Tales of an ELK Alumnus

Environmental Learning for Kids
3 min readMay 13, 2022


Dondre Smallwood on an ELK camping trip in 2009

As we inch closer to moving into our home in the heart of Montbello, it’s impossible not to look back on how far we’ve come. From meetings in the Montbello backyard of our founders, and just a handful of students per trip what with only one van, to now moving into our very own space in which to recreate, teach, and mentor, our future has never looked brighter.

The very same can be said for ELK Alumnus, Dondre Smallwood.

Dondre, who’s now a husband and father, began with the ELK organization at the shy age of 8. When asked about some of his favorite ELK memories, he thinks for a moment before sharing that he most recalls “the strong sense of family and sense of self” that he could always count on ELK to provide. ELK became like a second home to him where he created his group of friends and would look forward to any experience with the organization, from camping to volunteering.

From the beginning, Dondre says he was encouraged to support and uplift his community. “Give back and life will give back to you,”

he states with a sense of determination. Dondre’s path is what we hope for all our students. A Daniels Scholar that went on to graduate from Colorado State University with a degree in Biology, Dondre is now a Deputy Sheriff.

Dondre with his wife and young son

When asked why folks should support the ELK organization and its mission to “cultivate a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners”, Dondre affirms the importance of students having the ability to explore their passions for the outdoors and science without the usual financial or transportation barriers. He’s watched the organization grow over the last several years and he understands the benefits of de-stressing in the outdoors and having long-term mentors for young people to look up to.

As we finish up the final touches on our ELK Education Center, it’s impossible not to think of the hundreds of stories to come of adventures in the outdoors, and all the future leaders who will walk through our doors and become change agents of a world more inclusive of all.

Dondre’s story of success and fulfillment is why we do what we do. You can support students like Dondre with a gift to ELK today. Visit www.ELKKids.org to learn more about your ability to positively impact our next generation of leaders and conservationists.

About Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK): Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is a Denver-based, nonprofit organization established in 1996 to address the growing need to introduce and educate Colorado’s racially diverse youth about science, leadership, and careers. Twenty-six years later, ELK continues to provide strong educational support, good role models, and opportunities for positive community action for youth, helping them to become engaged, productive, and successful members of society. Learn more at elkkkids.org.

About the Author: Kristina Gray received her Bachelor of Art degree in Political Science from MSU Denver in 2011. She has been a part of the nonprofit sector for over 10 years. She is an alumnus of the Corporation for National and Community Service’s AmeriCorps VISTA program and the Hispanic Chamber Foundation’s Aspiring Leaders Program, Class of 2017. Kristina spends her free time advocating for justice and equity for all of Colorado’s youth & families and going on adventures with her husband and young daughter. Contact Kristina @kopre@elkkids.org.



Environmental Learning for Kids

Environmental Learning for Kids cultivates a passion in science, leadership, and service in a diverse community of learners.