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Kansas City’s Nonprofit Voice!

Sharing the stories of local nonprofits and connecting them with the community! We talk with philanthropists, volunteers, community activists, executive directors, and non-profit lovers from the Kansas City nonprofit community. Be seen, be heard with KC Cares! Kansas City’s Nonprofit Voice!

On Episode 367 of KC Cares, we talk with Robyn Ratcliff with Wildwood Outdoor Education Center! Listen now!


Wildwood Outdoor Education Center

Robyn Ratcliff, Executive Director & Brad Haflich, Board Member

Wildowood bring kids outside to learn and grow together, transforming summer into a season of learning, youth development, and outdoor adventure for low-income Kansas City area youth. 



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KC Cares, Kansas City’s nonprofit voice, tells the stories of Kansas City nonprofits and connects them with the community.  

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In partnership with the Kauffman Foundation

Think. Do. Be Uncommon.

Trancription of Intereview:

Bobby Keys: [00:00:00] Welcome Back to KC Cares, Kansas city’s nonprofit voice. I am Bobby keys and we are still rolling with the nonprofit love and the info in Kansas city. So many good nonprofits, and we just had a segment with, with Ruth. We were out at the Prairie fire and we were talking with the firefighters. Now I will have to remind you, maybe I can post a pictures of Ruth drooling over the firefighter calendar.

, but they have the shirts off. That’s why she loved that, that segment so much. But now we’re back here in the studio. We had to send it out there, but we’re back here now and we are talking about sending kids, getting kids outdoors and enjoying the fresh air, getting a faces out of the electronics. Me as a father for understand this, and we need places like this.

Damn, to take them to, and this is the Wildwood outdoor education center, right? Right, right, right. And we have Robin Ratcliffe and as a Greg Haflich,

Brad Haflich: [00:01:00] Greg Haflich.  Yeah.

Bobby Keys: [00:01:01] HeyHaflichk. Hey Haflich. I’m sorry, but welcome. Thank you for coming out.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:01:06] Well, thank you for

Bobby Keys: [00:01:08] now you guys. So it’s the, the Wildwood outdoor education center, and you guys basically, is it, you take kids out there and then you throw them in the woods for about seven days.

And let them know, that sounds kinda nice. That’s a great and a match, but go for it. So what do you guys, what’s going on at it?

Brad Haflich: [00:01:27] We pick kids up in, , in most cases, underprivileged neighborhoods, and we’d take them out to camp. We have several programs, educational programs, and so

Bobby Keys: [00:01:38] you pick them, you go and pick them up.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:01:40] Yeah, that’s right. So we were really focused on reducing the barriers to outdoor experiences in smer learning for kids in Kansas city. So, , you know, in the smertime there is a lot of, , a lot of kids who might be at risk of spending the whole smer watching television or, you know, not really getting that smer learning opportunity.

It takes, you know, parents have to drive them up. A lot of smer learning is expensive, so we reduce our fees. As low as a family needs in order to, , to make it affordable. And then we also provide Trent router round trip transportation for our week long camps. So we’re picking kids up in Kansas city, we’re bringing them to camp, they’re spending a whole week with us.

They’re getting a ton of great programming, all of their meals, , their housing. And we have. Camp counselors who take care of them while they’re there and bringing them back. And, ,


Bobby Keys: [00:02:30] it’s all like, it’s all day. Is it? What, what’s a time?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:02:34] Yeah. So they come on Mondays and they go home on Fridays. Oh, wow.

Brad Haflich: [00:02:37] And these are kids that have very seldom been out of, , out of the urban area, and they’re seeing the woods. And. Canoes and, , kayaking and fishing and stuff like that for the first time. And what are the cases?

Bobby Keys: [00:02:52] What’s that like? What do you as a, what does that kid’s face look like when, when they, they get out there and they never seen something like that?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:02:58] You know, they just, I think kids get this automatic lightness in their step. And. And you know, are, for so many years, hans really lived outdoors and we’re so detached from that now that I think, I think kids even on a really like instinctual level, recognize the outdoors as home. , and so there’s just a freedom that comes from being outside.

And, , you know, the research shows that in three days of, of being outdoors, your brain actually is working differently because we’re able to get out of that that. Prefrontal cortex and all that, like intellectual stuff, and start to be more in our instincts and more in, in, you know, in understanding our emotions and, yeah.

