Since 2016, Puget Sound Energy’s “Powerful Partnerships” program has donated $830,000 to regional nonprofit organizations that share PSE’s commitment to sustainability and community.

The 10 chosen nonprofits in 2023 reach all corners of PSE’s 6,000-square-mile service area, and their Whatcom County selection is Vamos Outdoors Project. The 2018-founded organization works to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for local Latine youth, partnering with multiple school districts and recreation providers.

Andy Basabe, a member of Vamos Outdoors’ leadership staff, says the $15,000 it receives from PSE will be used to continue funding their outdoor, recreational, and academic programs. This includes covering the costs of Vamos’ commitment to PSE in supporting sustainability opportunities, and helping staff work with partners to build capacity and equity for the Latine community in Whatcom and Skagit County.

Vamos Outdoor Project takes children to places like Galbraith Mountain to get a taste of mountain biking. Photo courtesy Vamos Outdoor Project

The Great Outdoors

Vamos provides a number of youth programs for the community it serves, including day programs like swimming, mountain biking, rock climbing, and Fiesta de Libros (book parties) — all focused on joy and the learning of new skills.

All Vamos programs are completely free, including transportation, food, outreach, equipment, and mentorship. Snowboarding and backpacking trips have also been part of Vamos programming, the latter of which Basabe and team find particularly rewarding.

“The time spent in the backcountry allows for mentors and participants to benefit from the relationships they’ve built,” Basabe says, “allowing deeper work like refining the relationship Latine youth have with the outdoors.”

Vamos provides both indoor and outdoor recreation opportunities through partnerships with community entities like Whatcom YMCA. Photo courtesy Vamos Outdoor Project

Activities like mountain biking or snowboarding have barriers to access, and Vamos provides a way into those activities, Basabe adds. But Vamos goes beyond just learning a new activity; they also focus on developmental justice.

“Latine youth development, especially migrant youth, has a high rate of adverse childhood experiences, which lead to significant long-term negative outcomes,” says Basabe.

The positive youth experiences that Vamos provides — like time spent in nature, physical activity, socio-emotional learning, trusted relationships with adults, and friendship-building — can all mitigate that adversity.

Vamos Outdoor Project, a Whatcom County nonprofit that works to remove barriers for Latine children to access outdoor recreation, was recently awarded a $15,000 grant from Puget Sound Energy. Photo courtesy Vamos Outdoor Project

Most programs serve up to 13 youths at a time, as it’s the maximum number of people they can fit into the organization’s van. Programs, many of which are enrolled in each fall, frequently have large wait lists.

“After filling the swim program, we still had 80 kids on the waitlist,” Basabe says. “It’s hard to balance keeping kids connected to the activities they love and also opening up space for kids to try activities that are new to them.”

Moving Forward

Hunter Hassig, PSE’s outreach manager for Whatcom County and Whidbey Island, says Vamos Outdoors stood out in how quickly they’ve grown.

“What they’ve been able to do in a short time, building trust within the local Latino population — especially the recently-settled Latino population — is just astounding,” he says, adding that PSE was eager to forge a relationship with Vamos.

Backcountry hiking expeditions near Mount Baker are also great ways for Latine children to see nature and build trust in themselves and adults. Photo courtesy Vamos Outdoor Project

Relationships, of course, are critical for Vamos, both with the families they serve and their community partners. Those who help make programs happen include Whatcom Mountain Bike Coalition (WMBC), the Whatcom YMCA, the Community Boating Center, and the Mount Baker Ski Area.

Vamos is also contracted with the Bellingham, Lynden, Nooksack Valley, and Burlington-Edison School Districts. When schooling went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, Vamos helped provide in-person support for Latine students and families struggling to access school resources.  

Moving forward, Basabe says Vamos is continuing to work on creating strong ties with those they serve.

Indoor and outdoor rock climbing is also among Vamos Outdoor Project’s recurring and popular programs for youth. Photo courtesy Vamos Outdoor Project

“We try to be slow and intentional with our growth, so that new families have the same opportunities to get to know staff and mentors,” he says. “Trust is really important in the Latine community.”

Vamos is also working directly with parents, providing chances for them to be paid to work with the kids in their community.

For those interested in supporting Vamos, donations are the most helpful way to lend a hand. The majority of the nonprofit’s budget, Basabe says, is paying their professional staff to provide a safe and supportive experience for children.

Donations can be made at the organization’s website, and fundraisers throughout the year also offer a chance to help out, as does volunteering. For more, follow them on Instagram.

Special thanks to Vamos Outdoors Project’s Leadership Team members: Elisa Espinoza, Meriel Kaminsky, Andy Basabe, Jaime Friedrich, and Rebeca Sixto, who all provided responses and information about the program.


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