Holt walks 2,175-mile AT for art, at-risk youth

Published 3:08 pm Friday, March 26, 2010

Mud, cold, rain, snow, sun, mountains and valleys, rocks, grass, rivers and springs – this my home for the next six months or more as I make an attempt at a through-hike from Georiga to Maine on a narrow strech of wilderness known as the Appalachain Trail.

My name is Matt Holt and I call Polk County my home. I am proud to say I spent my childhood and adolencence in one of the most amazing small towns that exists in America today. Growing up in the foothills of Blue Ridge Mountains educated and inspired me to become who I am and it is an honor and privlage to get the opportunity for the next few months to fill the pages of the Tryon Daliy Bulletin with the trials and tribulations of my adventure in the woods.

What would posses me to walk some 2,175 miles on a worn muddy path which so many before have conquered and many after will tread forward upon. Why do I make the choice to postpone life. Sure for a day or two maybe a week long excursion to see a bit of nature, but a six month journey in the woods? I think this question is a very valid question, why walk? Why do it?

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

It reverts back to those opportunities which have educated me in my 23 years. I have always had a calling to the outdoors and the vast opportunities which they offer to educate us. I find much inspiration and filament from a day spent outside and the primary reason for my pursuit of degree in Landscape Architecture was to preserve and respect the gifts which the natural environment offers to the developed world.

While living in Polk County I found myself with a strong desire to have a real impact, and through this calling began my own landscaping company which grew from providing basic lawn maintenance to instillation to creating residential designs, installing large scale plantings, and building water features and retaining walls. I highlight this history to explain that throughout my life I have found it very important to have tangible evidence that my efforts have an impact now.

Through the course of my studies at N.C. State University I often found myself struggling to get beyond my theoretical education and see the importance of my work. I loved what I was being exposed to as a Landscape Architecture student but at times struggled as I did not know what impact I was making on a daily basis. This desire to have impact on a day to day basis burned.

During my fourth year at State I had the opportunity to get involved with an organization called Haven House Services, a nonprofit organization which offers many services to local young people who are in need. Programs offered range from education in health, job skills, living and cooking skills, mentoring programs, a boxing program, and a crisis shelter.

Through my work with the Caldwell Fellows Program, a N.C. State University scholarship program which selects first-year undergraduate students based upon merit, I was given the opportunity to get involved with Haven House. The Director of Haven House Services contacted the Caldwell Fellows program asking for help in the creation of an arts program for the clients that they served.

With humble beginnings, volunteers organized, dreamed, planned and pushed and from many hours of work emerged New Sense Studios (N.S.S.) an arts outreach program with the mission of engaging, supporting and inspiring area youth through artistic expression. Fundrasing secured supplies for the first year of the program and at-risk youth in the Raleigh area had the opportunity to engage in projects including abstract painting, textiles, animation, photography, sculpture, and painting.

Working with the program allowed me to meet and interact with heroic young people who were dealing with real crises having to take on adult responsibility during their childhood. The experince I had awakened me to the real blessing I had been given in my life to have the support of family and friends. The young people we served needed opportunities, an creative outlet and exposure to what is out there.

The efforts of N.S.S. continues as the organization approaches its second year of existence. N.S.S. now has a partnership with the city of Raleigh Parks and Recreation to have space in the new Teen Center in Raleigh.

It is the time I spent as Director of N.S.S. that really shaped me. My work to help create and maintain the studio made it clear I had an impact in my community. I was making a difference while I was a student, and although I have completed my time at school and am now walking in the woods I think its important to continue to support the good work that is being done at&bsp; N.S.S. that has exposed me to the hardships of others and their ability to preserve in the face of adversity.&bsp; &bsp;

My work with N.S.S. also showed me that I had skills which could be put to use today to benefit and contribute to others. It is the interactions I had and the feeling of purpose that I do not wish to leave behind so I am dedicating my walk North to N.S.S. and the clients who it serves. &bsp;

Through my blog www.walkingforart.wordpress.com I am soliciting contributiors to my mission. When Im hungry, wet, cold, and tired I will remember that my physical adversity is minimal when compared to the adversities of those served by N.S.S.

I look forward to the coming months as I will submiting a biweekly update from the woods.&bsp; I look forward to sharing the many aventures and tales from the trail as I trudge forward on my 2,175 mile journey North to Maine.

Matt Holt is Polk County High School alumnus, Class of 2005.