BRUNSWICK, Maine — A map of Maine, peppered with colored pins, hung on the wall of the Teens To Trails office in Brunswick on Monday, April 17, just a few days after the organization’s 10-year anniversary.
Dominating the small office, the Maine map served as a display of all the nonprofit has accomplished in its first decade, as well as a reminder of the work left to be done.
“To me, this is really a big thing that we’re still around for the 10th year anniversary,” said Carol Leone, the organization’s founder, who has poured her heart into the organization from the beginning. “It’s hard for nonprofits to make it.”
Founded by the Leone family in 2007, Teens To Trails, also known as T3, supports high school outing clubs throughout Maine, with the vision that one day, every high school in the state will have an outing club or outdoor adventure programs.
“Six years into it, we realized we needed to stick around if we wanted this to happen, because it’s going to take a while,” Carol Leone said.
Over the years, T3 has provided high school outing clubs throughout the state with more than $60,000 in grants for outdoor equipment and transportation funds. The nonprofit also provides these outing clubs with free online resources, outdoor skills trainings and trip lotteries.
Perhaps most importantly, T3 has created a cohesive outing club network in Maine that facilitates the sharing of information and resources across county lines.
On the map in the T3 office, the yellow pins mark all of the high schools in Maine with an outing club. Red pins mark all of the high schools without one.
“Katahdin High School is starting up their outing club this year, and we’re pretty excited to be part of it,” Leone said.
Having survived chiefly off grants, T3 is looking for other sources of funding so the organization can last well into the future, spreading the word about the importance of healthy, active, outdoor lifestyles in Maine. And a big part of their plan is a new outdoor-themed festival they are planning to host this summer.
The new festival
The new Life Happens Outside Festival will be held Friday, Aug. 25, and Saturday, Aug. 26, at Thompson’s Point in Portland, and will include themed “villages” of vendors, displays, demonstrations and presenters, as well as live music and an outdoor film festival.
“We want it to be as experiential as possible,” Rebecca Thomas, the T3 outreach and programs coordinator, said.
If all goes well, T3 plans to host the festival annually as its primary fundraising event.
“It’s not just this one big fun day,” Leone said. “I mean, it is — but it’s also for good cause.”
T3 is still accepting sponsorships, event volunteers and applications for vendors and presenters. L.L.Bean is sponsoring the festival’s main stage. Sterling Rope is sponsoring the Rock Village. Maine Yoga is sponsoring the Kids Village. Chewonki is sponsoring the Earth Village. The Quimby Family Foundation and Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield are general event sponsors, and Maine Magazine and Yelp are media sponsors.
Vendors include the sponsors, as well as Evo Rock and Fitness, Baxter Brewing Company, Maine Outdoor Film Festival, Portland Paddle, Eastern Mountain Sports, the Maine Canoe and Kayak Racing Organization, Ashley Flowers Yoga, Grandy Oats Real Granola, Broke and Stoked, Alpenglow Adventure Sports, Acadia Mountain Guides Climbing School, Coastal Studies For Girls and Good To-Go. Also involved is the Bicycle Coalition of Maine and Portland Trails.
A tribute to teens
From the beginning, T3 has been focused on reaching teens.
The organization was founded in honor of Carol and Bob Leone’s daughter, Sara Leone, who died at the age of 15 in 2005 in a tragic car crash in Wiscasset. Sara and her big sister, Lindsay, grew up enjoying the outdoors with their parents. The family kayaked, skied, hiked, scuba dived and camped on a regular basis. And both girls were active members of the Wiscasset High School Outing Club.
“Sara was just so comfortable in the outdoors,” Carol Leone said. “It was just such a big part of who she was.”
T3 was established in Sara’s honor, but in truth it also gave Carol Leone “a reason to get up in the morning” after her family’s terrible loss, she explained. The organization surrounded her with like-minded outdoorsy people who were energetic, encouraging and excited about the nonprofit’s mission.
“It was totally selfish,” Carol Leone said. “I still believe these are the coolest people in the state.”
In its first year, T3 focused on simply spreading the word about the importance of high school outing clubs and outdoor programming for teens. Then, in 2008, T3 established its Grants-to-Clubs Program, annually awarding schools throughout the state with small grants averaging $500 to aid them in purchasing outdoor equipment and meet transportation costs — two of the biggest hurdles for outing clubs in Maine.
Over the years, T3 has also developed a long list of partners throughout the state that support the nonprofit in its mission. Often, these partners contribute to or volunteer at T3 events, including the annual T3 Spring Thing weekend-long outdoor workshop for Maine high school outing clubs in western Maine, and the T3 Fall Rendezvous, a similar workshop held in Acadia National Park.
“It breaks down a lot of barriers,” Thomas said of these outdoor workshops for teens. “It pushes everyone, in some aspect, out of their comfort zone, and that’s a big confidence builder.”
Also with the help of T3 partners, the nonprofit organizes regular outdoor skills workshops for teachers interested in starting outing clubs at their schools. And T3 also holds trip lotteries, working with T3 partners to offer outdoor trips for free or at extreme discounts for Maine high school outing clubs.
For example, the current spring trip lottery includes a daylong canoe trip led by Maine Path & Paddle Guides for $5 per person, rock climbing instruction at Salt Pump Co for $15 per person, and a weekend stay at Chewonki’s Big Eddy Campground for free.
In addition each year, through a partnership with The Chewonki Foundation, T3 awards the Sara Scholarship, which sends two Maine high school sophomores on a three-week summer wilderness experience with other teens, led by Chewonki staff.
Though based in Brunswick, T3 is working to reach all regions of Maine, and some day it may expand beyond state borders. Since its inception, the organization has received queries from educators across the country looking for a similar network of support for outing clubs in their states, Carol Leone said.
“The thing we’ve learned is to have patience,” she said. “Everybody is bending over backwards to get kids outside. This is just another great way to do that.”
To learn more about Teens To Trails, visit teenstotrails.org. For more information about the new “Life Happens Outside” festival, visit lifehappensoutside.org.