It takes a community of invested people and partners to grow the next generation of conservation stewards and leaders. Grand Teton National Park Foundation has been funding transformative and immersive opportunities for young people in Grand Teton for the past eighteen years, and we are proud to support our park partner in this key priority. Foundation philanthropy enables five innovative youth engagement programs—Youth Conservation Program, Pura Vida, National Park Service Academy, Mountains to Main Street, and Tribal Youth Engagement.
In addition to these park-Foundation opportunities that connect diverse youth from around the country to Grand Teton, youth programs like those offered through another local organization, the Grand Adventure, are simultaneously working to increase access and opportunity for a population that might not otherwise be able to experience the incredible landscape of the Tetons on their own.
We recently had the chance to sit down with Stacey Kayem, founder and executive director of the Grand Adventure—and a valued community member—to learn more about how Grand Teton National Park is a place of healing and empowerment for youth (and adult) cancer survivors.
GTNPF: Tell us about the programs offered through the Grand Adventure.
Stacey: The Grand Adventure (GA), formally Children’s Grand Adventure, facilitates discovery experiences in Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks that harness the power of nature to inspire awe and healing for those dealing with a chronic diagnosis, specifically cancer. For the past fifteen years, trips throughout the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been the cornerstone of an innovative impact model that pairs survivors with those on a path to recovery and provides meaningful mentorship that lasts a lifetime.
GA has scaled to provide a spectrum of patient interventions, including virtual, in-person, and retreat group experiences, all of which are place-based in this landscape and bring the unique power of healing from the Tetons to patients—meeting them where they are at medically and geographically, without boundaries or barriers.
Today, GA offers three programs: virtual (Boundless), in-person (Inspiration Point)—both for youth—and adult retreat group programs (Uplift) to help those dealing with life-changing diagnoses and the effects thereafter to reconnect with who they are, foster independence, and build relationships with others on a similar life journey.
GTNPF: Describe the impact that Grand Teton National Park has on the experience of participants in your programs.
GA: Since before it was formally a national park, Grand Teton’s unique and majestic landscape has been a sanctuary for healing. GA was founded because that power has the ability to make an indelible difference on the lives of patients as they face significant health challenges.
By offering programs grounded in this place, we are humbled to introduce participants to the magic of Grand Teton National Park. The park is an incredible partner, and we know that the unique memories created through our programs will last a lifetime.
GTNPF: How does time spent in a national park support an individual’s health and well-being?
GA: Our programs are based upon a heartfelt belief that time spent in nature has the power to heal. And we know that studies support this. Physical and mental health improvements are evident in participants as they spend time connecting to the Teton landscape and each other. As campers challenge themselves to try new things in the outdoors, we watch them rebuild confidence in themselves and their abilities. Participants begin to experience reduced stress, improved sleep, and increased connections—particularly with others on a similar journey.
With the core of our mission being that ‘first glance’ of Grand Teton, we strive to convey the strength and resiliency of the park directly into the minds, bodies, and spirits of those in need of encouragement to persevere.
Reflections from one young cancer survivor, Sophia, who participated in the Inspiration Point in-person program prior to the pandemic, exemplifies the impact and empowering influence of Grand Teton:
“I learned that I was stronger than I thought I was. I never thought I would be able to carry myself up and down those mountains or paddle for as long as I did. After treatment, I didn’t think I would be able to run the way I used to or withstand physical activity. This experience taught me that I could do anything, and I was capable of anything I put my mind to. “
GA began as a hope. Over the course of our first fifteen years, experiences in our national parks—and particularly Grand Teton—have become paramount in assisting patients to build a path to healing and survivorship.
GTNPF: We know that the Grand Adventure’s in-person youth program includes a culminating hike to Inspiration Point at Jenny Lake. What is the significance of Inspiration Point to your programs?
GA: Hiking to Inspiration Point is a steadfast milestone for young people in our Inspiration Point program because, as the name implies, the achievement and spectacular view from the top etch a feeling of accomplishment and a reminder of the power of nature in our campers.
GTNPF’s partnership with Grand Teton National Park to revitalize and restore Jenny Lake’s visitor amenities and front and backcountry trails has allowed us to accommodate a wider range of participant abilities with much more ease. With the improved trail accessibility and boardwalk, hiking out to Inspiration Point now represents a deeply symbolic connection point for our participants to move across the ‘crevasse’ of medical canyons toward an enveloping horizon of hope.
GTNPF is pleased that Grand Teton National Park offers such a profound space for healing, connection, and renewal for youth who are experiencing difficult medical diagnoses, and we are grateful to GA for their important work of engaging and empowering the next generation of leaders in our public lands!