We started Sprout because we saw the incredible, life-changing impact that immersive experiences had on on people. When you see it in person it’s amazing, moving, heartwarming, inspiring, the adjectives continue. Besides my faith and family, this is the most important, most rewarding thing I have ever been a part of. When I think of how and why this started, I think of moments. I remember when I first saw the light in the eyes of kids seeing Africa for the first time. It’s different than just being surprised or amazed. It is impactful on a deep level, and you can see it as it happens.
In the Dust of Kilimanjaro, Sprout style.
A moment burned in my brain happened early one morning as kids rose sticky-eyed from their small safari tents in the African savanna. It was our first morning waking up in a new camp, this one with a direct view of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We had arrived late the night before, so the only thing the kids knew was the flurry of activity of setting up camp in the dark: sweat, hustle and a cloud of dust. But now it was morning, and the mist covering the mountain was starting to burn off in the heat of the rising sun. We made of a batch of my secret recipe African Chocolate Coffee (ACC) as the kids began to emerge.
The Light in Their Eyes
During a program in Africa, we wrote a song called “The Light in Your Eyes.” It was about many things (including climbing a sketchy escarpment of scree and boulders, but that’s another blog). It was about the ring of light made by the campfire that we gathered around each evening. It was about the burning glow of the setting sun filtered through an acacia tree. For me, it was mostly about a look in the eyes of kids seeing Africa, or maybe the world, for the first time. That look was there after a sudden thunderstorm cooled off the Maasai Mara and we drove open-roofed across a sea of grass and life with the smell of new rain in the air. That look was there at the end when the Maasai kids and our kids cried their goodbyes and walked arm and arm through the dust, trying to burn the day forever into their memories. Then there was that morning with a view of Kilimanjaro, when the kids stepped from their tents, grabbed a mug of ACC to clear the fog, and saw the mountain for the first time.
Like a Leopardess Above the Serengeti
I know the lyric is “Olympus,” but I always sing Leopardess. Nothing could be more majestic or beautiful than a female leopard surveying her world. The same is true for Kilimanjaro. She is legendary, iconic, called magical and mystical for a reason. She crouches alone, the largest free-standing volcano in the world, rising up from the African savanna with just as much power and dignity as you could imagine. Words cannot describe. Photos cannot capture. You have to see it in person, with nothing but air between your eyeballs and the mountain. In that moment, you feel small, a speck on the continent, yet unstoppable and powerful, like a mountain pushing up through the earth’s crust in the middle of a vast grassland. It catches your breath and brings tears to your eyes. That’s how I felt as a grizzled old person. Can you imagine what it’s like for a teenager?
So that’s the moment. The kids get up and see Kilimanjaro for the first time, in all her glory, and they get the light in their eyes. Again, I’m trying to use words to describe something indescribable. It’s this look of wonder and delight, but something more. You can see a fundamental change happening, a seismic shift. It’s a powerful immersive learning experience when combined with science and art and conversation and laughter and nervousness and culture and dozens of other moments just like it. It was a moment that changed the course of my life in an instant.
The End: The Beginning
The end of this story is the beginning of the Sprout Experience. I knew I had to do my best to provide that kind of life-changing opportunity to as many young people as possible, no matter how difficult the process. I’m not gonna drop “destiny” or start moving things with my mind, but I do feel like it is my mission, which I choose to accept. At the time, I couldn’t guess how big of a challenge it would be, but the mission remains unchanged, and the rewards have been the moments.
So that’s a glimpse into what formed half of Sprout. Julie has stories too. Welcome to the beginning.