Yeah. They’re walking everywhere they go, they’re, you know, they’re able to navigate terrain and, you know, do a little tree climbing or Hill climbing or w, you know, whatever. They’re just living in nature and it, it, it makes their problem solving more creative and it makes their brains work differently.

And they were lax from. Some of the, the, the stress of life.

Bobby Keys: [00:03:59] When, when w first, how many, how many camp counselors do you have? I mean, how many kids do you have, , you know, for the week, or how many kids do you have to put through this program?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:04:09] Yeah, so we had 545 week long campers this smer, , which is up from about 350 in 2014 and we’ll grow to 600 campers next smer.

Bobby Keys: [00:04:20] Okay. Yeah. And so, and you guys, this is all, how do you, how do you, that’s gotta be expensive cause I know. Yeah. You know, and you guys are offering a reduced rate. So, I mean, how many, how many camp counselors do you have?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:04:32] So we hire a staff of about 25. , usually young adults. Camp counselors who are working directly with our kids.

And then we also have some young adults that have come up through the program and grown up in our leadership camps who were transitioning to being staff, , when they’re around 18. We, you

Bobby Keys: [00:04:50] have you always, like, how did this program start, I guess, where did this come from? You know, like, and how, how’d you get involved?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:04:57] Yeah, so Wildwood was founded by Marjorie pal Allen. And, . And, and Beth Smith and some of their colleagues around 1980, , the hallmark foundation, which was at that time, the hallmark education foundation. Now the hall family foundation provided the first five years of funding, and they started as a partnership with the Kansas city, Missouri school district.

So for a really long time, all of the sixth graders in the Kansas city, Missouri school district smer programs would come to Wildwood for a week. And then, , when, when the district kinda changed smer school around 2013, 2014, we started working with lots of different community agencies to help reach, reach kids and, and get more kids out there in the smer.

Bobby Keys: [00:05:42] Yeah, and that’s needed. I mean, I know my kids trying to get their face out of that. The electronics is

Brad Haflich: [00:05:48] like, it’s a big deal.

Bobby Keys: [00:05:48] Yeah. And it’s just like, but they, and the thing is, is they fight it, but once they get out there, they enjoy it. It’s like, you know, so fun. And it’s just been invigorating for everybody.


Brad Haflich: [00:06:00] they have some interesting, one of the things we’ve found is that many kids meet at the camp and they make lifelong friends. Yeah. It’s. A cool experience for them and, and just something we’ll never forget.

Bobby Keys: [00:06:16] Well, and then that’s that. And that’s huge too. I mean, the good thing, the cool thing about this job is like, we get to talk to a lot of experts in different fields, right?

And the nber one thing that we find out that kids need early in life. As positive and strong relationships, you know, then that is what will, you know, and you have the opportunity to do that in a fun environment. Right. You know, so you get, and you said you had people, , young people helping out and teaching are, those

Brad Haflich: [00:06:44] are counselors,

Bobby Keys: [00:06:45] counselors, are those previous people?

Kate, we’re a part of the program

Brad Haflich: [00:06:49] lots of times.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:06:49] Yeah. Yeah. We really want to be a 10 year program for a child. So the smer that you turn eight will be your first smer at Wildwood and the smer you turned 17 will be your last smer as a camper. And then then we want to grow kids into being staff, but we want to be there for them smer after smer after smer, so that they can learn and grow and retain those relationships that they make.

Bobby Keys: [00:07:10] So. I guess what are some of the activities and stuff or some of the things that the kid can expect to where mom and dad can expect when to put them in?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:07:20] Sure. So all of our activities are designed around building healthy youth development for our kids and then providing some educational enrichment. So we do everything from, , what Greg, do you want to tell him about some of our camp activities?

Brad Haflich: [00:07:34] What we’ve got, they’ve got. We’ve got a swimming pool. We have kayaking, we have a, , a ropes course.

Bobby Keys: [00:07:44] Oh, okay.

Brad Haflich: [00:07:45] You know, where they can, , figure out how to do those kinds of things. Yeah. Archery and a lot of stuff like that, that you’ve typical kind of campy things. Sure. But it’s also all kind of centered around.

