Many philosophers have affirmed the meaning of life. Some say happiness is life’s true meaning, while others say personal and spiritual growth is all that matters in our lifetime. With so many pathways to happiness, with all the mediums for internal growth, who’s to determine the best approach to living fulfilling lives? For people like Emily Seltz who are living with an intellectual disability, exploring the possibilities that make life worth living may come with its challenges – but it doesn’t mean that self-expression, happiness, and opportunities for growth are limited.
Wilderness Inquiry’s dedicated staff and volunteers guide travelers through outdoor exploration, giving them enough room to journey safely through nature and find their own sense of happiness and spiritual awakening. Emily has traveled with our passionate leaders since 1998, experienced over 20 national trips – with hopes to travel internationally in the future – and has become a devoted voyager. Our Outdoor Leaders provide compassion and encouragement to travelers of all abilities and backgrounds – and that is the heart of our mission.
Emily Seltz was born in Patna, India, and came to the United States in 1984. Emily now lives in a Fraser group home and attends Plymouth Congregational Church where she was an active volunteer for years. Exploring the outdoors has boosted Emily’s confidence and independence as she overcomes the challenges of living with an intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD). Some of these challenges include segregation in self-contained classrooms and limited access to extracurricular activities and academic services – the opposite of Wilderness Inquiry’s approach to inclusion and education.
“Wilderness Inquiry has always been supportive of Emily,” says her mother, Anne Seltz. “They enjoyed her being on the trips, and we’ve never felt anything but enthusiastic about them. I never feel worried … She has epilepsy and can wander – but they do a marvelous job of combining safety and adventure.”
The inspiration for our mission still rings true today and is reflected in our core belief, that everyone belongs in the outdoors. Through our work, we create equitable pipelines into the outdoors for all people, and we are specifically committed to breaking down barriers to outdoor access and participation for those who aren’t typically represented in outdoor spaces – BIPOC individuals, people with disabilities, those from low-income backgrounds, and people who identify as LGBTQ+. Our goal is that outdoor spaces and activities are reflective of the communities we serve.
“Too often, families with special needs feel they’re incapable of participating in adventure opportunities,” says Anne. “Nature is nurturing to everyone, and they should have the opportunity, too. This organization recognizes that people can fit in … No matter who they are, they can fit into any group.”
Emily’s travels have exposed her to new ways of thinking, joyful songs, lifelong friendships, and new recipes (pizza and chocolate cupcakes are some of her favorites!). Emily enjoys cooking, hiking, canoeing, and discovering wildlife like chipmunks, beavers, and bison.
“We should assume everyone can manage to the best of their ability,” says Anne. “If they need help, that’s okay. It’s not to assume incompetence. But Wilderness Inquiry sees everyone as valuable and capable, they see freedom. Guided but still independent. Nature is so healing and freeing, it’s important for people to be connected to the earth.”