In the time that I had been waiting to hear back from the IRS, the "I" had turned in to a "we". In late 2013 I met Kira McGieson, a Seattle area local. Coming from an almost identical background in terms of outdoor experience and queer social justice activism, Kira represented the perfect counterpart to help OTA gain momentum. After we received our official designation as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in September of 2014, we set about planning our first fundraising event in Kira's hometown of Bainbridge Island. The small brunch proved to be lucrative, all things considered, and provided us with a fleeting moment of financial and emotional relief. Perhaps this thing really could take off! However, as is true with an endeavor such as this, that feeling of relief did not last long.
One thing that was arguably not expressed to me while I was embarking on this journey with OTA was the challenge that raising money represents to an organization. Or, perhaps, someone did try to convey this message, but the transmission failed to get through. Additionally, trying to navigate the world of state and federal legalese, design programs, market said programs, and conduct outreach proved to be a rather exhausting task. We were embodying experiential education at its finest as we spent months and months learning, doing and then reflecting. Learn. Do. Reflect. Learn. Do. Reflect. So much learning, doing and reflecting that at this point I have to stop myself from having a visceral reaction when we explain the experiential learning model to participants...
As we moved through year one as an organization, we experienced some typical growing pains. While we found our life as an organization living on the fringes to be symbolic of our lives individually as queer people, it did make the marketing of our programs difficult at first. We were a little too OUT there (Ha. Ha.) for the outdoor industry, and in a different way a little too out there for the queer community. Thankfully though, we found some amazing initial supporters as well as initial trip participants.
As the summer of 2015 began, OTA launched from Spencer Spit on Lopez Island in the San Juans for its first ever youth sea kayaking expedition. We spent 8 days navigating the tides, paddling with harbor seals, and learning how to cook with a twiggy fire. As I write this, we are wrapping up our second season of summer trips and launching in to our second fall of day programs. To date, we have served over 50 queer young people from all over the West Coast, but the work isn't done yet.