The Youth Opportunities Program (YOP) began in Boston in 1968 during the civil rights movement, when the country was in turmoil over racial and social injustice. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) was concerned about these effects on Boston’s young people and, after considering the resources it had to offer and how it might play a useful role, the AMC approached some local organizations with an offer to help get their youth outdoors. The groups they spoke to said, “We don’t need someone else to lead outdoor trips for our youth. What we’d like is training, so that we can lead our youth.” It was through this dialogue that YOP, and our “train-the-trainer” model, was born.
The first YOP outing consisted of a small group of youth from Roxbury, MA. They ventured into the White Mountains during the summer of 1968 and returned home with exciting stories and talk of going back. Two more Roxbury groups took to the mountains that summer and were followed in summers to come by teens from Dorchester, Mattapan, downtown Boston, and Cambridge. AMC began loaning equipment and providing training designed specifically for youth workers, so that they could lead trips according to the needs of their youth. They discovered that their trips provided a unique opportunity for young people to develop leadership skills, get to know one another, and develop a connection to the outdoors.
YOP’s approach – putting skills and resources in the hands of youth workers – continues today. It is effective because of the vital role played by our committed youth agency and school partners. We believe that impactful outdoor experiences happen when youth have the opportunity to experience the challenges and rewards of the outdoor classroom with their peers and the adults that know them best. This enables YOP youth to bring the skills and experiences they gain in the woods back home.
Since its grassroots beginning in 1968, YOP has grown and evolved – all in an effort to make the outdoors more accessible and enjoyable. Today YOP is well-rooted in the community. Our growth can be seen in increasing demand for training and equipment, an expanding number of partners, and the fact that each year more and more kids discover the outdoors.
The first 63 youth served in 1968 grew to 1,000 youth in the 70s. Through the 80s YOP continued its focus on Boston youth, and in the mid-90s, the program expanded to New York City, providing training and support at the newly opened AMC Mohican Outdoor Center in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. By 2002, YOP was reaching over 3,000 youth per year, and recognizing the unique role YOP was increasingly playing in connecting urban youth to nature, AMC committed to expanding the program further. YOP has grown exponentially over the past decade, engaging new cities, offering new trainings, adding new equipment rooms, and increasing close-to-home offerings. Today, YOP serves over 37,000 youth and trains hundreds of youth workers each year.
Since 1968, YOP has trained over 5,000 youth workers. We are proud to support these professionals who have, in turn, brought more than 250,000 urban youth outdoors – and the impact continues to grow! As more youth workers complete our Outdoor Leadership Training and join the ranks as YOP Members, we will continue to reach more youth. YOP aims to serve at least 60,000 annually by 2020.