For those of you who think you’re familiar with Coombs Outdoors, we’re sorry to say that you likely are not. I thought I was knowledgeable until Executive Director Jenny Wolfrom Holladay opened my eyes to its breadth and depth.
The formerly named Coombs Foundation was founded in 2012 by Emily Coombs. Her husband Doug Coombs was a talented mountaineer and guide who loved spending time in the mountains. Out of his tragic passing came beauty. Emily took action to give children access to the mountains Doug loved.
Efforts were initially focused on skiing, which is a central part of Jackson Hole’s culture. “It’s an activity that grows friendships and builds self-confidence, though is very expensive and not realistic for everyone,” Jenny explained. Since then, Coombs Outdoors has grown from serving 28 kids in the winter to more than 300 kids year-round.
Mountain-biking, rock-climbing, kayaking, paddle-boarding, and even study halls are now offered. After-school study halls began as a response to COVID-19. Parents had to continue going to work, so their children were home alone all day or taking care of their siblings. Jenny said that “many did not have the time or resources to complete their schoolwork.” Coombs’ Outdoors’ study halls were so popular that thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation and others’ donations it is now a year-round program.
Their Empower program for high schoolers provides leadership training to help them serve a CO-mentors to the younger Coombs kids. It also helps them secure internships to explore careers in the outdoor industry. Jenny said, “the problem with entry level outdoor industry jobs is that they often don't pay well, so those positions tend to be financially unrealistic to many of our participants, continuing the cycle of an elite, white outdoor industry.” Many of our high school participants cannot afford an internship that pays $10 an hour. Coombs Outdoors is committed to making outdoor access available to all, which includes careers, so they raise money to supplement that compensation, which will in time hopefully shift the make-up of the industry.
Jenny became especially passionate when speaking about this. “Equity and inclusion has been close to my heart for a long time.” Jenny lived in Alaska and worked for an association that focused on the employment of native youth and getting economic development resources to the outer villages.
Having been a central part of the Jackson Hole Land trust for 10 years she learned a lot about organizational growth and strategy, nonprofit management, and fundraising, which is a critical part of any nonprofit job. Jenny said that the Executive Director role at Coombs Outdoors is the “perfect combination of my skill set of nonprofit management and fundraising and my personal passion, which is access to the outdoors.”
These excerpts from this interview only scratch the surface of all Coombs Outdoors does. We encourage you to learn more about their life-changing work HERE. When asked how each of us can be supportive Jenny shared that it costs $1,500 to sponsor a child for a year. And while financial gifts are crucial, so are volunteers and gently used donated equipment.
The last thing Jenny said has stuck with me, “I'm just happy to be fortunate enough to be involved in this.”
This story is a part of our #humansofjhchamber campaign, which focuses on the faces of our local businesses and nonprofits. Learn about their inspirations, why started in their industry and more! Find the Chamber on Instagram at @jhchamber. For information about the program, please contact Communications Manager, Andi Gollwitzer, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Blog by Membership Director, Elisabeth Rohrbach.