Meet Aram Mitchell! Aram is the Executive Director of the non-profit Renewal in the Wilderness.
Think Tank: Tell us about Renewal in the Wilderness (RITW)?
Aram: Generally speaking, we guide wilderness trips for people doing good things in the world. The why is to make the world a better place, but what I get most excited about is the way we apply our technique of wilderness renewal to our community, which is by making these experiences available to therapists, faith leaders, justice advocates, first responders, etc. The people who are involved in weaving compassion into the fabric of society. Who helps the helpers? We do.
Think Tank: How do you accomplish this?
Aram: The way we do this is by applying wilderness as a spiritual practice. What I mean is, engaging the natural world – togetherness in solidarity – and engaging ourselves in ways that inspire passion, a drive toward beauty and bounty, and making the world more just and equitable.
Practically, programs are intentionally simple, but highly intentional. They are designed to address financial and logistical barriers and potential emotional limitations. As guides, we are also focused on being in-tune to that process. Trips can vary from 3-4 days to 5-6 days. We want people to bring the wisdom of the wilderness to the front country, so we also do 90-minute walks in and around Portland that are more accessible. This simulates a wilderness setting.
Think Tank: Aside from programming, how does RITW address these barriers/limitations?
Aram: What we are trying to do, as a non-profit, is tap into resources that can help us get over the barriers to helping the people we want to help. The preparation process is very important. We are looking to engage groups and organizations that are within the umbrella of our target audience, and customize an experience that can fit those barriers. We are really trying to build an ecology of compassionate professions.
Think Tank: What do you having coming up that you want people to know about?
Aram: Our big goal for this year, from a governance standpoint, is building up a board of directors with more local representation. We are looking for influencers, people who are experienced in risk management, being on a non-profit board, with fundraising, and in the legal field, and people who have the capacity/resources to give. We are also always on the lookout for people with outdoor guiding experience!
Think Tank: How can people support RITW?
Aram: There are many ways to show support! We need participants who will benefit from this, so getting the word out to organizations and individuals in our target audience is a huge help.
We also do weekly beauty walks, which is a great way for people to get exposure to what we do. We have a day hike at Pleasant Mountain coming up on July 15th. There is more information about that and other trips on our website, where people can also make tax deductible donations on a sustaining or one time level.
You can also follow us on Facebook!
Think Tank: What is your vision for the future of RITW?
Aram: As an organization, Renewal in the Wilderness was founded in 2001 in Chicago by John Lionberger. It was really a labor of love, and run on a volunteer basis for about 15 yrs. We didn’t expand until October of 2015, when he passed it onto me.
After relocating here, my thought was, “how can we take this thing that John has established, to make it a thing that can have a strong impact on the community in Maine?”
My dream is to replicate this process so it can expand in other communities. To embrace wilderness as a space for spiritual sustenance. We are trying to get the word out, collect partnerships, work with volunteer beauty walk guides, build up sponsorships to create scholarships, and find the right groups and organizations who can benefit.
One of the things that’s really exciting to witness is when a person gets that renewal. We don’t want to stop there.
We wrestle, we rest, we return.