“Each year, ACA’s Eleanor P. Eells Award for Program Excellence recognizes camps that embody the award’s namesake by developing superior programming that effectively and creatively addresses the needs of people and society through the camp experience. We commend the 2018 winners. They are all definitive proof of the might of camp programs to equip campers of all abilities with the resiliency and belief to build better futures for themselves and their communities.

City Kids Wilderness Project


City Kids Wilderness Project, created in 1996, is a nonprofit organization founded on the conviction that providing transformative experiences to Washington, DC, youth builds resiliency, broadens horizons, and teaches skills that enrich their lives as well as the lives of their families and their greater communities. City Kids is a seven-year program that begins when youth enter the program in their sixth-grade year. Participant development is supported through local after-school programming and weekend outdoor adventures in the wilderness areas of the Mid Atlantic during the school year, as well as job training and college preparation help. In the summer, City Kids runs three camp sessions at Broken Arrow Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in addition to career exploration and internship programming for older youth.

“Each year brings new challenges, opportunities, and excitement, and the program is carefully structured to provide age- and stage-appropriate support as youth mature,” said Eloise Russo, executive director of City Kids Wilderness Project. “Our goal is for all of our youth to pursue their dreams and to have the knowledge and confidence to think big and not get stuck or quit when things get hard.”

While the DC graduation rate is less than 69 percent, in the past five years, 97 percent of City Kids program participants have graduated from high school, and 90 percent have gone on to enroll in college, the military, or vocational training.

“In the next five years, over 100 new youth will enroll in our multiyear program, and we will have served over 500 youth,” said Russo. The aim is to continue to strengthen City Kids’ organizational capacity to provide increased access to after-school and weekend programs. “We also plan to increase our support for our young alumni as they transition from high school to college, employment, and other training opportunities. We hope to bring on a new staff member to support our 18- to 24-year-old alumni, as this will allow us to more deeply support their development into young adults and bolster the level of impact we are able to have”

Russo added, “Whether they go on to be mountain climbers, college graduates, business owners, teachers, or fire fighters, we are excited to be a part of their journey on their pathway to success.””


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