The Women's Wilderness Institute

Times are changing, and our programs need to as well. We believe that our mission is as important as ever, but we want to make sure we are offering programming that is fresh and relevant in today's world. We are scaling back operations while we dedicate energy and resources into a re-visioning process. Our goal is to emerge from reflection time a stronger, more relevant organization with the best and most current programming available to meet the demands of today's girls and women.

Organizational Overview

The Women's Wilderness Institute
4730 Table Mesa Drive Suite K-100
Boulder, CO 80305
The Women's Wilderness Institute is a nonprofit organization with the mission of strengthening the courage, confidence, and leadership qualities of girls and women, through the challenge and support of group wilderness and community-based experiences.

The Girls' Wilderness Program is an innovative strengthening and prevention program designed to develop the self-efficacy, self-confidence, leadership skills, and capacity for authentic relationships that have been shown to be significant protective factors for girls.

The Science of Climbing Program brings climbing and experiential science education to Colorado schools. It's a collaboration with Colorado Mountain Club, which meets state educational standards for science and physical education.


Women's Wilderness has decided to take a time out to give us a chance to really reflect on what our future will look like. We will be scaling way back on our current operations while we dedicate our energy and resources into the re-visioning of Women's Wilderness. Our goal is to emerge from this time of reflection and growth a stronger, more relevant organization with the best and most current programming available to meet the demands of today's girls and women.

We would love to hear from you during this time of transition. Please follow us on
Facebook where we will announce opportunities for you to join in on the conversation. We will keep you posted on our progress, and we are truly looking forward to seeing you again in 2015 in our new incarnation!

Impact Statement

Since 1998, over 3,000 women and girls have participated in our wilderness-based programs, throughout the Rocky Mountain region and southwestern deserts.

The effectiveness of the Girls' Wilderness Program has been confirmed by three different outcome studies, done by independent researchers. A 1999 study found that eight-day course graduates showed significant positive changes in self-confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to initiate action . Another study in 2001 replicated those results, and also found a positive increase in body image and body acceptance . Self-reporting indicated that course graduates do significantly better in school; this finding was confirmed with a 2003 study on whether a Girls' Wilderness Course has an impact on academic attitudes. This study found significant increases in participants' perception of their academic competence, as well as positive changes in perceived self-worth .

The immersion experience of an extended wilderness expedition engages girls on the physical, creative, and relational levels. In the outdoors, numerous 'real-life' opportunities exist for girls to experience themselves as strong, capable, and connected to others. The activities of camping, backpacking, rock climbing, expressive art projects, team building initiatives, and group discussions are used to develop courage, confidence, and leadership through the mastery of new physical and relational skills. Girls who struggle with the more abstract challenges of their lives are able to have successful experiences of mastery and positive coping through the supported and gradual exposure to challenging but do-able tasks. The wilderness provides an excellent vehicle for what author and researcher JoAnn Deak calls 'against the grain learning', which for girls includes activities that are physical, that require spatial orientation and concrete problem solving, and include successful risk-taking experiences .

Research-based curriculum is designed to help girls develop the self-awareness, self-expression, and authentic relationships that are proven resilience factors . Girls are supported in expressing themselves even if that means holding on to a personal perspective that is different from those of their peers or even the group leaders. For girls, this ability to risk and resolve personal conflict is a significant developmental step towards authentic relationships.

The Girls' Wilderness Program uses an original model of teaching decision-making, designed to build self-awareness, critical thinking skills, and the ability to make self-affirming choices. The 'Conscious Choice' model uses the many choice-points of a wilderness expedition to give girls the skills and self-awareness to make choices that are in their own best interest, and based on their personal beliefs and values rather than the expectations of others or impulsive decisions. This awareness, and ability to express, personal values and needs is directly related to girls' ability to make positive choices regarding drugs, alcohol, sex, and other peer pressures.

In 2014 we are working to bring a climbing bus to local schools, provide after school programming to Denver girls at GALS, and develop alternative funding for the Women Veterans program.

