by Sue Ann Rybak
A group of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy students and other local residents will be bringing out their inner-Spiderman (or woman) for a great cause on Friday, Nov. 2. The participants will rappel down 1515 Market Street, a 21- story Center City building, to help raise funds to benefit Outward Bound Philadelphia, a nonprofit that provides outdoor leadership programs for students and adults.
Nancy Goldenberg, a Mt. Airy resident and an Outward Bound Philadelphia founder, said the idea for the rappelling event came after reading about an similar event in the newspaper.
“I thought we could do that,” Goldenberg said.
Goldenberg was inspired to start Outward Bound Philadelphia in the 1980s while walking in the woods with Tammy, a 13-year-old girl she was mentoring in the Big Brother-Big Sister program.
“I took my little sister on a walk in the Wissahickon Park and realized she was scared to death,” Goldenberg said. “Here I am thinking this is the most beautiful place in the world, and she was terrified of nature in general. That experience really motivated me to connect kids with nature.”
Goldenberg began to wonder how she could not only help her little sister experience nature but other urban youth, too. That’s when she heard about the Outward Bound Program and, with the help of Mayor Micheal Nutter who was running for City Council at the time and several other dedicated community members, started the local affiliate in 1992.
“I guess I was young and naïve because my original vision was to create institutional change throughout the entire school district,” Goldenberg said. “My goal was to have every middle school kid go on an Outward Bound course.”
Goldenberg said while that goal never happened, when she looks back and thinks about Outward Bound Philadelphia’s impact on urban kids, she is blown away. Outward Bound Philadelphia provides more than $500,000 in scholarship support to 3,000 students a year.
“It’s really extraordinary,” Goldenberg said. “I am very humbled and honored that the program continues to thrive and succeed.”
Katie Paskuszek, executive director of Outward Bound in Philadelphia, said the mission of Outward Bound is to inspire individuals to do more than they think they can by placing them in challenging situations.
“I think it’s important to understand that Outward Bound is the world’s oldest and largest adventure-based education program,” Paskuszek said. “An important part of Outward Bound is building character and leadership skills and the importance of understanding the need for individuals to be of service to their community. These are critical elements of education that cannot be easily addressed in a standard school setting.
Springside Chestnut Hill Academy students Sarrah Schreffler and Sarah-Chen Ogorek will also be rappelling on Friday. Both are former participants in Outward Bound Philadelphia and shared their thoughts on the program.
Schreffler, 17, of Chestnut Hill, recently participated in an Outward Bound Youth Leadership program this summer. Schreffler said the 14-day program challenged her and at times forced her to change her perspective.
Schreffler, who plays squash at SCH, said she has always loved the outdoors.
“I have always been pretty outgoing and like borderline bossy when it comes to leading,” Schreffler said. “It helped me get a better understanding of leadership and the skills needed to be a successful leader.”
Schreffler encourages other youth who may be undecided to go on an Outward Bound trip.
“Definitely go for it,” Schreffler said. “Whether or not you regret it during the trip, you won’t regret it after. It’s amazing experience you won’t forget.”
When asked what advice she would give to people thinking about rappelling, she replied:
“One of the most important things is to trust the ropes. You’re being held up by tons and tons of ropes and machinery. And once you get down you will be so proud of yourself.”
Sarah-Chen Ogorek, 16, said although she and her family have always been environmentally focused, she was “not a big fan of the woods or hiking.”
“A lot of my friends were really surprised when I went on that adventure,” Ogorek said. “My friends said ‘Oh, you mean you don’t want to shower for a week.’”
There were no showers, no cell phones, no iPods, no laptops and no electrical gadgets.
“I don’t think people really get how disconnected you are in Outward Bound,” she said.
Ogorek and Schreffler and several other participants in the fundraiser recently rappelled three stories down the side of Russell Byers Charter School in Center City.
While Ogorek admitted she wasn’t afraid of heights, she said “rappelling was still pretty scary.”
She strongly encourages people to participant in the fundraiser.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Ogorek said. “There is a zero risk factor. It’s more about overcoming your own fear.”
Jon Conant, a former instructor for Outward Bound, agreed with Ogorek.
Conant said Outward Bound levels the playing field by putting a diverse group of people in a challenging situation.
“People get to see each other in a different light,” said Jon Conant, 64, who became hooked on Outward Bound when he was in high school. “It’s a humbling experience. When you see somebody who has been the boss freeze and then have to deal with that. Then the group comes together as a team and encourages them on. It’s a gratifying experience.
“Outward Bound has a special message for urban kids because they really need some support to help them overcome some of the obstacles they face,” said Conant, who has been a board member of Outward Bound Philadelphia for more than ten years. “It allows them to think ‘Yes, it’s possible for me to go beyond where I am today.’”
So, what does Conant’s friends think of him rappelling down a 21-story building?
“They think I am absolutely crazy,” Conant said.
He added that Britain’s Prince Andrew “sort of burst the bubble” when he rappelled 785 feet down Europe’s tallest building, The Shard, in September 2012.
“If Prince Andrew can do it then we can do it, and it’s for a very, very good cause.”
Outward Bound hopes to raise $180,000. So far, they have raised $107,384. There are still spots available if people want to participate. If you are interested in rappelling, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to make a donation to support the cause, go to the website and donate online to The Belay Fund. The money raised will help rappellers who have not reached the $2,000 goal get to that point.
To find out more about Outward Bound programs, visit outwardboundphiladelphia.org