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News Archives - 2003

Nick Schumm: Master Lefse Maker, Environmental Educator, Change Maker

February 2003
Nick Schumm making lefse

Nick Schumm, a Social Work major at Augsburg, makes lefse to help fund an environmental learning expedition for 40 inner city youth.

How much lefse does it take to send 40 inner city youth on an environmental learning expedition to northern Minnesota? Nick Schumm, a junior Social Work major at Augsburg College’s Weekend College, might know the answer. As a 2003-2005 recipient of the prestigious Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation Scholarship – that provides $14,000 toward his college education as he creates a community service project – Nick is heading north with a bunch of kids who have little or no outdoor experience. He is funding his trips, in part, by making lefse with a trusty group of compadres, and is naming his program Senderos. “Senderos means pass or trail in Spanish,” he says. “It has both a literal meaning, the actual physical path, and a metaphorical meaning as the spiritual path.”

Nick has spent a great deal of his own life en route, on the senderos. He has traversed numerous paths through woods and along rocky shores and taken quite a circuitous path through his education until arriving at Augsburg College. “I went to community colleges. I did a semester abroad in Costa Rica,” he says. “My first semester was at an environmental school in Ashland, Wisconsin. That’s where I got pointed in this direction.” “This direction” is a path where education, environmental advocacy and social change converge.

For practical purposes, these days, Nick makes a daily trek up to Maple Grove from his home in St. Louis Park where he pulls the 5 a.m. – 1 p.m. baking shift at Great Harvest Bread Company before shuttling off to school and his volunteer work. “My life is fairly hectic,” he says. During his early morning drives, he thinks and dreams. One morning last year, as he sped up the deserted highway, he thought about introducing some inner-city kids he was working with at La Familia Guidance Center, a mental health and social service agency for Latino youth and families in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to the things he loves to do – hiking, backpacking, camping. The focused, non-traditional student with a passion for, as he says, “stewardship for the environment and creating social change” was determined to make his idea, Senderos, happen.

Since then, Nick’s path has literally become Senderos, and it’s taken a different route into the world than he originally anticipated. “When I proposed the project it was aimed more specifically at Latino youth because they were who I was working with,” he says. Since formulating his proposal, however, he has become more involved with Inner City Outings (ICO), a program of the Sierra Club that provides low-income, inner-city youth of all ethnicities with trips to wilderness areas. Nick became a volunteer with ICO, has since been asked to chair ICO for Minnesota, and will partner with the organization to bring Senderos to a diverse population of Twin Cities’ youth.

Currently, ICO works with five different agencies in the Twin Cities: Hmong American Partnership, Merrick Community Services, Rueben Lindh, Neighborhood House and the American Indian Center. “Each agency gets one Saturday per month, for which we run a trip for them…biking, hiking, backpacking,” says Nick. “My project fits in rather nicely with it, because essentially I’m running longer trips but with the same kids.” In August, he will take Senderos north. Trips will run every Thursday through Sunday, one trip for each of the agencies. “On top of that, I have three team-building sessions planned before the actual trip,” he says. He wants to avoid the scenario where “volunteers show up, kids show up and that’s it. The kids get an experience, but there’s not a lot of mentoring or bonding.”

Nick Schumm working in the kitchenNick is able to concentrate on team-building issues, because of the way his project has plugged into the existing organization at ICO. “I could have gotten my own 501c3 and fundraised on my own, but working within an existing structure is much better. Existing non-profits need good people too,” he says As the new chair of ICO, a responsibility he assumed in January, he works with volunteers and leadership to enhance the vision and scope of the program. “I’m going to try and take it another step,” he says. He is hopeful, after a successful first summer, that Senderos will have lasting power within the structure of ICO and that his role with the organization can help ensure its success.

To prepare for his role as teacher, mentor and environmental advocate, Nick will use a portion of his scholarship funds to take a Yukon Outdoor Educator Backpacking & River course through the National Outdoors Leadership School (NOLS), the premier outdoor leadership school in the country. During the 24-day excursion that begins in June, he will learn to safely manage groups of people traveling in wilderness areas. As a recipient of all manner of financial aid, including a Minnesota State Grant and Stafford loans, the opportunity to become NOLS certified is one he never would have accomplished on his own and one that is pertinent to his future plans as an outdoor educator for Senderos and beyond.

For now, Schumm’s path is rooted in the present, in a hectic lifestyle that is positively affecting the lives of others and bolstered by family and friends. In December, two of his most trusted friends joined him for a series of lefse-making sessions. Kim Malrick, a junior at the College of St. Catherine and Nick’s friend and partner, and Tom Haugen, the 100% Norwegian lefse master and Nick’s roommate, were invaluable assets to the fund-raising effort. “They’re just awesome,” says Schumm. “We made $1,250, and I hopefully can get that doubled.” Nick’s colleagues at Great Harvest provided the space and allowed him to sell the lefse at the counter. “It was amazing to me how people have a passion for lefse,” he says. “It makes people’s holidays.”

Nick has crunched the lefse numbers and is now looking for grants, finalizing his budget, tweaking plans for training and working on trip details. His most important activity, though, continues to be building trust with the youth that take part in ICO outings. “It is a challenge to build trust with the kids we work with; initially they tend to put up a lot of fronts,” he says. He’ll be working on that in the coming months and on the trail, where anything can happen.

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