An education bias to what we’re trying to do so that the kids are kind of filling in this smer gap with something that’s this productive.

Bobby Keys: [00:08:07] Now  maybe I might’ve missed this now, do they stay overnight or is this, this is, so this is a week long, right. So they said, Oh, that’s, that’s so cool. Yeah. And they, I could imagine that would be just a blast where the kids, I know, I know.

Somebody had that person. Parents might be like a week, but, and then the kids might be like a week, but once they, once they get going and it’s like, bye, I’m out.

Brad Haflich: [00:08:30] You know?

Bobby Keys: [00:08:30] Right. And so how does that work? Do they stay in, are they cabins? They sleep and you just give him a sleeping bag afterwards?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:08:37] So we have, we have five cabins and we separate kids by age and then by gender.

And so they’re, and they have camp counselors that live in the cabins with them. , so our cabins sleep about 24 kids. Each. And so we have, , just an opportunity for them to really be building relationships, making friends in their cabins. Cabins are responsible for coming up with kind of their own codes of behavior.

So the kids work with the counselors to decide, you know, how clean are we going to keep this cabin and what kind of languages. Appropriate in our cabinet and, you know, and, and we, we involve the kids in kind of setting those norms so that then they can help, , you know, kind of help, help build the kind of community they want to have.


Brad Haflich: [00:09:15] interesting. Team building skills that are built within an environment that is completely different for them and with people that are completely different from them, not, not in their neighborhood. So it’s part of the benefit there.

Bobby Keys: [00:09:28] So I guess. If you’re out in Canada, if you’re a right up past Lewisburg and you bring people in, what I guess what’s the radius?

How, you know, how, how do if a kid is, wants to be a part of this and they’re in, Oh, where can they be to be a part of this and get picked up?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:09:44] Yeah. So we have, our four bus stops are really kind of in the Kansas city area. So we have one in mission, one in Johnson County, and then we have one in the Northeast.

Okay. , so, , yeah. Okay. So you just kind of there and then one in Raytown. So we’re trying to, you know, trying to make it accessible for all kids kind of in Jackson County. Johnson County, Wyandotte County are our real focus areas, but we have kids from, you know, kind of from all over the Metro area that get there.

And, , most of our, our funding for scholarships is specific to the greater Kansas city. , but sometimes  we’ll have,m, like we have some special shallots. Scholarships every year for kids who live in payola or Lewisburg, like kids who are in Miami County. So we just, , we reach out in the communities where we have, have that opportunity.

Bobby Keys: [00:10:32] And so that’s right. Cause kids do get scholarships. You mentioned that earlier.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:10:35] That’s right.

Bobby Keys: [00:10:36] That’s right. Because there, I guess it will cost. For the whole week, but the you do, you can apply for a scholarship, right?

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:10:44] Yes, yes. So we encourage each family to pay what they can. And then we have a three question scholarship application that we ask them to give us a little information on.

And then we assign scholarships based on, , based on need and based on that request as, as much as we can. , just to get as many kids there as possible.

Brad Haflich: [00:11:03] Well, you know, one of the things about Wildwood, one of the reasons I got involved with it is that Kansas city, I’ve been lifelong Kansas city guy and can’t seize always, so divided by state lines, by cannellini lines, by North of the river, South river, whatever that is, and a wild Wildwood kind of encompass all that.

And it’s exciting for the Metro area, I think to have something that doesn’t. You know? Yeah. Worry about those lines. And then we draw from all of those areas. So

Bobby Keys: [00:11:34] w growing up for you guys, where you like, we heavy into like nature, where you boy Scouts, girl Scouts. Well, what was your background like? Did

Brad Haflich: [00:11:43] I’m a fisherman and outdoorsman growing up from day one.

So I love the outdoors and . So that’s the other reason that part of evolve with it to help with kids with stuff like that.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:11:58] Yeah. Yeah. And I definitely grew up at camp. So girl scout camp really kind of set, set me on my path and really was a life changing experience for me. So. It’s a real blessing to be able to kind of give that back to other kids and see them kind of finding themselves and learning to be leaders in the outdoor environment.

, and, and just watching them step up without so much social pressure that they feel sometimes another environment.

