Into the Wilderness

Since 2011, the John Austin Cheley Foundation has awarded over twenty students from Midtown Center for boys and Metro Achievement Center for girls with scholarships to attend extended stay wilderness camps across the United States.

The John Austin Cheley Foundation is a non-profit that funds need-based scholarships, known as camperships, for “high-potential youth to attend extended stay wilderness summer camps.” Geoff Euston, an MEF board member, introduced MEF to the John Austin Cheley Foundation. Euston attended wilderness camps growing up and wanted to “get the fabulous kids of Metro and Midtownwho live in the city of Chicagoreal, primary experiences in nature.”

The John Austin Cheley Foundation depends on mentors to find students who are deserving of the scholarships and also to help students through the application and camp preparation process. Euston, along with Metro staff member Gemma Cremers, guides the students through the extensive application. “When finished, the application is between fifteen and twenty pages; the student writes essays, the parents write essays, even the mentor answers questions,” said Euston.

The mentors also prepare the students for the actual camp experience. From helping the families book flights, to helping them find the perfect pair of hiking boots, the mentors play a key role in preparing the students for these month long wilderness camps.

This year, the John Austin Cheley Foundation awarded 10 MEF students with camperships. The camperships pay for the camps in full, the transportation to and from the camps, and to ship the students' camp trunk. They are worth upwards of $4,000 each.

Gian Martinez is a 7th grader who will be one of the three Midtown boys attending a wilderness camp this summer. “I am excited to hike and to go fishing,” he said. It is the first time that Gian will be flying on a plane and traveling by himself, but his excitement overshadows any nervousness to these firsts.

“This type of outdoor education and wilderness experience is difficult to come by,” said Euston, “and much less so for a student who lives below the poverty line in the city of Chicago.”

Without the John Austin Cheley Foundation, MEF students would not have the opportunity to go to wilderness camps. A special thank you goes out to Geoff Euston for introducing this opportunity to MEF, and to the John Austin Cheley Foundation for supporting our students.