Ryan McCrary: 2015 Community Impact Award
When Ryan McCrary started mentoring at-risk youth almost seven years ago, he had no idea that it would change the direction of his life.
Then a print production coordinator for a local ad agency, McCrary used the mentoring as an outlet—pulling on his past experience in outdoor adventures to instead take lower-income kids on hiking or rafting trips.
“I was still always outdoors and loved working with kids, so just kind of did it on the side,” McCrary remembers. But as the trips gained notoriety, though, McCrary found himself the owner of something more.
“I did that for a couple of summers and then it took on a life of its own after that,” he says. “I was doing more of these trips, and then kids were starting to call, and groups started calling to see if we’d take their kids on trips, and then people started sending checks in the mail for us to take these kids. And I thought, ‘This isn’t really a thing.’”
Although he fought it for months, he says, it became truly obvious that this was what he was meant to do. So, he quit the agency, becoming instead the founder and executive director at GOAT (Great Outdoor Adventure Trips).
“I left Bounce in 2009 and started at a desk in my apartment the next day,” he says. “I just kind of sat there and didn’t know what to do.” But from there, he gained his footing, gained tax exempt status, raised money and began formally taking groups. In the first year, GOAT served 150 kids. In 2014, they served almost 17,000.
But GOAT didn’t end with trips. What McCrary found next was a desire for a longer-term effect—the kids wanted jobs.
Some graduated out of the program and came back to run the rock climbing wall for their peers and the general public. Others wanted to start their own business.
“So, we built a little curriculum on how to start a business. It tanked. It was the worst,” he says. So, they started over; they asked the kids what kind of business they wanted to start, visited local companies for training, got micro lending, and started a small screen printing business called Swift Prints.
Speaking of the three owners of Swift Prints, McCrary says, “They started it, they own it… Now they are looking to hire some of our other students.”
For now, it would seem that there are few obstacles for GOAT. Their donor base—75 percent of which are younger than 30 years old—is strong, and the organization is settling into an average of helping 1,500 kids per year. But although the future looks bright, don’t expect McCrary to be able to tell you what the future of GOAT looks like.
“People ask me all the time what the next five years looks like, and I tell them, ‘I have no idea,’” he says. “I mean, if I had told you that five years ago then it would have been awful compared to what we’ve actually be able to achieve.”