Bobby Keys: [00:12:21] Yeah, I mean, I that, but I, I grew up, you know, outdoors. I was fortunate enough to be able to go, you know, fishing down at Bennett Springs, you know, and go trout for crappy fishing, you know, so I got the, I loved being outdoors as well, and it does change your perspective or kinda just, you know, being in tune with nature, , to me opens you up.

To a whole different realm of possible in a, in maybe a geeky spiritual way in my world. But Hey, I love nature, but the kids do too. And that’s what they need. They need to get outside and get some fresh air. And, , so how can people find you? Can people, did they just show up or do they just go online? You know, I’m here, you

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:13:02] know, showing up.

Yeah. So we have a website, which is Wildwood CTR. Dot org. , and we are on Facebook and we have a great Instagram feed with lots of fun camp information that we would love to have them, , as followers. . And then  they can,h, you know, they can reach out to us anytime. If they, our camp registration will start February 15th.

So if there’s someone who would like to sign up a camper, we would love to have them, , kind of reach us through the website, our, our registrations all online. And then we’re also in community agencies. Pushing out camp information and helping it get to the families who, who might not know smer camp as an option for their child.

So like boys and girls club, big brothers, big sisters. We want to get camp information out through all the agencies in Kansas city. So if anybody wants. More information for kids in their agency. They should certainly give us a call and we’ll help them get connected.

Bobby Keys: [00:13:54] Yeah, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a good question.

I mean, our a good, I think, a good option. I mean that I think, you know, a lot of people should partner with you. You know, those, those organizations. Just, here’s our outside, get outside segment or, or, you know, leg of our organization because they don’t offer, I don’t think there’s too many other places that offer, like outdoor nature.

We can way type of stuff like you do. Right. , you know, so. And I, I appreciate that. They have like the basketball courts and things.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:14:24] Yeah,

Bobby Keys: [00:14:25] he people outside. Right. So they go, you can go to go to the, , the website and that, that was Wildwood center,

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:14:32] CTR, C T

Bobby Keys: [00:14:33] E R. dot. Org and then is there, when they go there and they sign up, is there like a.

Yeah, I guess, do you have to put a down payment down and then do you decide about the scholarship or how does that, right,

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:14:44] that’s right. So when, when campers register, we require a $25 payment to hold their spot, and then we process scholarship requests usually within two weeks. So within two weeks they’ll know, , you know, if we were able to cover all of what they needed or some of what they needed.

If they have a payment remaining, then they have up until two weeks prior to camp to make that final payment. And we’ll work with families on payment plans or whatever they need. To be successful. And, , we have a real economic and racial and ethnic diversity at Wildwood. We have kids from all over the Metro.

And, , it just, it really is a place where we can bring together kids who can learn what life is like for other kids. And. You know, they’re really just learning and growing together, which is our whole focus.

Brad Haflich: [00:15:26] Yeah.

Bobby Keys: [00:15:26] And then you have a, you have a, a big event coming up, and

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:15:28] we do, so April 23rd it’s called take a wild guess for Wildwood, and we will raise the bulk of our scholarship funds that night.

Okay. It’s at Boulevard brewery and it. Is a night of

Brad Haflich: [00:15:39] a fun night.

Robyn Ratcliff: [00:15:40] It is fun. So we have 10 camp inspired guessing games that we’ll set up around the room with prizes, and then we’ll have some, , some other opportunities for people to win prizes. We usually have a raffle and a couple of really great live auction items.

And we just invite people to be kids with us that night. It’s a camp camp, informal dress code, and

Brad Haflich: [00:16:01] it’s a Boulevard. So you know there’s, there might be some beverages.

Bobby Keys: [00:16:05] That’s why I was like, alright. And he can probably find out more about that at Wildwood centers. CTR, wild Wildwood, CTR. Dot org they’ve got all the information.

Thank you very much for coming on. Robyn and Greg, and thank you for listening to KC Cares, Kansas city’s nonprofit digital resource produced by charitable communications, a five Oh one C three nonprofit organizations and we are generously underwritten by the Ewing Marion Kauffman foundation. If you’d like to support our efforts or be a part of our stories, underwriting opportunities, you can visit our [email protected]

And fill out the online form and spread the love. Find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at KC Cares online, and thank you for listening to KC Cares on ESPN 1510 and 94.5 FM .

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