Frye: Paying it forward to get kids outside
It started with a revelation.
Scott Gauvin of Springfield, Ill., is a husband, dad and Eagle Scout. He's a hiking blogger at hikingforward.com, too. He regularly reviews equipment, writing about his accompanying adventures.
One day, his wife suggested it might be time to get rid of some of that “stuff.”
Gauvin took a look around.
“I realized I don't have a gear closet. I have a gear garage,” he said.
Gear Forward is the result.
That's the organization Gauvin started to get outdoorsmen and women like himself — with more gear than they can use — to share with children in need.
He knows what it's like to be on the other end. The son of a single mother, Gauvin said he hiked and camped as a youngster only because an assistant scoutmaster provided him with hand-me-down equipment.
Now, he wants to pay that back.
“I came up with my own adult Eagle Scout project, if you will,” Gauvin said.
“As hikers and outdoors people, we always want smaller, lighter, faster, better gear. What I say to people is, what are you doing with the old stuff? There are kids who don't have one backpack, and you've got 10. Pass it on.”
He's trying to facilitate that.
Gear Forward is not yet an official nonprofit. Gauvin hopes to accomplish that by summer's end.
But it already is expanding.
Gauvin is enlisting volunteer “ambassadors” in every state. He's accomplished that in five so far: Pennsylvania, Illinois, Ohio, Arizona and South Dakota.
Ambassadors — “already wired in” to their communities — are tasked with finding children in need of backpacks, tents, sleeping bags, mess kits or whatever. Gear Forward then links them up with donors.
“We've never not solved a gear need that's come to us,” Gauvin said.
Uncovering needs is proving surprisingly difficult, though, said Brian Ford of Martinsburg in Pennsylvania's Blair County. He's a Gear Forward board member and blogger at hikebyfaith.com.
“The biggest challenge is not getting gear,” said Ford. “I can get gear. What we're finding challenging is finding organizations that have the need.”
Gauvin is hoping to solve that by working with Boy Scout and Girl Scout councils, hiking and adventure clubs, retailers and others. Information on Gear Forward's efforts, from how to donate equipment to how to seek it, can be found at gearforward.org.
Ford, for one, hopes lots of people visit.
“We just want to make it possible for kids to get outside, to go to camp, whatever,” he said.
Providing a child with gear is like “being Santa Claus,” Gauvin said. Better yet, he noted, doing something as simple as giving a scout a sleeping bag can set them on a path they might never have taken otherwise.
“You give a boy a sleeping bag, and for the next 10 years he's going to use it. And he's going to have a blast,” Gauvin said. “But without it, he may not go outdoors.
“That gear can change lives. It's amazing that sleeping bag or a backpack has that kind of power. But it does.”