Helen Mary Williams
In 1959, Helen Mary Williams, then a teacher at Cleveland Elementary, the Pasadena school attended by baseball legend Jackie Robinson, and an avid outdoorswoman, recognized that her students could benefit from time spent away from the city. With the support of several parents, she began an afterschool Junior Audubon Society club. Mrs. William’s students were primarily African-American, Asian, and Hispanic youth from economically disadvantaged families. Community interest in the program grew and in 1962 the Junior Audubon Club formally changed its name to Outward Bound Adventures and two years later officially incorporated as a nonprofit organization. By 1966, OBA expanded its service area beyond Pasadena to include Watts and much of Los Angeles County.
Helen and LeRoy Criss, Co-founders
LeRoy and Helen were both educators and outdoor pioneers who worked hard to shape and develop OBA. Helen was a gifted school counselor with the ability to connect and motivate underachieving students. LeRoy spent 37 years as a High School Teacher and served 30 years as the Co-Director of OBA. He was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen Pilots and a mountaineer. As a Tuskegee Airman he graciously overcame an unbalanced opportunity structure to demonstrate that black folks indeed have aptitudes equal to their white counterparts and could even surpass expected outcomes. He established this same drive in the development of OBA and his expectation of participants.
Bud Ross, Co-founder
Bud one of the first African Americans to join the Los Angeles, (Angeles Chapter) Sierra Club in the late 1950's, Eldridge "Bud" Ross Jr. was an avid mountaineer and an outdoor pioneer far ahead of what your average African American man was engaged in at the time. In the early 1960's Bud, joined up with Mrs. Williams and brought the mountaineering component to OBA.
From this simple beginning, OBA has evolved into a nationally recognized organization that uses the out of doors to educate youth and families about the environment and stewardship, promote self-development and provide outdoor career exposure to urban youth. OBA has profoundly impacted the Southern Californian community, helping urban children and young adults identify new vistas for their lives by gaining effective leadership skills and personal confidence through challenging outdoor excursions.
Today, OBA is a national leader in outdoor education. Its programs have been adopted as models by outdoor agencies nationally. It has received such prestigious awards as the National Mosaic Award given to organizations that facilitate opportunities to urban youth of color through meaningful environmental and advocacy programs. Since its inception, OBA has profoundly impacted the Southern California community, helping approximately 80,000 urban children, young adults and families identify new vistas for their lives by gaining effective leadership skills and personal confidence through challenging outdoor trips to excel in their urban environment. In fact, many OBA alumni that have achieved notable career success attribute OBA’s programs as a driving force behind their professional advancement. Furthermore, the positive legacy of OBA’s impact on youth is long standing as many of our participants later become dedicated OBA volunteers, trip leaders, and mentors to those who follow.