In July 2005, Carol and Bob Leone's lives changed dramatically when their 15-year-old daughter Sara died in a car accident. While coping with their loss, Carol and Bob searched for an opportunity to improve the lives of other children. "About a year after the accident, we felt we needed, in our lives, to make a difference," says Bob.
The Leones had always spent time as a family in the outdoors and both of their daughters had been active in their high school outing club. Bob and Carol saw profound benefits to the girls' well-being from the experience. In 2006, Carol and Bob founded Teens to Trails, an organization dedicated to helping kids spend more time outside through high school outing clubs.
They started by contacting area high schools and offering assistance in starting an outing club. "I assumed most students had the same type of access to outdoor clubs that my daughters had," says Carol. "But we could count on our hands the amount of schools that claimed to have one."
They called 215 high schools in Maine and began creating links that soon became a strong chain of support. Most schools didn't have an outing club – and some didn't even know what one was. As they spoke to area schools, friends and neighbors, the idea started to catch on. With a growing network of outdoor-oriented businesses, Registered Maine Guides, land managers and more, the support for their cause came to life. Thanks to Bob and Carol's efforts over the past four years, over 40 schools have started an outing club.
Teens to Trails also offers support to outing club advisors with weekend workshops. They plan "Outing Club Rendezvous" which bring outing clubs from across Maine together for a weekend outdoors. The goal is to share ideas and foster a sense of community among Maine outing clubs. Bob and Carol also offer "Sara's Scholarship" in memory of their daughter. The award offers two area teens a full scholarship to attend a three-week summer wilderness experience with the Chewonki Foundation.
The success of Teens to Trails has encouraged the Leones to do even more. Carol and Bob believe that what they're doing has the potential to spread even farther than Maine. "We'd love to link outing clubs all across the country together," says Carol. "It's a dream off in the distance now – but we're going to stick around as long as we can to see it happen."
To learn more about Teens to Trails, visit teenstotrails.org.