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This story is excerpted from a speech written by Fiona Richards, an 11th grader at Gaynor McCown, a NYC Outward Bound School on Staten Island. Fiona presented at a fundraiser in support of scholarships that send NYC students on North Carolina Outward Bound School summer expeditions in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My name is Fiona, and I am currently a junior at Gaynor McCown Expeditionary Learning School, a NYC Outward Bound School on Staten Island. I received a scholarship to attend the Blue Ridge Mountains Backpacking and Whitewater Canoeing course this past August.

Just getting there was quite the adventure; To start, I had never been on a plane before, and Shane and I took two planes together to get to our courses in North Carolina.

At school, I was one of the shy kids. During freshman and sophomore year, I felt like an oddball since I am not like most girls my age. I do not wear makeup, do my nails, or worry about updating social media. I am a nerd who wears t-shirts, mesh shorts, and sneakers; I stress about my grades, I play on sports teams, and I strive to help others whenever I can. I have three younger siblings who I help take care of, and a lot of my time is spent commuting from Brooklyn to Staten Island, where my school is located, and back.

The awkwardness of a new environment with new people defined the first few days of the trip. Our group wasn’t really getting to know one another, and at one point, I had an anxiety attack because there was an argument. I felt on edge, like people would judge me if they got to know me. However, my amazing instructors James and Rockey saw that we were having issues and suggested the idea for each of us to share a five minute biography about ourselves. I did not have the courage to tell my bio until day seven, since I was afraid that others would make fun of me, like people back home have done. However, after hearing other peoples’ stories, I gathered enough confidence to share my own. My bio lasted a little more than five minutes, and when I finished telling my story, some people just stared in shock, while others came over and hugged me. I told them how kids in my grammar school and people in my family would bully me every day, which brought down my self-confidence. I told them how my friends, teachers, coaches and teammates keep me going and are there for me whenever I need it. After that night, something changed. I knew that it was okay to be different, and I wasn’t afraid to be me. Strangers became family.

Even though I’d been camping before, this trip pushed me out of my comfort zone; not only because we were sleeping under tarps, filtering water to drink, or using the bathroom in the woods, but mostly because of the challenge of navigating new relationships with 13 strangers, over just two weeks.

This trip served as a needed break from my life here in New York. Being surrounded by nature for two weeks brought a sense of calm that we cannot experience here in the city. The mountain ranges were breath-taking; the sound of the river flowing was relaxing; the absence of sirens and car horns made the environment less stressful. It took getting lost in the woods to truly find myself, and now I’m proud to bring that more confident version of myself back to the city. I am so grateful — if it wasn’t for this scholarship funded by donors like yourselves, then I wouldn’t have been able to go on this course, and I might still be the timid and shy person I once was. I hope you all consider donating to this great cause so other students can have the opportunity to transform the way I did. Thank you.

Interested in supporting this cause? Give online at Select “Scholarships” from the dropdown and include “NYC” in the Special Instructions.

Watch a video featuring Fiona on her expedition:


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