Learn more about the 2021 Journey to the West below

Many of our Club members never leave their communities. Many never leave Chicago, let alone the Midwest.

But because of your support, our Club members are given opportunities to see the world outside of their Clubs.

The most recent example is a journey out West, thanks to a partnership with Abercrombie & Kent Philanthropy.

Sisters Noemi (left) and Yanelli (right) enjoy the cool water of the waterfalls after a long hike.

Members pose for a photo at the cave hike in Darby Canyon in Wyoming.

The trip was a chance for BGCC Club members to learn about the travel industry as they journeyed through Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

For our Club members, it was all about the small things.

Performing a poem around a roaring campfire. Closing their eyes and hearing the waterfall. Daydreaming while staring at the mountains.

Those are the moments our members keep reflecting on since they returned, the small things.


"It was one big adventure, from start to finish," Reggie, 23, said. "After experiencing something like this trip, it's hard to just go back to normal without feeling like you've changed, at least a little."

Members and chaperones at Grant Teton National Park.

The Club members that joined the trip were part of BGCC’s Great Opportunities (GO) Employment Program, which is designed to help assist young adults between the ages of 16-24 years old with the education and exposure needed to embark on a path toward college or a career.


During the journey out West, many Club members hadn’t ventured outside of the Midwest, or Chicago, for that matter.  


“Every day was a new surprise. We were learning so much," Noemi, 20, said. “It was very action-packed. It was just nice we were doing things that we wouldn’t ever do in the city.” 

“It was one big adventure, from start to finish. After experiencing something like this trip, it’s hard to just go back to normal without feeling like you’ve changed, at least a little.” 

Reggie - Club Member

Noemi, a junior at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, was encouraged to attend the trip by her sister, Yanelli, a recent graduate from the Linda and Bill Ganz Club and former Youth of the Year representative for the Club. Yanelli, a freshman at University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, found the trip changed how she views her personal goals. 


“I don’t think I’ve gone a day since the trip without doing a daily type of mindfulness, either sitting in silence or stretching in the morning,” Yanelli, 18, said. “We deal with so many daily things that make you forget to slow down. On the trip, I felt a relief of feelings every time we did yoga or mindfulness. I was definitely calmer by the end of the trip.” 

Members begin one morning with yoga and mindfulness.

Working at a lapidary shop, members take stones and gems and turn them into jewelry.

Reggie also felt a recharged when encouraged to be more mindful on the trip. He also said since the trip he has downloaded a yoga app, and through his interaction with new mentors on the trip, he is eating healthier. 


“Being on this trip changed my life perspective, a bit,” Reggie said. “I'm in the process of finding a job and making my talents more known to the world and I want to sharpen them.” In fact, after returning from the trip, Reggie was offered an internship with A&K Philanthropy to help continue his career journey.


For most of the members, the trip was filled with activities they had never experienced before. Hikes to a waterfall and wind cave (with elevation and altitude not seen in the Midwest), whitewater rafting, horseback riding, jewelry making in a lapidary shop, and a visit to Yellowstone National Park.  

Honestly, I thought I would only talk to my sister the whole trip and not make any friends. But we made so many new connections, Philicia became our third sister."

Noemi - Club Member

But with each activity, the Club members learned more about themselves. Yanelli said that with every activity they did, it would help at least one person within the group. 

For example, Yanelli said she was apprehensive of whitewater rafting, but once she got over the fear, she looked up.
 

“If you looked up through the rapids, you saw eagles' nests. You saw them sitting on branches or on the sides of rocks. That was amazing,” Yanelli said. 

Whitewater rafting outside of Jackson, Wyoming.

Noemi said she couldn’t believe how much the trip pushed her, physically and mentally. She was the only female attendee who went on a hike in Darby Canyon to a wind cave. With tough terrain and high elevation, Noemi said she almost cried when she made it to the top, “I just realized, wow, I just did this hike. It's something I never thought I could do before.” 


She also found value in the smaller moments, especially when members were asked to make vision boards and reflect on their values. Noemi proudly displays her vision board on the bedroom wall of her college apartment as a constant reminder of the personal goals and intentions she set during the trip.

Club member Jeana goes horseback riding at Teton Valley Ranch Camp.

Club member Kareem takes in the sites of the wilderness.

“When I walk out the door, I have so many people I can compare myself to,” Noemi said. “During the trip, you only have a limited number of people you’re with every day and you’re encouraged to be yourself, to be different. Given the space we were in, it was easier to grow into yourself. And not be pressured into something you think you need to be.” 


The group also met with Jaden Smith’s nonprofit, 501c3, which is focused on the environment and living sustainably. The one-hour virtual discussion the group had with the nonprofit has inspired both Yanelli and Noemi to realize they want to help people. Noemi, an engineering major, hopes to not build buildings but reuse buildings already built to eliminate food deserts. 

“You had to be open-minded. You're doing things that you wouldn’t do or think of doing in Chicago. We agreed as our group that this was a safe space. ... Everyone has a different story.

Yanelli - Club Member

“I want to help organizations that give back to the community, and the trip made me realize that,” Yanelli said. 


Above all else, though, the trip gave all the members the travel bug, with several of them already planning on where they can go next – or even revisit places they went out West. 


“For the next trip, can we do Greece, please?” Reggie said.  

Club members at Yellowstone National Park.

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