Needs Statement

1) Our primary need in this challenging economy is for financial support. Our Girls' Wilderness Program is available to all girls, regardless of their family income, and to offer scholarships to girls in need we rely on the generosity of individual donors, foundations, and revenue generated from Custom Courses. 40% of our program and operating expenses come from individuals, events, and local businesses.

2) Volunteers. We currently need help with IT support, PR and website development. We always need help with general office support and course logistics. In 2014 we will be expanding opportunities for experienced volunteers to go into the wilderness with girls. This area will require a background check and references in order to participate as a volunteer.

Background Statement

The Women's Wilderness Institute was established in 1997, and began offering leadership programs for girls in 1998. Wilderness programs for women were introduced in 1999. The Institute has since grown to offer as many as 60 courses annually, including open enrollment courses for the general public and contract courses for partners including Girl Scouts, Naropa University, Mile Hi Church, the Army National Guard, and dozens of other organizations.

In 2008, the Women's Wilderness Institute received full accreditation from the Association for Experiential Education which means that we have met the safety, program quality, and risk management standards and practices of outdoor, experiential education.

In 2014, our focus is on growth. The organization is working to expand its earned income streams as well as programming throughout the year.

Executive Director Statement

As a supporter of The Women's Wilderness Institute, you know that one of the greatest gifts you can make is to give girls of all income levels the courage to speak their truth, to move with confidence, and to be visible and authentic. You understand the connection between strong girls, strong women, and a better world. You understand that a true democracy in which women lead side by side with men, in equal numbers.

For sixteen years, The Women's Wilderness Institute has been working to strengthen the courage, confidence and leadership skills in girls and women. Hundreds of graduates of the Girls' Wilderness Program are now young women with the skills and confidence to step into leadership positions, bringing forth their natural instincts for peace, social justice, and collaboration. Our research-proven girls' programs are continuing to help girls navigate the challenges of adolescence with the power of their own voices.

2014 we are focusing our energy at the core of our mission- building courage, confidence, and leadership for girls. We expect to expand school year programming in addition to maintaining the amazing Girls' Wilderness Program i the summer, serving up to 150 girls, and providing scholarships to every girl who qualifies. Our custom course programs and your financial support help make these scholarships possible.

We need your help. We need your help for the growing number of girls who come from families that cannot afford the kinds of life-changing experiences that the Girls' Wilderness Program provides. We need your help for The Women's Wilderness Institute to remain vital and viable through this challenging economic period. We need your help because The Women's Wilderness Institute is providing a root solution to so many of the complex issues our world faces today- from teenage pregnancy to the misuse and misunderstanding of power that is rampant on the personal and the global scale.

These days, as you reflect on what is important to you, and how you can contribute to the world, please remember to include The Women's Wilderness Institute in your year-end giving. Building strong girls and women is an investment that cannot wait. With your help, we will continue our fourteen-year track record of making the Girls' Wilderness Program accessible to girls of all economic backgrounds. Please consider making a 'stretch' donation this year that will allow TWWI to continue to thrive.

Thank you for your support!

S'mores and shooting stars,

Shari Leach
Executive Director

Board Chair/President Statement

The Women's Wilderness Institute is committed to maintaining its reputation as one of the premier outdoor education centers for girls and women in the US. With our empowering philosophy of Conscious Choice- utilizing the many choice points of a wilderness expedition to build self-sufficiency, confidence, and personal strength- we will be nationally recognized as a leader in the industry. Our goal is to expand our programs so that even more girls and women have a chance to find their inner strengths, live their dreams, and make this world a strong, vibrant, thriving place.

"I think I really found courage in myself that I never knew I had. I have learned to speak my mind, and not hold back because I might sound stupid. This experience has brought out the best in me."
-Sarah, age 15, Girls' Wilderness Program participant

Women's Wilderness Institute is a nonprofit organization with the mission of strengthening the courage, confidence, and leadership qualities of girls and women, through the challenge and support of group wilderness and community-based experiences.
Key aspects of this profile information have been reviewed by Community First Foundation staff. Each organization is exclusively responsible for the content that appears on the profile page. Community First Foundation offers general guidance as to the purpose of each area but does not require or encourage charities to include anything in particular in each section.

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