The purpose of Excelsior Life’s Passionate Pursuits is to shine a light on faculty and staff successfully balancing work, home and family – just like our students.
This week is National Volunteer Week. During the day, Erin Vitali is a research analyst with the Office of Strategy and Institutional Effectiveness. Outside of work Erin is a mom who enjoys hiking with her toddler. She volunteers as branch lead and co-founder of the Capital Region Branch of Hike it Baby. Today, she shares her passionate pursuit with Excelsior Life.
Excelsior Life: Can you tell us about your involvement in Hike It Baby? Vitali: I am a branch lead and co-founder of the Capital Region branch of Hike it Baby, Inc. Hike it Baby is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing communities that get families outside with children from birth to school age. The goal is to raise a generation of children to love the outdoors, and to reap the benefits of nature for early childhood development including sensory stimulation, problem solving, improvement of gross motor skills, and boosts to cognitive development.
Vitali and her daughter share in Hike It Baby.
Excelsior Life: How long have you been involved with Hike It Baby? What type of projects have you worked on? Vitali: I got involved with developing a branch of Hike it Baby this past October. Our branch was established by myself and two other moms. After completing the Branch Lead training, we held our first hike on November 2, 2015. In the past 5 months we have grown the branch to 500 members and have held approximately 50 hikes around the Capital Region.
My role as a branch lead is to communicate with Hike it Baby National (Directors and Founder of the organization), co-manage the Facebook group page, and lead hikes for our branch. I am also a contributor to the Baby Blog, Foot Notes. Currently we offer trail hikes, stroller friendly hikes, and toddler led walks. As the weather warms up we hope to expand our schedule and have more offerings around the region including the Adirondacks. We are also adding all access hikes which welcome families of all ages and abilities. There is no cost to join Hike it Baby and all of our hikes are FREE. We welcome and encourage all moms, dads, grandparents, caregivers and friends to bring the little ones and join us on a hike.
Excelsior Life: What motivated you to get involved? Vitali:There were a few factors that motivated me to become involved with Hike it Baby. Being an older first-time mom, none of my friends had newborns. I was feeling isolated and knew I needed to build a social network.
Also, my postpartum body craved physical movement but I had difficulty keeping up with a gym routine. To add to it, I am a typical introvert. I do great one-on-one but feel overwhelmed by large social settings like the popular Mom’s Night Out events and find it difficult as a working parent to join playgroups. I knew hiking could be done in small groups, larger groups, on the weekends and after work.
I also like that Hike it Baby focuses on the child getting out into nature and includes the entire family. As a parent, the social aspect is a secondary perk. A love of nature and hiking (and often the art of baby wearing) provides an automatic commonality among parents that makes social interaction flow easily. Each hike starts with a welcome circle so everyone is included right from the start. And because it focuses on newborns through toddlerhood, our hikes are especially patient and compassionate to both the child and the parent’s needs on the trail. It’s about creating a kind, conscious, and welcoming community for families.
Excelsior Life: What does volunteering with this organization mean to you personally? Vitali: For me, it’s about teaching my daughter to be curious, to try new things, respect nature, and show her how to connect with something larger than herself. As a mother, I want to share experiences and create fond family memories that my daughter can carry with her. When I learned about Hike it Baby I knew it was the opportunity to act on my maternal instinct. Joining Hike it Baby has been the push I needed to explore again and to prioritize the things that really matter, like time with my daughter.
Excelsior Life: If someone reading your story wants to get more involved, where can they find details? Vitali: To get involved, just join a hike. Hike it Baby has branches in cities across 47 of the United States and into Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy, South Africa, and Australia. The calendar for upcoming hikes can be found here: https://hikeitbaby.com/find-your-city/. If you are local to the Capital Region, consider joining our Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/hikeitbabycapitalregionny/.