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Giving Tuesday: Washington to Washington

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My new monthly series, Giving Tuesday, highlights travel-focused charities around the world. This month’s installment is from Davy Rothbart—writer of My Heart is an Idiot and brother of TPG Points & Miles Editor Peter Rothbart—who’s created a remarkable organization called Washington to Washington, which helps inner-city kids take trips to America’s Great Outdoors.

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During a Washington to Washington trip, a group of New Orleans kids enjoyed setting up camp in Virginia’s George Washington National Forest.

 

For the past five years, Washington To Washington has brought an ever-expanding group of inner-city kids from D.C., Detroit, and New Orleans into the wilderness for an outdoors adventure—camping, hiking, canoeing, swimming, and more. We’ve visited Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia, and Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Mountains. Each trip culminates in a mountain hike, with magnificent views of the summit.

The organization brings joy to many—but was inspired by a tragedy.

In 1999, while living in a rough part of Washington, D.C., I’d become a “Big Brother” to a 9-year-old boy in my neighborhood named Emmanuel Durant, Jr. Along with his brother, Smurf, and his sister, Denice, we’d play basketball, go to museums, and explore the city. Though I moved out of D.C. a few months later, in the years that followed I remained close with Emmanuel and his family, and watched with pride as he became the first person in his family to graduate high school, then get engaged to his high-school girlfriend and begin training to become a firefighter.

On New Year’s Eve 2009, as Emmanuel defended Smurf, Denice and their young children during a robbery, he was shot and killed.

Shaken to the core, I traveled to D.C. the next day and helped his family prepare for his funeral. Emmanuel was buried on what would’ve been his 20th birthday.

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One of our Washington to Washington trips was to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park (that’s me in the center, in the cap)

Late that night, I talked with Smurf, Denice, and their mother Cheryl about ways we might honor Emmanuel’s memory. I’ve always loved hiking, camping, and exploring the Great Outdoors, and Denice made a great suggestion:

“What if we gathered a bunch of kids from the neighborhood for an annual hiking trip?”

It sounded perfect, since I knew just how few kids from inner-city D.C. ever had the chance to leave their own neighborhoods, much less experience the wonders of nature.

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Some of our lucky hikers and campers enjoying a swim in upstate New York

The next summer, Denice, Smurf, and I organized a trip with 20 kids from their block in D.C. Over the course of a week, we brought the kids swimming in upstate New York, visited a farm in Vermont, and hiked to the top of Mt. Washington in New Hampshire. The joy and wonder on the kids’ faces was a sight to behold, and by the end of the trip, we couldn’t wait to begin planning the next one.

Our goal is simply to introduce kids to the wonders of the natural world and broaden their perspectives. One of my favorite things to see is the thrill these city kids take in the natural world, and the small, unplanned moments of discovery and wonder—inspecting a cicada in the grass, watching minnows in the shallow water or a mountain hawk circle high above.

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Especially if you’ve never seen one, a cicada is a wondrous thing

Over the past 5 years, we’ve brought over 100 kids into nature for the first time, providing memories of a lifetime (for them as well as us). You can get a taste for what our trips are like from this wonderful video, which was shot during our trip to Mt. Washington:

This August, on our 6th Annual Trip, we’ll bring 35 kids from America’s roughest city streets to beautiful West Michigan, where we’ll climb sand dunes, canoe on pristine rivers, and swim in the Great Lakes.

Each year, our trips are funded entirely through individual donations from people like you. We’re a 100%-volunteer organization, so every dollar that’s donated goes directly toward covering the hard costs of our trip—food, supplies, camping gear, and travel costs for the kids.

Our goal for this summer’s trip is to raise $15,000, and if you’d like to help, your fully tax-deductible contributions can be made through the websites for Washington To Washington and our partner organization, Big Car

Washington to Washington canoeing
Part of this year’s trip to West Michigan will include river canoeing—as well as peace and quiet

Not only have our past trips been incredibly meaningful experiences for the kids, but the fact that someone they don’t know personally would care about their well-being and contribute so generously to make a trip possible is something they find deeply affecting.

The Points Guy community is full of wonderfully curious world explorers, and we can’t thank you enough for whatever support you can give to help us make this year’s trip a reality and give these special and deserving kids a chance to explore the world themselves!

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