Somebody To Lean On

Epic outdoor adventures. Hands-on learning. Great relationships. CityWILD’s programs give at-risk youth the chance to grow through all three.



CityWILD is like my second family,” says Laura, a graduate of Colorado High School Charter who joined cityWILD six years ago for the outdoor activities and friends, and in two years became a crew leader, working alongside cityWILD staff. Today, she credits cityWILD for getting her ready to face the world after high school: “The organization made me who I am: more responsible and professional, and able to work with others and be there for people emotionally.”

For 20 years, cityWILD has been inspiring 11- to 18-year-olds who don’t have access to outdoor experiences or leadership training by providing after-school programs, outdoor excursions, and meaningful relationships. “The organization is there for students,” Laura says.


  • CityWILD was founded in 1998 by three social workers trained in experiential education, says executive director Jes Ward. “The mid- and late-’90s were intense in terms of youth-on-youth violence, particularly on the East Side of Denver. CityWILD was a creative response to give young people alternatives and support networks.”

How it works

  • CityWILD meets with students after class four times a week, focusing on technical outdoor skills, emotional and social skills, service projects, and homework help. Students also go on adventure trips one weekend a month during school, and longer, more frequent trips in the summer. “Our approach is primarily neighborhoodbased,” Ward says. “We work with schools in the seven neighborhoods of the East Side. Our goal isn’t expansion, but depth. We want to have deep relationships—to know students’ families and what’s going on in their daily lives. In October every year, we move into rock climbing, often tying it to goal setting. New students also go on a three-day trip near Red Feather Lake.” The organization’s four main school partners are Pioneer Charter, Harrington Elementary, Bruce Randolph, and Wyatt-Edison Charter, and it launched a test site in Westwood this year.

How you can help

  • Donate, intern, or volunteer. “New or gently used gear that’s current is always appreciated,” Ward says. “We also provide a lot of basic needs support for students, so those donations are helpful. You can also book a commercial rock climbing, backpacking, or river trip, which help us pay for our workforce programs, and hire youth to be guides once they turn 18.”

MARK YOUR CALENDARS for cityWILD’s annual Chill-n-Grill, one of two yearly fund-raising events, in May 2019.

Provides outdoor experiences for at-risk youth.
1620 E. 36th Ave.

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