their youth to come home with them. Despite their longing to rejoin their families the youth held strong to the newfound independence and confidence they’d gained. They told their parents that is was important that they all work together to keep the agreements they'd made about how things would be different when they returned home. The parents and youth pledged together, witnessed and supported by their community, to forge a new relationship as these youth grow into young adults.
This precious moment was 5 years in the making. It took five years of mentoring these kids and building relationship with their families to bring everyone together in a community-based rites of passage ceremony that was meaningful and relevant to their lives. This moment is the dream of community-based rites of passage for youth manifesting real-time at Feet on the Earth.
It is a dream where the youth are held and witnessed by the community they grew up in as they move from childhood into young adulthood. Their extended family, friends, mentors, and peers are surrounding them. They know the people standing in the circle witnessing them. They have grown up, like these youth, learning and practicing their skills together and building a bond that is formed through shared experience.
In all the years I have led wilderness programs and put kids out on solo experiences, it has never touched my heart as deeply as it did last week walking out to his solo site a 13 year old boy, now taller than me, who I have known since he was 8 years old. Watching these children grow into kind, loving, confident and capable adults who are connected to themselves, the earth, and a community of people who matter to them and care for them is one of the most beautiful and inspiring things I have witnessed.
It’s a big dream that motivates all of us at Feet on the Earth to pour our vital life energy into this work, but we know that it is some of the most important work we can be doing on the planet. We invite you to join us as a family participating in our programs, a community member, a volunteer, a board member, a kind elder who sits and listens to the children, a financial supporter, or in any way that makes your heart sing.
With a full and happy heart,
Founder and Executive Director