By Amanda Roberge
Telegram & Gazette
Underneath the stacks of paperwork that are a natural consequence of running a nonprofit, Bill Spacciapoli yearns for the open trails, where he belongs. He knows, about all else, the magic that awaits him in the woods.
A longtime hiker and lover of nature, it was 2005 when he started putting the wheels in motion for an idea. He would share his passion with others ? with those who had challenges beyond the typical, struggles that could be not remedied but rather made lighter by some fresh air and the accomplishment of a goal, even one as lofty and seemingly unattainable as climbing a mountain.
By 2007, he had begun dabbling in the fine art of grant writing, become officially incorporated as a nonprofit called Just Understand My Potential (J.U.M.P., for short) and figured out how to partner with area organizations to find youths suitable for the program.
As J.U.M.P.’s director, Mr. Spacciapoli now oversees a staff as it conducts 140 youth-hiker days each year, which in his realm is jargon for a formula that could mean 10 two-day trips were completed that involved seven youths each time, without specifying whether some hikers were involved in more than one trip. Having repeat hikers, after all, is part of the idea.
“We want to really stick with these kids,” he said. “We talk during these hikes, and we get to know about their lives. We like to see them come back.”
As an educational nonprofit that introduces young people to the mountains of New England, all J.U.M.P. participants receive extensive mountain-skills training, hiking and backpacking experiences, and mentoring and educational support. According to Mr. Spacciapoli, the focus is on youth achievement and teaching them to have high expectations for themselves.
And the side effects of this fresh air and sense of thrill have taught leaders a lesson or two about how important their role of mentor is when the sun goes down. They have been able to hear the stories of the youths and often advocate for them in situations even when the hike is over and the bus has returned to Central Massachusetts.
Whether aiding youths with physical disabilities, including one frequent hiker with a vision-impairment, to socioeconomic challenges, Mr. Spacciapoli finds hiking to be the type of activity that is open to everyone and contains benefits beyond the obvious.
“The object is not to defeat some opponent, but to travel securely and skillfully in a demanding environment,” he said. “The rewards are overwhelming: adventure, growth, great memories, the joy of high places.”
The leadership, he said, comprises who love the mountains ? and it’s an easy passion to share.
“We work in a wide variety of professions. Most of us are parents. We happen to have a particular strength in emergency medicine and emergency medical technology,” he said. “(We) include highly experienced backpackers and mountaineers, whose outdoor learning in some cases began in the 1960s. We’re a mature organization, let’s put it that way.”
J.U.M.P. borrows largely from a comprehensive curriculum called the Compass Rose, with a goal of sharing the experience of full-contact backpacking, which means walking into the mountains for a few days, living off the contents of your pack and then walking out with a sense of pride and fulfillment.
Current partners include the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster and the Worcester office of the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind.
To learn more about J.U.M.P., visit www.jumpinc.org.