V.V. was founded in September 2001 by Shawn Sears and Laura
Dickerson in order to meet essential, but missing components of
low-income students’ education. At its inception it was a half-day
program with two employees operating at a private residence/hobby
ranch. As of 2012 it is a 3-day and overnight program with nine
employees and a wonderfully strong family of volunteers and
supporters! It operates from a home base camp,
The Optimist Youth
Camp, and spends significant time at
our farm at Hidden Creek, and beautiful
local public parks. V.V. continues to be a minimal budget,
no-nonsense, high-quality program that is mission-driven and ever
After teaching for two years during ’99-01 with Teach For America (TFA)
in the Mississippi Delta, Shawn and Laura realized that beyond the
obvious material shortcomings facing many students in the U.S., these
are also getting a subpar education and are lacking exposure to the
world at large. This knowledge empowered them to create change.
Many of our country’s 10-year-olds, those who are living in poverty,
are already 3-4 grade levels behind their higher income peers. 50%
of them won’t graduate high school by the time they are 18, and
those that do graduate will only be reading at an 8th grade level.
Only 1 out of 10 will go on to college. (from TFA
During the summers of their two years of teaching with TFA, Shawn
and Laura organized trips and brought students on outdoor canoeing
and cultural trips. On these trips they saw 10 year olds, already
hardened by their worlds of lack, let go of their stress, open their
minds and hearts, and really be children…children who were excited,
inquisitive, adventurous, and hilarious. Getting them outside of
their classroom, outside of their comfort zones, and into the
outdoors, created a magical growth experience for them that
surpassed much of what they, as teachers, were able to do accomplish
with the students in the classroom during the school year.
Vida Verde was born from the inescapable knowledge gained during
these two years with TFA. Shawn and Laura moved to California and
were not surprised to learn that here students from low-income
families were facing the same issues as those in Mississippi.
Shawn and Laura decided to use utilize their specific skills and
experiences to form a program that would address as many of these
problems as possible. They wanted the solution to be simple, and
while helping give the students an equal chance at education, they
also wanted to help overworked teachers and under-funded schools.
They were determined to make these experiences free for children who
deserve the same opportunities for learning and enrichment as their
higher-income peers. In fact, they felt then [and still feel today]
that these underprivileged children, who are growing up in an urban
environment with very few opportunities to get out, and for whom the
educational system is not one they necessarily trust, are the very
ones who need trips to the outdoors the most.
Ten years have passed since V.V.’s inception. As the moons have
passed, the organization and its personnel have developed
significantly, while the core values and intentions remain the same.
5,500 Bay Area students who otherwise would have gone without have
attended the programs. The feedback from teachers and students is
positive and thankful. The staff has grown from 2 to a highly
qualified staff of 7. The schedule fills up well before each school
year begins, and the waiting list is long.
letter from a teacher
~Vida Verde founded.
~Students served: 400 children for single-day programs.
~2,000 student hours were spent at V.V.
~All programs took place at Tunitas Creek Ranch, a beautiful private
residence and hobby ranch & farm 10 miles south of Half Moon Bay.
~Students served: 700 students for single day trips, and 2 pilot 2-day
~Strengthened our connections with the classroom teachers from the
previous year, and met some very important partners around the Bay
Area who have been supporting Vida Verde ever since.
~3,500 student hours spent at V.V.
~Left the home base site with students for the first time on the
2-day trips, to visit the marshes, tidepools and beaches in the
~Designed an internship, built an intern cabin and hired 2 interns.
~Students served: 750 children for 2-day trips.
~Significant and beneficial increase in the amount of exposure and
lasting impact on the students.
~19,600 student hours spent at V.V., quadrupled from the previous
~V.V. gets its first teepees!
~Hired two experienced naturalists who had completed naturalist
internships at nearby outdoor education programs. These two
naturalists brought a wealth of knowledge fun to V.V. and let Shawn
and Laura take a momentary step back from instruction at times. This
trend continues to this day.
~Leveled off our student numbers, and served 25 classes (about 600
students) this year, and have been hosting that many classes every
~Students served: 600 children for 2-day trips.
~80% of those students came from returning schools.
~V.V. transitioned to a new home base site: Venture Retreat
Center, near Pescadero, and began using the adjacent Redwood Forest
of Butano State Park for our nature hikes and visiting Blue House
organic farm with the students.
~Tim Ward joined V.V. as an instructor this school year, and
during the summer of 2006 was hired as our new Assistant Director.
~First annual benefit held.
~Students served: 600 children for 2-day trips, and three pilot
~100% of students came with returning schools or teachers.
~40% of the schools that attended V.V. had by this time made the
Vida Verde experience an important rite of passage each year for an
entire grade level of their school.
~Laura steps into an exclusively organizational and administrative
~Students served: 600 children, half of the trips were for 2 days
and half were for 3 days.
~Acquired two biodiesel 15-passenger vans to transport
the students safely and efficiently between the coast, home base,
the redwoods and the farm!
~Programmatical and organizational systems
continue to be put into place to help each subsequent year run more
~Increase from 2 instructors working with Tim and Shawn to 3
instructors. Tim and Shawn take turns by week working on site with
the instructors and kids.
~Students served: 600 children, all for 3-day trips.
~Programs move to Potrero Nuevo Farm and to the Optimist Youth
Camp. The Optimist Camp, which operates as a summer
camp, is our home base site for cooking, eating, camping out,
campfires, etc. Potrero Nuevo Farm is where we milk goats and make
cheese, learn about the chickens, explore the garden and orchard and
see the solar panels and large scale composting in action.
~Organization focuses on capacity building, and strategic plan:
Nourishing the Roots.
~Students served: 700 children, all for 3-day trips.
~Camp continues to run with the Optimist Youth Camp serving as home
~Vida Verde's office and goats move to the beautiful Hidden Creek in
San Gregorio-just minutes from camp.
~Vida Verde hires a farmer, and creates an educational garden
designed specifically for the Vida Verde students.
~Vida Verde hires a part-time grants manager.