“It’s not for everybody,” founder Linda Mornell says of Summer Search, which promotes radical self-reliance in young people from all backgrounds through an immersive wilderness expedition. “It’s for kids who have curiosity and a willingness to take a risk. And it is a huge risk if you’ve never been camping and never had that kind of experience. … [But] one of the qualities of resilient children is that they are able to separate from home, separate from parents, separate from their environment.”
The cause: For 30 years, Mornell’s foundation has endeavored to expose underserved high school students to transformative, nature-filled experiences. With branches in the Bay Area, Seattle, Philadelphia, Boston and New York, it’s grown into a year-long mentoring program, capped by the seasonal wilderness and community service trips.
Founded: Mornell founded Summer Search in 1990 in San Francisco. Today, Marc Spencer serves as CEO.
Inspiration: After seeing the positive effect of an Oregon summer trip on her three adolescent children, Mornell became inspired to spread the joy to other children. “It just felt like such a wonderful thing,” she says, but “also, obviously, pretty exclusive in terms of the very few scholarships mainly available to affluent kids. And if you want to be more specific: affluent white kids.” In order to bring a sense of balance, she reached out to students from Bay View to Marin, and the first excursion, with 14 campers, was a wild success.
Impact: Summer Search serves 3,645 students across five locations. Last year, the group granted $7 million in financial aid scholarships. “My goal was to grow to 50 kids a year,” Mornell recalls of her humble vision.
Budget: At its April gala at the Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture, Summer Search raised $2.1 million — all going toward a worthy cause.
Get involved: summersearch.org/donate