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  • Jeff Baierlein

Wild Hearts Idaho: Inspiring Confidence and Leadership through Outdoor Adventures

By Kaelan Young


The Inspiration Behind Wild Hearts Idaho


The sun rose over the Salmon River as a group of young girls prepared for a two-day rafting adventure. Among them was Emily, a 15-year-old who had never been on a rafting trip before.


She felt a mix of excitement and nervousness as she overlooked the roaring river. Emily took a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves.


She had only ever heard stories about the beauty and adventure of the Salmon River, but being there in person was even more exhilarating.


She glanced at the other girls and saw the same eager anticipation reflected in their eyes.

Wild Hearts Idaho


With the guides leading the way, the girls climbed into the rafts, gripping their paddles, and preparing for the adventure ahead. The river awaited, and with it opportunities for growth, learning, and unforgettable memories.


This was all happening because of Wild Hearts Idaho, founded by Maggie Benedetti in 2016.


Wild Hearts Idaho focuses on building leadership skills in teen girls, ages 12 to 18, through outdoor adventure.


As a mental health counselor and social worker, Maggie recognized the importance of community-based programs aimed at empowering young women with the skills necessary to pursue their dreams confidently and with determination. She decided she would work to create a safe space where young women could explore the outdoors and build leadership skills.

Wild Hearts Idaho


Meet Serena, Executive Director of Wild Hearts Idaho


Serena Rasmussen, the Executive Director of Wild Hearts Idaho, grew up exploring Idaho’s backcountry, finding joy in rafting the Salmon River and biking through the Boise foothills. Her passion for the outdoors has been with her throughout her life.


Serena understands the challenges young girls face firsthand. "I joke I'm a washed up river guide,” she shares, “But I am similar to the girls. I was really struggling in high school to figure out what my place was and what I wanted to do. I was very fortunate to find purpose in the outdoors.”


Serena says, “If you grow up without your parents or community going outside, you're significantly less likely to do it yourself, because you don't have the knowledge or the skills.”


She believes that outdoor pursuits can foster confidence, resilience, community, and creativity in young girls.

Serena Rasmussen, Executive Director of Wild Hearts Idaho. Wild Hearts Idaho


Evolution and Growth


Since its founding, Wild Hearts Idaho has significantly expanded its programs. Starting with a simple guided hike, the organization now offers a wide range of adventures.


"Starting in 2016, the very first adventure we did was just a hike up Table Rock, a 3.7 mile hike located along the Boise foothills," says Serena. "Now we're going backpacking and rock climbing, and we're about to go on a multi-day whitewater rafting trip. We're offering more and more adventures to more and more girls."


In 2023, Wild Hearts Idaho provided 18 outdoor experiences to over 100 girls, offering half-day, full-day, and multi-day adventures in hiking, climbing, rafting, and backpacking.


The organization aims to cater to diverse interests, offering a range of activities from adrenaline sports to more relaxed pursuits like bird hikes and group art projects by the river.


"You don’t have to hike 17 miles. You don't have to get dirty. Being outdoorsy can also mean hanging out with friends in a hammock and painting," Serena explains.

Wild Hearts Idaho


Safety and Quality Commitment


Viristar developed a Risk Management Plan for WHI, after reviewing the organization’s safety documents and practices, and interviewing key stakeholders. The Risk Management Plan addressed the organization’s philosophy of risk management; roles and responsibilities; policies, procedures and guidelines for managing risks across multiple risk domains, and the use of risk management instruments such as insurance, incident reporting, a risk management committee, and medical screening.


Viristar also provided information on other documents and systems that would enhance Wild Hearts’ management of risk, and ideas on how that safety infrastructure might be developed.


For advanced outdoor activities such as whitewater rafting and rock climbing, Wild Hearts collaborates with experienced community partners. These include licensed river guides and Idaho Mountain Guides, who bring their expertise to help maintain safety standards.


Serena emphasizes, “We're trying to mitigate risks as effectively as possible.”

Wild Hearts Idaho


Community Engagement and Partnerships


Wild Hearts Idaho engages with the community through initiatives like the Wild River Dash, an annual paddling and running duathlon that celebrates women and promotes outdoor adventure. This family-friendly event is designed for participants of all ages to enjoy while supporting their cause.


Proceeds from the Wild River Dash directly contribute to funding transportation for Wild Hearts Idaho's outdoor adventure programs.

Wild Hearts Idaho

Central to Wild Hearts Idaho's success are its volunteers, known as Adventure Mentors. These individuals help lead adventures and inspire girls to connect with nature.


To sustain its work, Wild Hearts Idaho relies on the generosity of its community, volunteers, and partners. Businesses and individuals can support the organization by sponsoring events, donating gently used outdoor gear, or joining the Summit Society.


"We run almost entirely on donations from the community to make this happen. Whether it's sponsoring a fundraiser or directly supporting an adventure, every contribution helps us continue empowering young girls through outdoor exploration,” says Serena.

Wild Hearts Idaho


The Importance of Wild Hearts Idaho


Serena emphasizes the importance of increasing outdoor accessibility for all girls, acknowledging that a small fraction of youth currently have access to wild spaces.


"It's easy for us growing up in Idaho to think that everyone has access to the outdoors," says Serena, “But there are a ton of girls that don't know how to get outdoors or what is out there. Wild Hearts is here to help them get outside and connect with nature."


Through guidance and support, Wild Hearts Idaho is striving to make sure every girl can access outdoor adventures.


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