My Cause

Linda Mornell’s Summer Love

By Julissa James

Founder of Summer Search, Linda Mornell. (Illustration by Olivia Wise.)

“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.

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