Our Program

It Starts with Adventure

Explore Austin uses a leadership-based outdoor adventure curriculum coupled with social-emotional learning components and long-term mentoring to empower youth from economically disadvantaged communities.

6-Year Program

Yes, our Mentors sign up for six years of service!

Year Round

Immersive nature-based programming 

Only 1 in TX

The only program in Texas and one of fewer than 10 nationally combining long-term mentorship with outdoor adventure 

100% Free

for Explorers and Mentors

100% Graduate

from high school with detailed plans for their futures 

100% Community

Our mission is 100% philanthropically funded with support from community members like you


Adventurous 6th-12th graders who qualify for free or reduced lunch in school

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Caring, committed adults who model leadership, courage and a spirit of adventure to Explorers

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Passionate about the program, our staff is outdoors, team and youth-oriented

Meet the Team


Our Board of Directors and Advisory Council are dedicated to Explore Austin’s success

Meet the Board


Individual donors, corporate sponsors and volunteers help make our mission possible

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Trip Leaders

Our skilled outdoor guides ensure every adventure is a step on the journey of personal growth

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Our Method

Saturday Challenges and Summer Wilderness Trips afford Explorers the opportunity for leadership development and social-emotional learning (SEL) through experiential outdoor education. Mentors facilitate SEL discussions using evidence-based curriculum from the Search Institute to help Explorers gain self-awareness and interpersonal skills.


Saturday Challenges are in local natural areas and include activities such as backpacking, paddling, rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming, navigation and wilderness medicine.

Explorers learn more advanced skills each year, building confidence and strengthening overall wellbeing. One Saturday Challenge a year is a volunteer project focused on environmental stewardship. 

Wilderness Trips

SWTs are annual, week-long excursions to premier backcountry destinations across the country where Explorers apply the knowledge and skills they have developed throughout the year.

Last summer, our newest Explorers traveled to Texas’ Colorado Bend State Park while more experienced teams explored mountains, rivers and hiking and biking trails in Arkansas, New Mexico, Utah and Idaho. For many of our youth, these trips represent their first experience traveling away from home and their families, and their first time on a plane or out of state.

Our History

An 18-Year Legacy Explore Austin was founded in 2006 by three childhood friends: Jamie matthews, Todd Hanna and Rusty stein.

Jamie Matthews had helped inner-city Houston youth combat the “summer slide” phenomenon with a summer wilderness program and, after experiencing the powerful combination of mentoring and outdoor adventure, sought to provide this opportunity to boys from economically disadvantaged communities in Austin.

Jamie and his two friends, Todd and Rusty, served as the three founding Mentors of Explore Austin, launching the 100% free program with 15 sixth grade boys on a weeklong trip to the mountains of Wyoming. That first Summer Wilderness Trip grew into a year-round program for both boys and girls, bolstered by a partnership developed with KIPP Austin Public Schools.

Today, Explore Austin serves more than 260 sixth through twelfth grade youth Explorers and nearly 100 Mentors annually. Programming follows a progressively advanced curriculum in outdoor disciplines including canoeing, rock climbing, mountain biking and backpacking, coupled with mentoring for the development of leadership, team-building and life skills.

15 Explorers and 3 Mentors embarked on the first-ever Summer Wilderness Trip
Received the Greenlights Nonprofit Excellence Award

First girls team formed and launched 
Inaugural Explorers graduated from the program and become Junior Mentors

Recognized by the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 
Received the John Covert Watson Award for Vision from the Children in Nature Collaborative
Explorers collectively logged over 26,000 miles hiked, biked or paddled – greater than the circumference of the Earth!
Expanded to second and third partner schools, doubling the annual rate of recruitment
First Explorer Alum joined the Board of Directors
Trip Leader in Training Program launched
First Explorer parent joined the Board of Directors
Established a new partnership with Manor ISD to reach more vulnerable youth
Received Impact Austin’s Community Grant
Launched a partnership with the YWCA Counseling and Referral Center to provide free or low-cost mental health services to families, as well as Mentor training

Began a new slate of Summer Wilderness Trips in states such as California and Idaho
Began accreditation process through the Association of Experiential Education

Community educational programming launched for Great Outdoors Month

“Explore Austin changed my life from being a failing student in middle school to participating in the United States Military Academy Summer Leadership Seminar program, and becoming a graduating senior that has been accepted to the number-one aerospace engineering university in the country.”

Explorer Alumnus

“I’d never be outside except for [my] front yard. Explore Austin introduced me to the beauty of nature.”

Explorer Alumna

“Thanks so much, this program has really meant a lot to Julian and to myself. I grew up camping and canoeing and basically spending my summers outdoors. Unfortunately, life being life, I was unable to do these things with Julian. It makes me so happy he has a chance to explore the outdoors and have such great mentors to guide him along the way. Thanks again!”

Explorer Parent