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Crawley Family Adventures: Hiking for Hospitality House

“What did you do this summer?” That will be an easy question for Ayla Crawley to answer. The 9-year-old and her two parents, Ryan and Jenna, hiked 102 miles of the Appalachian Trail in 14 days. But they didn’t just hike those miles – they hiked for a cause, raising over $8,000 for the Hospitality House!


Meet the Crawleys

Crawley family sporting their Osprey and Givers of Hope flags at an overlook on the AT. Ryan, Ayla and Jenna Crawley at an overlook on the AT sporting their Osprey and Givers of Hope flags. Image via the Crawley family.

Exposed to the outdoors from a young age, Jenna Crawley was inspired to advocate for the environment.  Her lifelong appreciation for the outdoors led her to be an instructor at a wilderness school (where she met Ryan!) and fell in love with long distance hiking. Jenna currently works at the Hospitality House as a mental health therapist. The Hospitality House is an organization that provides housing, shelter, hunger relief, homelessness prevention, street outreach, counseling and crisis services. Jenna’s work inspired Ayla to raise money to further support the efforts of the organization. Ayla actually began her fundraising career at age six, where she donated half of her earnings from a lemonade stand to the Hospitality House.


Ryan Crawley grew up in Virginia, where he was surrounded by the Appalachian Trail from an early age. He was initially exposed to the idea of hiking from his grandfather, who thru-hiked the entire AT in 1983 (Ryan is a 3rd generation thru-hiker!) Ryan was exposed to many outdoor recreation activities, and eventually landed at the same wilderness school as an instructor – and eventually Program Director – where he gained a tremendous understanding of how to teach appreciation for the outdoors.

Three Osprey packs in a trunk with a sign that says The Crawley's prepare for their 102 mile hike along the AT. Image via the Crawley family.

By the age of 9, Ayla Crawley has already completed over 200+ backpacking miles. She claims: “I grew up in a family who loves to hike and be in the outdoors” – so it is no surprise that she has the same passion and appreciation for the environment as the rest of her family. She attended the inaugural year of Forest Wild at age nine – a local program where students spend 100% of their time outside as they learn everything from survival skills to how to make ink out of natural ingredients. Ayla also has a strong interest in philanthropy, and is a founding member of the Charity Club, which consists of elementary students who are inspired to make a difference in the world. They raised over $1,000 for St. Jude last year, with Ayla at the helm as president.


“The three of us do recognize that we are at our best when we are backpacking and exploring together. Both of our long distance family hikes reminded us of what we are capable of.”


Hiking for a Cause

In 2020, the Crawley family completed the 76.2 miles of the Foothills Trail. When looking back on their trip, Ayla was inspired to do the hike again. Instead, as they poured over maps and trail options within the surrounding area, and finally settled on the Shenandoah section of the Appalachian Trail.


The family immediately began preparations for their 100+ mile hike. Ayla began training, her and Ryan created an itinerary and identified food drops, and Jenna spent weekends testing backpacking recipes, ordering ingredients and prepacking over 110 meals. We all know how much we look forward to those post-hike meals! The family lives close to a 6,000’ mountain in western North Carolina, which they used to log several hikes in preparation for the AT.

Ayla Crawley sporting her Givers of Hope flag on the AT. Image via the Crawley family.


In addition to prepping themselves, their food and their gear, the Crawley’s also kickstarted their fundraising efforts. Ayla created Givers of Hope – a nonprofit fundraising organization, and decided to raise money for the Hospitality House, a cause close to all of their hearts. She got right to work, and set up a meeting with the Chief Development Director, where they decided to have each donor sponsor a mile for $29, setting their initial goal to raise $3,000. A week after the fundraiser went live, Ayla and her team surpassed their goal, so they decided to double it. The Crawley’s raised over $8,000, with each mile of their hike sponsored not once, but twice!


On Trail

Ayla Crawley hiking through a field on the AT in her orange Opsrey Ace 50 pack Osprey was proud to outfit the Crawley family with their packs for the journey. At the age of 9, Ayla has already hiked over 200+ miles – wearing her Osprey gear for every single one! Image via the Crawley family.


The Crawley family dedicated each mile they hiked to the individual(s) who sponsored it. To share their gratitude, they spoke as a family about each supporter during their sponsored mile. They would share stories and memories involving each person, which helped Ayla learn more about some of the donors and family members she hasn’t had the chance to meet yet! Journaling each night, the family highlighted what they were grateful for each day, kept a step count and noted anything significant from the trail.


As they completed their 102-mile journey, the family reflected on how they grow so close as a family. The time on trail together – without phones or screens getting in the way – was priceless, and they cherish every moment, even after their return home.

Jenna and Ayla Crawley at an overlook on the AT pointing in the distance Ayla and Jenna at an overlook on the AT. Image via the Crawley family.

Some of their favorite meals on trail included pesto pizzas, Louisiana vegan jerky, homemade vegetarian meatloaf and skittles. They enjoyed noting their unique-to-trail cravings and excitement for meals not normally had in the comfort of home.


What’s Next?

The Crawley’s returned home safely, and enjoyed reminiscing about their journey. The hike was a beautiful parallel to recognizing what is really important. Ayla was asked to attend the annual Hospital House “Hope Luncheon”. The family has already started talking about their next big adventure – another fundraising hike in summer of 2022. They plan to make this an annual family tradition.

Ayla Crawley on the AT. Ayla Crawley on the AT this summer. Image via the Crawley family.

They continue to share their story with current donors and hopeful future donors (like you!). If you are interested in learning more about Ayla’s efforts, visit the Givers of Hope website(Se abre en una ventana nueva) or Facebook(Se abre en una ventana nueva). You can see more about their journey, and you can also make a contribution!

Hear more from Ayla Crawley on her passion to help make a difference in the world!

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Edited on October 11, 2021 to reflect updated fundraising totals.