Paying It Forward: The Alumni Scholarship Fund

By Kate Aitchison

Grand Canyon Youth River Guide in Canyon

Kate Aitchison is an artist whose work focuses on human interventions in the natural landscape and a river guide for Grand Canyon Youth and Canyon Expeditions/Explorations.
She is a GCY alumni and a lover of beauty and wild places. She is one of the founders of the GCY Alumni Scholarship Fund and serves as its current chair.

People often use the word “transformational” to describe what happens on a river trip. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines the word transform as a change in composition, form, or character– a metamorphosis. This was certainly the case for me and most of my fellow GCY alumni on our first GCY trips.  For the first time, I was encouraged to simply be myself, to get to  know myself without the social structures, social media, and social pressures of everyday life. It was just me, the rocks, the sky, and the water. My heart had found its home and I have been returning ever since. 


When I think of the word donor, I think of someone much older and wealthier than me, someone a fellow river guide once described as a “super adult.”  I have often felt as though I, as only one person on a guide and artist salary, could not contribute financially in an impactful way. 


But in 2014, I wanted to become a capital “D” Donor to Grand Canyon Youth, and I knew I could not do it alone. What I did know was this: I had an amazing collective of GCY alumni surrounding me, and together we all knew the power the river holds. So two fellow GCY alumni and guides, Wade Permar and Sara Boughner, and I embarked on a journey to develop a scholarship fund utilizing donations from a GCY alumni. 


In the spirit of our own metamorphoses into the humans we are today, and the desire to allow any and all youth to have that experience, we began to reach out to our fellow alumni. We asked, would you be willing to help us pool our individual resources to help other youth to have the same experience we did?  The answer was a resounding yes, and we have been raising money for scholarships ever since.  


Beyond soliciting donations directly, we have also started the Alumni Scholarship Fund sunhoodie fundraiser.  Each year, youth who have gone on an expedition may submit a piece of artwork for consideration for the hoodie design.  The Alumni Fund Committee chooses the featured artist for the year’s hoodie and pays for the use of their artwork. All proceeds from sunhoodie sales directly fund scholarships for youth.


Right now, we are a small committee, and we work closely with the office staff to fund youth who are most in need of financial assistance.  Now, more than ever, it is clear to us that we need to work to increase accessibility for youth to go on river trips, especially youth from communities who are typically marginalized in outdoor recreation spaces, including but not limited to black, indigenous, people of color, and LGBTQ+ youth. 


We are currently working on how to make our committee more inclusive, finding equitable ways to determine how the funds are allocated each year, and exploring other strategies for making rivers more welcoming and accessible places for all. We are actively taking suggestions, seeking new committee members who are GCY alumni, and brainstorming ways to engage with the alumni community even more in this time when we are missing rivers, yet still celebrating the joy and power they bring us.  If you have anything you would like us to know feel free to reach out to us at


Also– I would not be a good chair if I didn’t ask: can you find some loose change in your dirty river shorts? If so, consider donating it to the Alumni Scholarship Fund.  We take all forms and all amounts, because if everyone pitches in just a little bit we can raise a lot.  Thank you! 

GCY Guides on Boat Smiling

GCY guides sport their Alumni Fund sunhoodies. You can buy this year’s hoodie today!
Photo by Jordan Robinson.

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