Robert Irvine's Holiday: Impossible Mission at City Kids Wilderness Project
Each week on Restaurant: Impossible, Robert Irvine and his team offer much-needed business support to restaurateurs who are barely managing to keep their eateries afloat. But come the holiday season, Robert's penchant for giving back is even stronger; the last several years, he's celebrated the season with extra-special missions on Holiday: Impossible. This year is no exception, and in what he called "our biggest project to date," he and his team traveled to Jackson Hole, Wyo., to help the children and staff of City Kids Wilderness Project.
Founded by Randy Luskey 19 years ago, City Kids may appear to be a traditional summer camp from the looks of it, but its effects on the youth it welcomes are anything but ordinary. The kids who attend City Kids, all in grades six through 12, come from underprivileged communities in Washington, D.C., and without City Kids, they likely wouldn't have the opportunity to enjoy nature and experience the outdoors in such a supportive, welcoming community. "You get to meet all kinds of new people, test your limits and try new things that most people never do," one camper told Robert.
It was Robert's mission to help this camp that gives so much to the kids, and thanks to the generosity of Lexus, he and his team had three days to work and a budget of a whopping $50,000. Along with designer Cheryl Torrenueva and construction manager Tom Bury, Robert overhauled the camp's previously ill-equipped kitchen, renovated the old equipment room into a joint organization room and workspace, and created a seemingly larger-than-life outdoor patio for the campers and staffers to enjoy. He also welcomed fellow Chef Stephanie Izard, who worked with Diana, the head cook at City Kids, to prepare a barbecue feast for the camp community to celebrate the transformation. She presented the camp with $10,000 on behalf of Lexus before Robert revealed piles of all-new camp equipment — like sleeping bags, tents and backpacks — that City Kids needed.
Read on below to hear form Sara Ghebremichael, who's the director of operations at City Kids, as she reflects on the experience, then browse insider snapshots from the set of Holiday: Impossible.
Sara Ghebremichael: The changes are really beautiful and help to make our ranch a welcoming place for our summer camp community. Giving our entrance a new look not only made the space more inviting, but also added program space to help us meet our goals of helping youth learn new skills and build positive relationships. The new fire pit and sitting area have become gathering places for participants and staff to process and reflect on the day’s activities, brainstorm and plan as a team, and relax and reset after a big day of stepping outside their comfort zones.
SG: The organization room is now a fresh, uplifting space. Having the movable table works really well, because we often use the floor space to sort and organize for a trip and then load everything back into the shelves. The standardized bins and shelving make it so much easier to find things and put things in their appropriate place and lend a professional look to our operations. When we are not involved in trip-packing, the room is a great workspace for our older youth that is away from all the daily traffic of camp.
SG: The improvements to the kitchen are great. The kitchen was full of old appliances that weren’t working properly and badly needed an update. Now we have beautiful brand-new appliances in addition to the new stainless steel countertop, the pots and pans that we need, and finally the food warmer that Dianna has been wanting (to improve the flow of preparation). The chef is really the heart and soul of a summer camp — food is so important to bringing everyone together and making them feel at home. And now we have an inspiring and functional space for our chef to work. Our dining space is improved as well, with all-new dishware. It’s really incredible what Robert was able to do.
SG: The kids really took to the space. They love sitting and talking on the patio furniture and at the cafe tables and are much more comfortable when eating outside as a group. They were obviously very excited about the flat-screen TV, which we insist is for educational purposes! They really liked the color and brightness of the changes. Robert was so generous with gifts for the participants. They were so excited about the new tents and gear for their trips, as they have often struggled with tents that need repair and are difficult to set up. When they saw the wool socks in the backpacks all the kids cheered — only in a wilderness program! Everyone put on their City Kids sweatshirts and have been wearing them to our events in D.C. It is so wonderful to see how this unites our young people as a group, because they really do share a special bond.
SG: I love the new picnic tables out front. Everything is durable and lightweight, so we can move things around easily. It will be a delight to see our participants cooking on the outdoor grills. We really want our young people to take ownership over the space and care for each other and find ways to make a positive impact, and the cooking space will really support those efforts. We were blown away by the patio work and fire pit. ... There was such a transformation with the gear room. Previously it was dark and cramped and an endless challenge to keep organized. Now every time we walk in, it is a place you want to be.
SG: Nope. One thing we’ve changed as a result of the renovation, though: Now that we are able to use the organization room for badly needed program space as well, we discovered that we ought to be storing much of our bulky outdoor gear in some of the other structures we have at camp. We can really focus on using the lodge for programming and the organization room for materials that we will access on a regular basis and that our participants can have access to as well.
How will the changes impact the future of your program?
SG: Many of our youth are returning to the ranch in Wyoming for their fourth, fifth and sixth years with City Kids Wilderness Project. Over the last few years, we have really focused on meeting their evolving needs as they grow up from middle schoolers to high schoolers. We now have multiple programs running at camp and were up against the limits of our program space. The changes expanded the amount and quality of the programmatic space we have. The rec room porch, the picnic area, the patio sitting area, the outdoor grills, the fire pit and the multipurpose room are all extensions to our space that will have distinct uses for our participants. The updates and fresh look go a long way to making our kids feel special and showing them that we care, creating a warm and welcoming place. We are so grateful to have this radical change that we could not have done incrementally on our own.
Check out on-set photos to see the transformation of City Kids Wilderness Project come to life.