2021 Annual Appeal: Deer Hill Foundationrafting the colorado river with deer hillDear Friends of Deer Hill,

As trees shed the last of their leaves, we send home the last of our students and field staff. It’s time to shake sand out of sleeping bags and winterize vehicles. It’s also time to let you know how it’s all going with the changes and challenges at Deer Hill. This letter is to bring you along on this journey with us as well as to invite you to join these efforts with your financial support.

Deer Hill Expeditions (DHE) was unable to run any of its signature summer programs or spring/fall groups in 2020. In response, DHE staff worked hard to develop risk management protocols for 2021. I am glad to say that many schools and families returned in 2021. We were once again able to deliver on our mission:

To empower the individual to create an authentic connection to self and community through wilderness and service experiences”

deer hill service project coloradoYet the world around us has changed. Out of the challenges and trials of the past two years emerges the opportunity to revisit, even reimagine, how Deer Hill can best serve youth as well as Native communities while staying true to our core values. This is a time to expand our vision and deepen the relevance and impact of our programs.


We have all felt the social isolation and polarization of these times. Connecting people to themselves and to each other in meaningful ways is what Deer Hill does best. The Deer Hill Foundation (DHF) is planning to broaden its scholarship program to be more inclusive and diverse, and identify more high potential, low-income students for scholarship grants. We are in dialogue with local school districts; Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo communities; charter schools; and multi-year student mentorship organizations such as the Summer Search Foundation, Breakthrough in Texas, REACH Memphis, Stockton Scholars, and Ridley Scholars at UVA.

The Students

For 37 years now, DHE has provided wilderness and service expeditions that challenge, but also support, young people in their essential quest for identity and their natural capacity to form the community. Finding meaning in adversity under difficult conditions builds resilience. Although there is mounting evidence of adolescent trauma, these young people will have the grit and self-confidence to find their way forward in our rapidly changing world. As usual, the students say it best:

I am from the Dominican Republic, from the Canarian Spanish and the Arawak language, from hard work and prosperity. My challenge at Deer Hill was not river rafting or wilderness backpacking with 50 pounds on my back. It was to listen and understand the harsh life on the Navajo reservation.
Nicaurys (second from right below)

This fall I am heading to UC Berkeley to become that first-generation college student. I go with a new sense of self, a clearer head, and a heart full of gratitude.

I was the only person of color in my group. After hearing the other students’ stories, I realized that “struggle” isn’t just based on class or race. We found a lot in common when we listened to each other.

Native Communities

On a personal note, this past winter, I had the richly rewarding opportunity to “make a difference” for many of the Native families who have hosted our groups in the past 32 years. Many of these fine people were struggling to feed themselves or the animals upon which they depend. The pandemic also created housing and employment crises, accentuated by a harsh winter and drought conditions. Visiting these families was a “wake-up call” for me. DHF’s Native Host Support Project (NHSP) sourced food, clothing, livestock feed, PPE, fuel, and internet access (for remote schooling) for dozens of families in Arizona and New Mexico. NHSP can meet urgent needs again, but we also intend to seek long term solutions to chronic needs and shortages in direct cooperation with Native communities and organizations.