By Jane Keller Gordon, Assistant Editor
When Lisa Vaas moved to Cape Cod 14 years ago, she had hard time connecting with other people. All of that changed when through an internet search, she found Women Outdoors. And in doing so, she gained a community, a purpose, and broader life experiences.
“On the Cape, I was looking for people to share the incredible natural beauty. I went to a meet and greet with women and men. I was completely ignored,” Vaas recalled. “Women Outdoors had a chapter in Rhode Island where I grew up. I ended up going on a bike ride there with two women in their 60s. They were amazing. They could bike circles around me and took me to places that I had never been.”
Now Vaas is president of the nonprofit organization, as well as co-regional contact with Deb Wisenstein of the eastern Massachusetts chapter. She now lives in Jamaica Plain.
Women Outdoors was founded in January 1980 by 10 “founding mothers.” Its position statement is: “We are women who learn, lead and have fun in the outdoors.” It’s also about leadership and helping others.
There are about 300 members who belong to seven chapters. Vaas, 56, said that members span in age from about 40 to 70. In addition to Rhode Island and Massachusetts (east and west), there are chapters in New Hampshire and Vermont, Connecticut, the Finger Lakes region of New York, and the mid-Atlantic (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia).
Women Outdoors organizes volunteer events, fundraising, trips and outdoor activities.
For the outdoor events, Vaas said, “We have guidelines to make sure that our leaders are experienced. We encourage them to get wilderness first aid training. We offer scholarships for skills training such as ‘Leave No Trace Behind.’”
The group’s outdoor events include biking, hiking, canoeing and cross-country skiing. Leadership is important.
“For a kayak trip, the leader will chart the waters, figure out the tides, and know the best time to launch. We don’t leave people in the dust,” according to Vaas.
Volunteerism is also important to Women Outdoors.
“Maybe the best experience of my life was volunteering with Women Outdoors after [Hurricane] Katrina,” Vaas noted. “We filled two minivans and drove to New Orleans.”
They worked with Habitat for Humanity doing restoration work.
The group holds an annual gathering, which includes a board meeting, outdoor activities, workshops, and leadership training. In the past, it’s been held at the Becket-Chimney Community YMCA in the Berkshires. Planning is under way to determine this year’s date and location.
Vaas is passionate about the organization.
“I started out this adventure lonely and bored, not knowing anyone in my community,” she said. “I’ve made so many friendships and gone so many places that I would have never known about. It’s opened up my life in ways that are still unfolding.”
She continued, “It’s not about what you get. It’s about your ability to give. This organization provides you the opportunity to grow your leadership skills and provide stewardship to the environment. It’s an organization with a soul. It’s a great way to merge all those human needs and connect with the outdoors.”
Membership dues are $30 per year or $55 for two years. Juniors (18-25) and seniors (over 65) dues are $15 for one year or $30 for two years.
To learn more about Women Outdoors, visit https://womenoutdoors.org. The site has links to the eastern Massachusetts and western Massachusetts chapters.