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Adventure, mentoring await youngsters in the great outdoors
Camping with Cradle initiative launches
Published Thursday, July 15, 2021 5:10 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

Keith Cradle, founder of Camping with Cradle, a nonprofit that exposes young people from underserved communities to camping, hiking and outdoor activities.

Camping is about more than sleeping outdoors.

It is the hook for a new mentorship and life development organization. Keith Cradle does not mind if kids love or hate camping. He just wants them to experience it. Camping with Cradle, his nonprofit mentoring program, emerged from his passion for camping and hiking, along with a desire to encourage 12- to 17-year-olds to live a healthy and active lifestyle.

The nonprofit kicked off by taking four boys ages 12-14 on a trip to Morrow Mountain State Park last month. Youth are able to participate at no cost to them or their families due to community support. Cradle hopes the nonprofit will be able to impact underserved and underexposed youth by fostering an interest in the outdoors.

“People were sending money without us even having a trip yet, which speaks volumes to what this community can do, and what we are about when we're looking at ‘how do we help our kids do things and do things differently?’” Cradle said.

Much of the Camping with Cradle experience is up to the individual.

“You have all these ideas in your head about what you want the kids to do, but if you've ever worked with children, or if you have children, you recognize that kids will do what they want to do,” Cradle said. “We were really intentional about allowing them to have their own experience. We allowed them to set up their cots, tents and things like that. Then they just wanted to venture off into the woods. I was like, ‘you know what, there it is.’ It was about them having fun, allowing them to put smiles on their own faces. They didn’t need myself or Alvin to coach them or tell them what to do. They just kind of took it all in.”

Launching a nonprofit takes a team. He assembled a board consisting of Arkevious Armstrong of Step Up 2 Leadership, Ricky Singh Charlotte Lab Upper School head of school, photo-activist Alvin C. Jacobs Jr. and community members Marc Fuller and Kendall Kendrick.

“These are some busy people, but for them to want to take their time out and say, ‘hey, I'm willing to add a couple more minutes to my day, to help this get off the ground,’ I can't thank them enough,” Cradle said.

Cradle established Camping with Cradle after spending much of 2020 exploring North Carolina State Parks. He always loved the outdoors, and he is no stranger to leadership, serving as the director of youth/juvenile services for the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, orchestrating re-entry and youth development programs. He spent six years on the board of The Bechtler Museum, hosts a podcast and wrote a book. Now he leads a nonprofit while balancing a day job and other responsibilities.

COVID-19 played a significant factor in the launch of Camping with Cradle. Much of the world was still shut down when he told The Post about his nonprofit concept in January. Vaccination distribution and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s stating masks and physical distancing were no longer required made it more feasible to organize camping and backpacking trips.

Camping with Cradle has four additional camping trips planned as well as three for backpacking, with visits to state parks like South Mountains and Morrow Mountains. Some of the camping trips will be in collaboration with other nonprofits, including one to Coble’s Landing, a Black-owned multi-purpose compound in Polkton, North Carolina.

“It’s about having the experience,” Cradle said. “I never want our kids to have to say they haven't done something. Then they can make up their mind whether they like it or don't like it. This vehicle is an opportunity to do that. While there are other organizations that do outdoor activities and shout out to them all. I’m on the board for Outward Bound. I'm saying we're trying to fill a gap. We know there are a lot of kids who aren't going to join those groups, they're not gonna be a part of those larger organizations.

“We’re just trying to scoop up those kids and provide that same access so that way, we can continue to diversify the outdoors, continue to make it inclusive, continue to introduce them to state parks. We’ll do that in our own way. That's how all this happens. Everybody's working together, you know, no organization better than another. We’re all doing the same thing. But we’re doing it in a different way.”

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