Reach Cleveland

"REACH has three main goals; to facilitate cross-cultural friendships, provide girls with meaningful outdoor experiences, and teach environmental science."

- Abby Rathbun

Background Information

Abby Rathbun and Addie Klimek both grew up in Ohio, and met while attending high school at Hathaway Brown School in Cleveland, Ohio. Both girls joined Alzar School for their sophomore year: Abby joined the Fall 2015 semester and Addie the Spring 2016 semester.  They each developed Culminating Leadership Projects as part of their experience. Though they joined Alzar School in different semesters, both girls were taken with the idea with working with the local refugee population, getting more young girls into the outdoors, and sharing outdoor areas surrounding Cleveland with middle-school students.  Together, Addie and Abby developed and launched REACH Cleveland in 2016. REACH stands for Reaching Environmental Awareness and Cultural Harmony.

“Our mission is to create a community where girls can form cross-cultural relationships and learn about environmental science while having meaningful outdoor experiences,”

– Addie Klimeck.

Through REACH, Addie and Abby hoped to both welcome girls who were recently resettled to Cleveland and help bridge cultural differences by integrating these students with students from their home school, Hathaway Brown. REACH Cleveland used the natural spaces in and around Cleveland, many of which were unknown to both groups of young girls as a platform for the exchange. Both Abby and Addie felt that environmental awareness and conservation were and are critical issues in the world.

“We think being aware and caring for the environment comes from having meaningful outdoor experiences. We wanted to provide those in hopes to engage girls in environmental science,”  

– Addie Klimeck

Implementation of Project

Though REACH has become a resounding success, launching the program did not come about easily. Upon each of their returns to Cleveland after their semesters at Alzar School, Abby and Addie were met with many obstacles to implement their projects. One day while sitting in the Hathaway Brown Student Center, Addie–receiving another rejection of her CLP, vented her frustrations to Abby. The girls got to talking about their CLP plans, realized their projects were similar and decided to work together.

Addie and Abby first met with Hathaway Brown Middle School administrators, and,. gaining their support, then presented their project and digital application to the student body.  REACH Cleveland was launched. They hosted an informational session for interested parents and girls, fending off skeptical comments and ultimately gaining new allies and trust. Through a family friend, Abby was able to connect with the director of a local refugee agency, US Together, who was able to put REACH Cleveland in touch with middle school-aged refugee girls. After a long period of repeated attempts to connect with the refugee girls, they were soon able to set a date to go out on their first hike.

They held their first REACH event in 2016 bringing together middle-school girls from Hathaway Brown and US Together to go out on a brisk winter hike. Abby and Addie were filled with nerves, but their preparation paid off. At the end of the day, when one of the girls from Us Together was asked what her favorite part was, the little girl said, ‘I loved hiking!’.  As REACH Cleveland gained traction, Addie and Abby adapted and improved their program. They began to spread the word about REACH and connect with refugee girls through social media.

During the first few sessions, they noticed a language barrier during conversations about the environment. It was evident that the girls from Hathaway Brown were contributing more to these discussions and so they restructured their curriculum to incorporate individual art projects that related to the environment. Now girls draw their ideal natural environments, journal about special spaces and create personal flags that reflected each girls’ culture and personality. Addie and Abby even secured a donation of Rite-in-the-Rain journals (whose unique paper allows for writing in all types of weather conditions) to help facilitate these outdoor art and journaling activities.

Results of the Project

Currently, REACH Cleveland is a monthly event which works with 20 middle-school girls, ten from Hathaway Brown and ten from Campus International School. The REACH activities take place at various outdoor venues, including Cleveland’s Metroparks, and range from hiking and snowshoeing to learning about downtown Cleveland’s environmental history. Each activity includes an environmental science lesson to ensure that participants can understand more about the environment and feel empowered to take action to improve our climate.

What’s Next?

Both Abby and Addie graduated in May of 2018. Abby attends University of Vermont, and Addie attends University of Virginia. Since graduating, they have passed the project along to two students at Hathaway Brown to continue REACH Cleveland.