It’s been two decades since the Light Foundation was founded. In 2001, Matt and Susie Light decided to formalize plans to create a nonprofit that would allow them to give back to communities in need. In the early days, the Light Foundation raised money for other charities whose missions aligned with youth-based initiatives. Before long, though, Matt and Susie realized that they could create their own programming and make a direct impact on the people they served. It was a tremendous undertaking, but fast forward twenty years – and the impact the Light Foundation has made has been nothing short of amazing! Our mission to take young people out of their everyday environments and provide them with unique opportunities that ignite their passion, purpose to motivation to succeed is realized nearly every day.
The idea for our four-year flagship outdoor youth leadership program, Camp Vohokase, became a reality early on – and years later, we’ve graduated over thirty-three young men from cities and towns across the country. There is no doubt they are on a better path, continuing to pay those life-changing lessons forward in their own lives.
In that time, Chenoweth Trails has transformed from an undeveloped plot of land in Greenville, Ohio, to a world-class outdoor facility complete with trails, an amphitheater, a turf field, full outdoor kitchen, timber frame structure, a pond, yurts, a headquarters building with onsite workshop, and just this past summer, a “treehouse barn in the sky” built from sustainable, reclaimed wood from area barns. What has been created was been done so with countless donations of time, services, and materials. Nowadays, nearly 10,000 people a year use Chenoweth Trails via the Light Foundation’s enhanced leadership programming, community events, and partnerships with other area nonprofits.
Our support of young people has also evolved. Elementary school children are introduced early to our award-winning Light Project program, designed to integrate reading and writing with outdoor activities that help boost their interest in science and exploring the environments around them. For the older age group, participation in our Ohio or Rhode-Island Youth Turkey Hunts allows them further education about natural resources, conservation efforts, and important virtues like patience, respect, ethics, responsibility, and emotional control. Teenagers accepted into our Timber Frame Leadership Camp have access to a unique STEAM-based program that introduces them to the ancient craft of timber frame construction. The experience undoubtedly increases their self-confidence and self-esteem. They learn leadership while being empowered to use real tools, hone specialized skills, work collaboratively with adult mentors and peers, and gain a personal sense of achievement and mastery through the hands-on creation of a complete building structure in just a few days. For athletes in training, the Matt Light All-Conference Football Camp for Ohio and Indiana youth gives access to lessons in football, team building, and the development of the discipline, sportsmanship, and pride. The Massachusetts-based Light Foundation Leadership Conference offers students from area high schools the chance to attend a challenging one-day learning opportunity at Bridgewater State University. Together, they participate in leadership-based activities and dialogue with CEOs, professional athletes, influencers, and community leaders aimed at enhancing their teamwork and critical thinking skills. Every program offered by the Light Foundation is part of our Leadership Academy, which offers young people a variety of programs that support their social and emotional learning; build strong character, and equip them with all they need to start their own leadership journey. We are committed; we stay with them every step of the way.
So where do we go from here? How do we build on our success and plan strategically for the next twenty years? Light Foundation 2.O is the answer! Our core values of being R.E.A.L. – responsible, ethical, accountable leaders – will never change, but our vision has evolved. We believe that confidence, self-esteem, and positive beliefs and attitudes are the most important tools we can provide a young person so that he or she can push beyond any real or perceived barriers they may face in life. Through our work, we aim to inspire young people to believe in themselves and their ability to be great role models and leaders. Not only are we helping them down their own path toward becoming successful adults, but we are also building healthy, responsible, motivated citizens for generations to come.
Matt and Susie, our Board of Directors, our incredible donors, and sponsors, and all the ambassadors who spread our message and help us realize our dream every day are just as inspired as ever to continue to make an impact on thousands more young lives. In a world that is both challenging to navigate and difficult to understand, our work is more important now than it has ever been. At this critical time, we are not taking any shortcuts. Instead, we’re doubling down on our commitment to the youth we serve…and rest assured, we’re just getting started!