Challenged to Succeed
Anthony Ng grew up in San Francisco in an area where gang activity meant that wearing the wrong color could get him killed. And being at home had risks. After cycling through a few foster homes, and with his parents working all the time, he spent more and more time on the streets. By the time Anthony got to high school, success was defined as staying alive and out of jail. That’s when he discovered Environmental Traveling Companions (ETC).
Founded in 1972, ETC makes the joy and challenge of outdoor adventures accessible to under-resourced youth and people with disabilities, inspiring self-confidence, connection to nature, and stewardship of the environment. ETC offers whitewater rafting, sea kayaking, cross-country skiing adventures and two-to-three-week youth LEAD course from the sea to the mountains.
At age 16, after being referred to ETC by partner and mentorship program Summer Search, Anthony embarked on ETC’s 24-day Youth Lead Program. It was a life-changing experience.
An Opportunity to Think in the Outdoors
Anthony spent the first week white-water rafting on the American River. The second involved sea kayaking on San Francisco Bay and working and camping on an organic farm, something he needed to wrap his mind around. “Who wants to wake up at 5 am to shovel manure and pick vegetables?” he wondered.
By the third week, backpacking on California’s Lost Coast, something inside Anthony started to shift. With plenty of time for introspection, he began to write poetry. “For the first time, I found a better way to express my feelings —a way that wouldn’t get me in trouble for what was going on inside.”
But when the trip ended, Anthony returned to the city and fell back into old patterns. That’s when ETC Executive Director Diane Poslosky stepped in to mentor him, inviting him to participate in a competitive Kayak Regatta around Angel Island. Ten miles long, the race wasn’t easy, but Anthony and Diane took first place. They would compete the following year and win again.
One evening when Diane and Anthony were kayaking to practice for the race, he spoke with her about wanting to join the Marines. “I want you to do this if you really want to,” she told him, “But there are other options.”
Diane reached out to Mike Sabarese, an ETC champion and early funder. Mike understood from personal experience the profound impact of the outdoors combined with the support of mentorship. “When you get to a space that’s open, you look back at the box you were in and you say, I don’t want to go back into that environment,” Sabarese says.
Finding a New Path
Diane and Mike kayaked with Anthony and talked about options. Eventually, they all saw a way forward. Anthony would attend the California State Maritime Academy and Mike would provide financial support. His funding was conditional. Anthony had to keep his grades in the A or B range and write to them regularly about how it was going.
Anthony found the coursework extremely challenging. Mike and Diane’s support helped. It also helped that he’d had the ETC Youth Lead experience, struggling forward through 10-mile days with a giant backpack. “During those long hikes,” says Anthony, “I learned that if you just grind and stick at it, the reward at the end—like the view at the beach on the Lost Coast—is well worth all the work you put in.”
Because he persevered, Anthony now works as an engineer on an offshore drilling ship, ensuring the safe operation of a 44-megawatt power plant, managing a team of five others. For the past 14 years, he’s worked around the world on ocean going vessels. During that time he also bought his own home and refurbished his childhood home, helping to take care of his parents as they got older and experienced health challenges.
Anthony is now also an ETC donor. He routinely recharges in nature, managing his health and wellbeing with exercise. He’s not afraid of taking risks and trying new things such as changing jobs. During his time off, he enjoys traveling.
Recently he hired a guide in Costa Rica and went cliff jumping. “For the past two years, with my work schedule, I’ve been traveling to a different country every month, whereas before I’d never left San Francisco,” says Anthony. “ETC created that path.” Or, more accurately, Anthony created the path after ETC showed him it existed.
Challenged to Succeed | Environmental Traveling Companions