A Legacy of Outdoor Education and Lifelong Learning
Jessica Kahlman knows that many Bay Area students have yet to lay eyes on a majestic coast redwood or dip their toes into the frigid Pacific Ocean.
That’s why she and her colleagues at Vida Verde are dedicated to helping children from low-income schools do just that. They believe that every child has a right to have meaningful educational experiences in nature.
“It’s about helping kids grow, helping them feel confident and comfortable in their skin, helping them become leaders,” Kahlman, Vida Verde’s development director, says, adding that it’s also “introducing them to nature and its healing powers.”
Vida Verde was founded in 2001 by Laura and Shawn Sears, two former Teach for America teachers who saw a need to promote equity in outdoor education.
The nonprofit’s core program is a free three-day, two-night camping trip for 4th through 6th grade students from historically marginalized Bay Area communities. The kids take hikes, explore the coast and tide pools, visit a farm where they milk goats, make cheese, and enjoy a campfire.
In 2020, the nonprofit launched its Summer Leadership Program, which serves high school teens with a one-week immersive camping trip.
This past summer, two students who had participated in Vida Verde’s core program as 4th graders came back to work as SLP instructors.
“I know it’s easy to look at three days and think of it as a drop in the sand, but these profound and transformative experiences can help make a lasting impact, and really affect their trajectory,” Kahlman says.
Vida Verde purchased its current 23-acre home in San Gregorio about six years ago. The property includes a working farm with a vegetable garden and fruit orchard, goats, chickens, a llama, and open space. An educational barn is being built and will act as a classroom and housing for the organization’s dedicated staff.
There are also plans to install a solar array to power the entire property.
“We’re building a home for educational equity for generations to come,” Kahlman says.
Development Director: Jessica Kahlman
To promote educational equity by providing free, overnight environmental learning experiences for students who don’t otherwise get the opportunity.
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Students explore the natural wonders of the Redwoods and the coast while expanding their understanding of themselves and their capabilities. They face their fears (walking alone in the woods, facing waves of the ocean, or going on a night hike) with the support of their peers and program instructors. A three-day trip that provides mindsets and memories that will impact their futures.
Electrify Vida Verde With the Power of the Sun
Vida Verde hopes to raise $350,000 to buy and install solar panels for a solar array that would power its entire 23-acre San Gregorio property, including its working farm and new educational barn.
The solar array would enable the property to go entirely solar, running lights, water pumps, heat, and even multiple electric buses that will shuttle the students from site to site.
Going solar “aligns with our teachings around taking care of the environment,” Jessica Kahlman, Vida Verde’s development director, says. “It’s important for us to be models for students and the larger community around sustainability.”
The David & Lucile Packard
The California Coastal Commission
Midpeninsula Regional Open Space
The Franklin & Catherine
Additionally, individual supporters make up approximately 25% of our funds raised for our entirely free programming.”