Tarsha Scovens and students

Tarsha Scovens participates in a bird-watching session with school students. —PHOTO COURTESY OF TARSHA SCOVENS

Twin sisters Tarsha and Keisha Scovens developed a vision for a business venture after going on a cross country camping trip in the late 1990s.

They launched Let’s Go Outdoors years later with the focus on connecting people of color to environmental experiences.

When growing up in Norwalk, Connecticut, they didn’t participate in activities such as camping, hiking and fishing.

“We didn’t grow up with those types of outdoor experiences and then after her and I traveled across the country, camping at different places, we started to learn that it was so awesome to see these things in real life, so that led to an early vision for Let’s Go Outdoors,” said Tarsha Scovens, who is the president and CEO.

Their organization was accustomed to offering field trips and outdoor environmental lessons to Philadelphia public school students. But when the pandemic caused a shutdown, the organization was impacted financially.

“When the pandemic hit it really changed what we were doing because we were offering quite a bit of programs to the district,” Tarsha Scovens said.

“When the pandemic shut down the schools and it went to virtual, we couldn’t do the field trips and we couldn’t do the in-person stuff that we had planned. So that kind of took away about 70% of our business. It really caused us to think about what can we offer in an outdoor space so that we can be safe.”

The business started focusing on offering family-oriented programs such as archery and geocaching treasure hunting.

Last year, Scovens tapped into funding from the Coalition to Back Black Businesses grant program, which was instrumental in keeping the business afloat. Let’s Go Outdoors received a $5,000 grant that was used to pay rent and the payroll.

The business was subsequently awarded a $25,000 enhancement grant which will primarily be used to acquire an indoor space so that they can offer year-round programming.

“A portion of that will be set aside so that we can have a marketing person,” Scovens said. “We haven’t really had enough staff to put the word out that we are here.”

She appreciates having the opportunity to receive funding and months of mentoring from the coalition.

“They are doing their due diligence,” Scovens added. “They’re taking this opportunity to say we’re going to back Black businesses and we’re going to put our money where our mouth is.”

The coalition is a multi-year initiative launched by the U.S. Chamber Foundation and American Express in September 2020 to support the long-term success and resilience of Black-owned small businesses.

The program is a collaboration with the nation’s four major Black chambers, including the National Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Business League, the U.S. Black Chambers, Inc. and Walker’s Legacy.

Applicants are being accepted for the 2021 grant program. The initiative will provide 400 Black small business owners across the country a chance to receive $5,000 grants, mentorship and resources. In partnership with Ureeka, each grantee will be paired with an industry-specific mentor to help them further grow their business. Selected grantees will also have the opportunity to apply for $25,000 enhancement grants in spring 2022.

During the program’s first year, the coalition provided 600 grants to Black-owned businesses in 33 states.

“This program showed us how strong and resilient Black small business owners are, and how much more they can accomplish with critical support like financial grants and mentorship,” Carolyn Cawley, president of the U.S. Chamber Foundation, said in a news release.

“We are proud of our first cohort of grantees and the incredible work they’re doing in their communities. As America’s recovery continues, we look forward to working with the coalition partners to help more Black-owned small businesses grow and thrive.”

For grant eligibility information, business owners can visit webackblackbusinesses.com.

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