Dwain Wilson’s life would seem to be one characterized by serendipitous moments. A native of rural North Carolina, Dwain attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, receiving his degree in an interdisciplinary studies program that prepared him for the field of Media Journalism. After graduation, he started his professional career writing for one of the “weeklies” in Raleigh as a music critic before moving to London for the requisite “time abroad.” In London, he was bitten by the “film bug,” and returning to the U.S., began working in the set decoration department on feature films. His credits include some great films (“Bill Durham”, “Mississippi Burning”, “Dances with Wolves”, “Red Rock West” to name a few.
In 1996, he experienced “burnout” and moved back to his roots, this time to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. “It was beautiful– -like living in a postcard”, Dwain muses, and “gave me time to reflect” on what I really care about and “what do I want to spend the rest of my life doing?”
In his soul-searching, Dwain found the inevitable answer in the humanitarian work that brings fulfillment to his life: Children and our Environment. Returning to Los Angeles, he found opportunities for volunteer work. As a volunteer docent for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, he led nature hikes for school groups at Franklin Canyon Park. He “voraciously” applied himself to academic study enrolling at Santa Monica College and taking courses in Child Development, Human Ecology and Environmental Ethics. “I took every opportunity to learn a new outdoor survival skill. I received a lot of formal and informal education, including study with Earth Skills (Frazier Park) and the Wilderness Awareness School. At Franklin Canyon, Angi Bates, our Volunteer Coordinator, encouraged the volunteers and docents to bring our ideas to the table and develop new programs for the park.”
“About this time, I was driving up to Ojai to take an intensive emergency medical training class, certifying me as a “Wilderness First Responder”. While I was there, the shooting at Columbine occurred. Naturally, we were all devastated. It so happened that our instructor was from Colorado. The conversations that we shared that week were about the disbelief that something like that could happen there…and if in rural Colorado, why not, Detroit, New York, Chicago….or Los Angeles?” During these discussions, Dwain learned about the field of Outdoor Therapy, the practice of using outdoor activities to help troubled kids. “I began to realize that this is how I wanted to spend my life and energy: helping children through connecting to the environment.”
Today, the Wildwoods Foundation is the fulfillment of that dream. The Wildwoods signature program, Full Circle, works with elementary school children during a eight-week cycle, providing a combination of field trips to local parks and classroom and community activities that explore the parallels between nature and personal behavior. Students develop literacy skills through journaling and reporting their activities. The program provides a host of team-building projects that help the students develop a sense of community and accomplishment. “By developing an understanding of their personal impact upon a community, children take an important step toward becoming responsible individuals and engaged community members.”
During their five-year history, the Wildwoods Foundation has worked with schools across Los Angeles, but for the last two years they have focused exclusively in Silver Lake, working with three 5th grade classes at Mayberry Elementary School. Wildwoods hopes to expand to an additional school in the fall of 2006. Micheltorena Street Elementary School in Silver Lake is being discussed.
Thank you, Dwain, for serving our community by devoting your life to our future, our children! You serve as an inspiration and a great example for us all!
Dwain Wilson and his lovely fiance, Ellen Elphand live in Silver Lake on Benton Way. To learn more about the Wildwoods Foundation and volunteer opportunities, call Dwain Wilson, Wildwoods Foundation (213) 989-1955 or visit the Wildwoods website, www.WildwoodsFoundation.org.