ABC7 Unite: Brooklyn to Alaska inspires, challenges teens

BROOKLYN, New York City (WABC) -- A nonprofit whose mission is to bring brave and adventurous urban youth to the wilderness of Alaska is striving to to inspire and challenge Brooklyn teens to overcome obstacles, develop self-confidence, and experience the power of open communication and teamwork.

Brooklyn to Alaska was created 12 years ago by Sam Gregory, a local attorney who loves that outdoors and wanted to share experience with urban youth.

A group of teens returned from Alaska in late July, including Zachary Byrd, who loved the Alaskan wilderness thousands of miles away from his home in Crown Heights.

"I'll be honest, I wasn't so good at rowing but was good at everything else," he said. "My mom has a joke, I'm going to be the one who will buy a house in the middle of nowhere and still have a home in the city."

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The 19-year-old and nine other teens from all over Brooklyn spent 22 days hiking, climbing glaciers and camping in a national park.

"They learned wilderness cooking, learned how to read water," Gregory said.

Gregory adores Alaska, where he bought a small cabin years ago -- and had an idea.

He's an attorney, and some his clients were from the roughest sections of Brooklyn.

"I said, these guys never get to do what I did when I was young," he said. "So why not see what we can do get a program going."

That was back in 2007, and since then, more than 100 teens have now have made the journey, overcoming challenges and building self confidence.

"When these kids go up there and they fit in and adjust to the wilderness, they realize, hey, look, we belong here," he said. "That America belongs to us, and we belong to America."

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An annual fundraiser helps pay from for most of the kids expenses, which can run $4,000 per teen.

Byrd wants to be a pediatric surgeon, confident lessons learned in Alaska will come into play.

"It's added to my skills of being a leader, changed the way I see the world," he said.

For more information or to make a donation, visit BrooklynToAlaska.org.

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