The Adventure of an Education

Salt Magazine

June 2017

A group of people in front of an airplane in a field.

This summer, ten local teens will fly to Alaska, take a small plane into the back country, and spend three weeks hiking and clearing trails. These days, many young people go on similar organized wilderness adventures, but these Wilmington teens are not typical participants. They all have either been identified as “chronically homeless” or they live below the poverty level, and all of them are dedicated and motivated for change. Each of them earned this trip — which is funded, in part, through a $25,000 grant from the National Park Service — by excelling at a program called Education Without Walls.

“These kids deserve to be the next astronauts or doctors or lawyers,” says Zac Adair, executive director of the nonprofit National Center of Outdoor & Adventure Education (NCOAE), which runs Education Without Walls. “We want to give them that chance.”

I’m having lunch with Zac at Gulfstream Restaurant, only a mile or so from NCOAE’s 17-acre campus in Carolina Beach. Zac, at 42, is a former adventure guide himself, and I can easily imagine him communicating both confidence and reassurance to these teens — 80 percent “You can do it!” and 20 percent “We’ll help you if you falter.”