Chris Rutgers

Chris Rutgers     Photo: Courtesy of Chris Rutgers

AGE: 36
HOMETOWN: SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
MISSION: TRANSFORM THE LIVES OF AT-RISK KIDS THROUGH ADVENTURE

IN NOVEMBER 1992, at age 18, Rutgers left behind an abusive childhood in California and moved to Alta, Utah. He became a dishwasher and later started freeskiing competitively, an experience that changed his life. After seven years, Rutgers left the mountains for San Diego, to start a nonprofit called Outdoor Outreach. His goal? To transform the lives of at-risk kids by introducing them to positive experiences in the outdoors. Now 11 years old, the program, which works with underprivileged youth from inner-city schools, teen homeless shelters, foster-care facilities, and drug-rehabilitation programs, has taken more than 5,000 kids on 1,500 trips throughout California—all for free. One of the organization's biggest achievements is its Adventure Clubs, set up at inner-city San Diego high schools, where graduation rates and performance scores are well below the national average. Students meet weekly to plan outdoor trips, and all of last year's participants graduated and went on to college (except one student, who joined the military). "I was the original case study for my organization," says Rutgers. "In the end, skiing saved my life"

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