The conservation community, in general, is challenged by a lack of diversity. While AMC is no exception, having leaders from different backgrounds provides quiet testimony to our belief that the outdoors is for everyone. Not only can our experiences help us learn about nature, they can teach us about ourselves—and one another.
We talked to four young leaders about their experiences with AMC: Kayla Dorey, 24, Teen Trail Crew leader; Andy Hayes, 28, Teen Wilderness Adventures and A Mountain Classroom instructor; Masuzyo Mhango, 23, Teen Trail Crew leader; and Christopher Wu, 28, hut caretaker, backcountry info specialist, and Teen Trail Crew coordinator.
How did you first get involved in the outdoors?
Wu: Most directly, from thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail to put off the whole “real life” thing. When I finished the trail, I wanted to pay it forward, and I started volunteering with AMC’s Connecticut Chapter. I went after trail work as a career path, and that led me to where I am now.
Hayes: In English Lit, we talk about how different spheres of the world are connected. Economic growth affects religion and vice versa. Because of that, community building is incredibly important to me. When I graduated college, I was set on saving the world. But as I worked and gained experience, I realized how slowly change happens. I found that education, especially experiential education, has such a drastic effect on doing good. You just have to be patient.
Has your own identity factored into your experience with AMC?
Dorey: As a female crew leader, I felt there was something to prove. I took the opportunity to work oneon-one with the girls, to show them the skills they needed—tasks you wouldn’t typically see a woman doing. It’s empowering to swing an ax or to crush rock with a sledgehammer and to rethink the type of work women ought to or are able to do.
Hayes: Since I’m working with kids, they often have less of a filter than adults. They’re not too scared to talk about things like race. I look at it as an opportunity for them to see that my ethnicity is part of who I am, but it’s not all that I am.
Wu: If people of other backgrounds see I’m out in the woods doing professional things, and it helps them recognize that anyone can do it, that’s awesome. I am who I am, and this is what I do.
Can greater diversity benefit AMC?
Wu: As a crew leader, if everyone feels the same thing and thinks the same way, you get into this crew mindset you can’t break out of.
Hayes: It shows people from all backgrounds they’re not excluded or precluded from any field of work. Mhango: We are changing the environment a lot, and that’s scary. Getting more opinions brings more issues to the table, and that changes the discussion.
Dorey: If people from various walks of life share the belief that nature and trails should be enjoyed and protected, the message will be that much stronger.
How has your role with AMC shaped you?
Mhango: I was a little surprised by how much I do know about the environment. I always had doubts about myself, but I’ve realized I know a lot more than I thought.
Dorey: It helped me develop confidence and a voice. Going through a week in the backcountry, building trails and camping with a new group of people, is challenging. Overcoming that, and even finding joy in the things that made me uncomfortable at first, has helped me grow.
Wu: I never thought of myself as a natural leader, but now I’ve had lots of practice with a large variety of people. It has made me more patient and more willing to hear out other people’s ideas, even if those people are new to trail work. A new perspective can bring a new way to approach a problem.
Can AMC do the same for others?
Hayes: It all starts with education. Get kids out there. Show them it’s not just a middle-class, white-person thing to do. The outdoors is for everyone. By YOP [AMC’s Youth Opportunities Program] having gear rooms to supply gear, you decrease the economic barriers for kids who might not have the means.