Mentor Spotlight: José Ignacio Porras

This month, we spotlight Explore Austin Mentor, José Ignacio Porras. We are so grateful to José for all that he contributes to our program. Get to know José below!

Where do you work?

I work at a civil engineering consulting firm, designing public infrastructure and private land development projects.

What drew you to Explore Austin?

I grew up doing outdoors activities and it’s something I’ve always loved, the opportunity to share this with other people is what made me volunteer for this program.

What’s a fun fact about you?

I have lived in 12 different cities and 3 different countries.

What sport would you be in if you were in the olympics?

Rock climbing, 110%.

What is your favorite park/national park/spot in nature and why?

El Cielo Biosphere Reserve, 357,000 acres of natural reserve. Cielo is Spanish for heaven, so you could imagine how beautiful this place is – caves, waterfalls, hundreds of unique species, and plants, it’s a full ecosystem that changes with the elevations that range from 1,000 ft up to 7,700ft! I’ve been there 4 times and always discover something new. The people that live there are very kind and do everything they can to protect the reserve, I truly love this place and the locals.

New Board Member Spotlight: Olatunde Gbolahan

This month, we are welcoming 3 new board members: Olatunde Gbolahan, Scott Phillips, and Bryan Daigle. We’re excited to add these interesting and dynamic professionals to the Explore Austin team. Get to know Olatunde below and keep an eye on our social media for more!

How and why did you get involved with Explore Austin?

I learned about Explore Austin from connecting with Kathleen in the Texas Parks and Wildlife Urban Outreach Committee. The mission of Explore Austin, using mentoring and outdoor adventure to empower youth to reach their full potential, resonated with me. I have a love for the outdoors, value the positive impact it has on the whole person and understand the value of great mentor relationships. I thought if there was a way I could support Explore Austin in achieving it’s mission, I’m in.

Tell us about your experience climbing Kilimanjaro.

Summiting Kilimanjaro was one of the most challenging, difficult and amazing experiences of my life. Kilimanjaro doesn’t start at the base of the mountain. It started months prior as I did the work getting ready. I trained hard working up to long regular 10 mile+ hikes during the week with a 30lb pack, swimming for hours a week, and doing weekend farm work. I also traveled to Colorado to summit a few 14’ers to ensure I was prepared for the altitude. It was powerful, for the first time, getting back to Africa, the lands of my father, a land where I was, for the first time in my life, not a minority. Climbing Kilimanjaro itself was an emotional experience. We were told to bring one special item with us on the trip and I chose to bring my mom’s cap. If you look at any of my Uhuru Peak summit photos you’ll see me wearing this black cap. She had passed a few years earlier and having this small item at the top of the world with me helped me feel she was there as I achieved this big goal.

What is something you learned from your adventures that you’re looking forward to bringing to Explore Austin?

I learned that with proper preparation, you can accomplish big things.

Letter from the CEO: Kathleen Schneeman

Remarkably, summer is over here at Explore Austin! We’re already deep into our 2022 and 2023 school year planning for our monthly Saturday Challenges throughout Austin and the surrounding area. . Looking back over our Summer Wilderness Trips, we traversed numerous miles in June and July. We summited mountains in City of Rocks, Idaho. We paddled 40 miles down the Buffalo River in Arkansas. We took our senior Explorers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to South Lake Tahoe and eluded the fires to enjoy Yosemite. Thirty-two brand new Explorers learned about all kinds of things while at Colorado Bend State Park–setting up camp, cooking outside, paddling, hiking, caving, recognizing the scream of a feral hog and the call of a mourning dove–many for the first time in their lives.

Our summer went incredibly well thanks to your support. Sure, we had crafty raccoons ripping holes in tents in Arkansas and rain for days in Colorado, but we also had Explorers who wrote that they saw the Milky Way for the first time, learned not just how to ride a bike, but also how to mountain bike on steep trails in Colorado, saw the views from the top of the mountain and exclaimed it was “the most beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” those who flew on a plane for the first time, and those who said they made new best friends. We also had a safe and successful summer despite the odds: wildfires, floods,  flight cancellations, and drought meant that conditions were constantly changing. Our Mentors, full time program staff, and Trip Leaders (our part-time guides) showed remarkable adaptability, agility, and courage to keep moving forward, and our Explorers were equipped for a variety of conditions with new gear thanks to community support like yours.

Finally, the commitment of our volunteer Mentors never fails to blow me away. We had a Mentor 7 months pregnant flying across the country, sleeping in a tent, and doing adventurous activities outside to support her team. We had Mentors with major projects pending at work double their efforts prior to departing on their trips so that they would be there to make memories with their Explorers. Thank you to our Mentors for your dedicated service and support of our youth throughout your Summer Wilderness Trips and your six years of service to this program. And to our supporters: thank you for enabling our Mentors and Explorers to attend these transformative backcountry trips free of charge every year! We truly couldn’t do this work without your investment and belief in our mission.

With so much gratitude,

Kathleen Schneeman