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A Community of Communities: Believing in the Outdoors    

By  March 4, 2024 3 min read
Wilson Santos group

Wilson Santos, youth Director of Congregación León De Judá and attendance supervisor at Boston Public Schools, is clear about what he believes: “I think there is a space for all people to be part of the outdoors.” 

You might know Santos’ Roxbury-based bilingual church by its English translation, Lion of Judah. The largest Latine church in Boston, León De Judá is committed to social justice. Through grant funding and partnerships with organizations including La Vida and Big City Mountaineers, it operates much like a community center. León De Judá offers everything from immigration support services to guidance counseling for first generation college-bound students to hunger relief for homeless individuals. Put simply, it helps a diverse population of people throughout Greater Boston. 

Getting kids outside and into nature has been at the heart of the church’s youth programs for generations. “The outdoors is always built in, every single summer,” says Santos. He fell in love with the outdoors as a teenager when his youth pastor introduced him to camping and hiking.  

Back then, the church was in Cambridge. The pastor, who also served as vice principal of the John D. O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, had grown up in a “concrete jungle” much like Santos. He was committed to serving Greater Boston’s highest-need youth, and over the years, subsequent ministries have reached families as far away as Chelsea and Lynn. León De Judá’s Friday night youth group attracts roughly 60 kids per week, many of whom join its outdoor programs. 

Families stay in touch by email and regularly express interest in day trips, campouts, and multi-day backpacking excursions. Groups are youth-led, and the kids provide feedback and suggestions for upcoming travel and projects. As they grow, they’re given more responsibility. But whether they’re leading hikes, planning meals, or reading maps, one rule remains the same: no phones on the trail. “Without technology, they bond more than ever,” says Santos. 

As an alum of Hale’s Boston Marathon team, Santos strongly supports Hale’s mission to bridge the nature and opportunity gaps. “People tell me all the time that they are not outdoorsy,” he says. “We [may] live in cities, but in our inner desires, we are all outdoorspeople. That doesn’t mean you have to be a backpacker. It might mean walking through a park in your neighborhood, going for a walk, or just being in nature.” 

Photos Credit: Courtesy of León De Judá / Wilson Santos. 

This article originally appeared in the 2024 issue of Hale Magazine.