Mark Godley, executive director of Big City Mountaineers, began his career in the corporate world before redirecting his energy toward organizing life-transforming outdoor adventures for urban teens. In this issue, he offers insight on what it takes to run one of the country's largest recreational mentoring programs.
SDM: What is the mission of your organization?
Godley: Big City Mountaineers enhances the lives of under-resourced urban teens through transformative outdoor experiences.
SDM: Nationally, how many participants do you have?
Godley: We serve 225 teens and have roughly the same number of adult volunteers. We should grow to over 1,000 of each during 2009.
SDM: How many events are held each year?
Godley: In our mission-driven, teen recreational mentoring program we spend over 2,000 days in the outdoors annually throughout the program. BCM also manages an event-based fundraising program, Summit for Someone, and we hold20-plus mountaineering fundraisers throughout the country each year in that program as well.
SDM: In what regions/locations are they held?
Godley: Eighty percent of our programs originate out of either Denver or the San Francisco Bay area, with the remainder from Portland, Seattle or the greater Chicago area. An interesting aspect of our program is that it is conducted on public lands that are largely remote, wilderness areas - such as the Sierra Nevada mountains, Cascade mountains and Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness area.
SDM: As an organization, what do you look for in a location?
Godley: BCM works exclusively in lower socio-economic neighborhoods and partners with existing youth development agencies in those communities. As far as where we run our programming, we are looking for awe-inspiring settings that can allow us to deliver programming that acts as a metaphor for the challenges of our participants back in their urban settings.
SDM: From an event management standpoint, what is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Godley: Logistics, logistics, logistics. Because our programs take place in physically remote areas, we have to do a great deal of work ensuring that they are safe. Medical records, background checks, outdoor training, drivers, equipment, communication equipment, emergency action plans, relationships with public land management agencies and dozens more 'i's need to be dotted and 't's crossed to pull off a safe and rewarding experience.
SDM: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Godley: BCM's program has had such a positive impact on people's lives –both our teen participants and our volunteers. Whenever I get to hear the story of each program, what the participants and volunteers got out of it or how it changed their lives, it buoys me for days.I was a 10-year volunteer and financial supporter of BCM before I was asked to take over as executive director, and my goal was to accelerate its growth. It feels really good that we've tripled the growth rate since I joined.
SDM: What is your biggest challenge in organizing your organization's events?
Godley: BCM works in communities in which chaos is the norm. So despite having a crisp operation ourselves, we can be prone to inheriting a fair amount of uncertainty. We've had to be very flexible, much more than is optimal from an efficiency standpoint, to have success due to this transferred chaos.
SDM: Please describe how you feel your knowledge, skills and experience have contributed to the success of the sports events in which you are involved.
Godley: BCM is one of the larger organizations in the nation providing recreational mentoring programs specifically to diverse populations. As a result, smaller or regional programs are often reaching out to us to ask for direction or advice. It is nice to be able to share with them our lessons learned and allow them to stand on our shoulders to see a bit further.