Heading down to the James River is a ritual for many Richmond residents. They use their eyes to follow the outlines of birds as they make irregular patterns across sky. They use their legs to navigate around rocks as they trek to find the perfect rock. They use their ears to listen to the rush of the rapids. They use their wallets to sign up for guided adventures.
Not everyone can take on the James with such freedom, however. Like shepherds, Shep Roeper and Kyle Burnette are guiding people who typically have barriers to experience our city’s favorite landmark.
“There are so many outdoor opportunities for Richmonders and we want to open the door to what our great city has to offer to everyone, no matter physical, cognitive, behavioral or economic situation,” says Burnette.
It all started at Radford University where Roeper and Burnette studied Recreation, Parks, and Tourism. Roeper discovered outdoor recreation could be therapeutic. After graduation, the duo found work at Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC), which led people with disabilities on outdoor adventures. Years later and back Virginia, they decided to bring the concept to life on the east coast. Beyond Boundaries launched in 2015.
“Beyond Boundaries’ goal is to offer people, of all abilities, the opportunity to challenge themselves with outdoor adventure while showing the community someone’s ability rather than disability,” says Roeper.
During the past three years, Beyond Boundaries has welcomed 200 people on transformative river adventures including rafting, kayaking, swimming, hiking, and fishing. The experiences are transformative for everyone involved.
Adults and youth with disabilities have climbed aboard rafts for energetic and challenging trips between the river’s rocks and banks. Injured adults have rediscovered their love of fishing, after thinking their favorite past time was left in the past. Low-income youth have felt the flowing water for the first time in their lives. They pause and take selfies and iconic RVA photos wearing big grins.
Beyond Boundaries is energized by a team of community volunteers. These willing adventurers help Burnette and Roeper create life changing experiences. Often, the volunteers get just as much out of the experience as participants.
“We have had volunteers who may not have worked with a group or individual with a disability much, or ever, and they get to see them having fun, laughing, screaming, getting wet, smiling, joking,” says Roeper.
The inclusive culture of Beyond Boundaries has fueled the nonprofit’s growth. In 2018, Beyond Boundaries will expand both its rafting and fishing programs. Roeper also says they are in the planning phase of a collaborative rock climbing program with another local organization.
Beyond Boundaries is currently booking trips for its spring and summer programs. To sign up as a participant or volunteer, visit BeyondBoundariesRVA.org.