Youth Engagement

Winner

OrganizationBlue Ridge Parkway Foundation 
InitiativeKids In Parks
LocationAsheville, NC
Founded2017
LeadershipOlson Huff, MD, Program Founder, Board Member
Brad Wilson, Board Member
CAPT. Chuck Higgins, Board Member
ContactJason Urroz, jurroz@brpfoundation.org 

Initiative Overview

People have become increasingly disengaged with nature, spending less time outdoors and more time interacting with electronic media. These lifestyle trends have devastating impacts on the health of our nation’s young people and our parks and public lands. 

Kids in Parks is addressing these issues through the expansion of its national network of self-guided hiking trails, called TRACK Trails, that promote park use and health to kids and families. Through the program’s TRACK Rx initiative, more than 100 doctor offices and hospital systems are prescribing outdoor recreation and TRACK Trails to patients, linking healthy lifestyles with spending time in nature. 

Impact

The Kids in Parks program uses self-guided materials to reduce pressure on park staff, crosses agency boundaries to create a network of opportunities for kids and families to get outdoors, and incentivizes participation, all while capturing vital data. Observational studies, in collaboration with registration data, suggests that 450,000 kids have hiked 450,000 miles, spending nearly 225,000 hours outdoors, and burning more than 60 million calories on TRACK Trails since the program’s inception in 2009.

Impact by the numbers

  • 170+ TRACK Trails in 10 states
  • 100+ doctor offices, with 500+ prescribing providers
  • 53% had never been to the park before
  • 54% intentional visits
  • 47% return rate, with 88% visiting more than one TRACK Trail location 

Innovation

The Kids in Parks TRACK Rx initiative is new and innovative in two ways: (a) the utilization of  individualized serial numbers to capture data when patients fulfill their TRACK Rx prescriptions and (b) its ability to provide immediate feedback to their enrolled providers regarding patient fulfillment.

Replicability

Kids in Parks installed their first TRACK Trail in 2009. Today—due to the replicability of the program’s design—there are more than 170 trails in 10 states and Washington, D.C. The program’s TRACK Rx materials are equally replicable, with 80 new practices joining their network of providers in 2018.  

Biggest Challenge to Advancing This Work

Balancing the rapid expansion of the program while simultaneously maintaining relevance with our current park partners and healthcare providers is a challenge, especially given turnover rates and rotating park staff nationally. 

Official Selections

OrganizationFree Forest School
LocationMinneapolis, MN
Founded2015
LeadershipAnna Sharratt, Founder and Executive Director
Irene Dooling, Operations
Atiya Wells, Partnerships
ContactAnna Sharratt, anna.sharratt@freeforestschool.org

Initiative Overview

Nature play is critical to healthy child development, fostering creativity, confidence, problem-solving ability, academic achievement, social skills, and physical well-being. Simply put, children who play in nature are healthier, happier, and better equipped for school and life. 

Yet nature play is at an all-time low. On a daily basis, the average child spends just 4 to 7 minutes playing in nature and 5 to 8 hours viewing screens.

Getting young kids into nature starts with mobilizing adults in their lives. Free Forest School educates and empowers parents, teachers, and caregivers to make nature play a central part of childhood.

Impact

Every week, 2500 children across North America are gathering in nature to PLAY! Finding bugs, mucking around at the water’s edge, climbing trees, building forts… FFS gives children access to high-quality early learning experiences that promote healthy development. Families are building community in nature, fostering respect for life big and small and nurturing the next generation of environmental stewards. To maximize impact, our model empowers the adults in kids lives rather than creating resource-intensive programming.

Impact by the numbers

  • 2017 Budget: $10,700
  • Local chapters in 100+ communities worldwide
  • Approximately 150,000 kid/days in nature in 2017
  • 35,000+ online followers

Innovation

FFS focuses on influencing the adults who shape kids’ lives through training and mentorship. Illuminating the value of public land and the ease and benefits of unstructured outdoor play, FFS catalyzes a fundamental paradigm shift in which nature play is once again seen as vital to healthy childhood development.

Replicability

FFS’s parent/child model has been successfully replicated in 100+ communities, and growing. The model has wide applicability among caregivers in cultures where nature play has become obsolete. Our work with teachers has been piloted in five public schools; a replicable model, the Elementary Phenology Project, is in development.

Biggest Challenge to Advancing This Work

Our mission is to achieve equitable access to nature play, yet our existing model serves only kids whose parents can participate.  We are struggling to meet the demand for our parent/child model while also advancing new equity-driven initiatives. High demand for our services has outpaced our volunteer team’s capacity.

OrganizationNavajo YES
InitiativeYouth Empowerment Services for Diné Bikeyah
LocationTeec Nos Pos, NM

Description

Navajo YES promotes community wellness, lifelong fitness and youth empowerment across Diné Bikeyah (Navajoland).

The most significant contribution by Navajo YES is not only creating challenging sporting events and backcountry outings for individuals, but also that of creating an infrastructure of wellness that provides experience and opportunity throughout the year for both young and old to participate and contribute to positive activities which in turn promote and empower community wellness as a whole.

Navajo YES promotes wellness through both bicycle and running racing events. Many events put on by YES have a 20+ year standing. New in recent years is the establishment of the Navajo Nation Parks Race Series that utilizes, maintains, improves, and celebrates each of the five Navajo Nation Parks. Navajo YES has spearheaded the establishment of the Navajo Nation Trails Task Force, organizing and supporting trail infrastructure across the Reservation.

OrganizationNorth Cascades Institute
InitiativeYouth Leadership Adventures
LocationNorthern Cascades National Park
Founded1986
LeadershipJulie Stone, Youth Leadership Manager
Sarah Parker, Youth Leadership Coordinator
SuJ’n Chon, Education Director
ContactSarah Parker, sarah_parker@ncascades.org

Initiative Overview

Youth Leadership Adventures (YLA) addresses interconnected, urgent challenges:

  • Decreased connection to nature and associated health impacts.
  • Inequitable access to outdoor education, recreation, and science education.
  • Lack of diversity in outdoor and science fields.
  • Decreased efficacy for public lands.

YLA guides teens on 8 and 12-day canoeing and backpacking trips in the North Cascades, focused on outdoor leadership, field science, and climate change.  We aim to change the face of the environmental movement by engaging diverse and underrepresented teens. Alumni are connected to free next-step opportunities to pursue professional and educational opportunities, including the Northwest Youth Leadership Summit, Ambassadors, and internships.

Impact

“After this trip, I have the fire, skills and ideas to improve the environment and my community.”
—2017 participant

“YLA saves lives–1 at a time and collectively. Students return from YLA with a sense of pride and purpose and become our leaders. They participate, encourage others, persevere, and have a sense of adventure in learning. They know and care about their “backyard Park,” the world around them.”
—Laurelyn Brooks, High School Science Teacher

Impact by the numbers

  • 81% have never participated in outdoor programs 
  • 60% had never visited a National Park or Forest
  • “I feel connected to the North Cascades”: 25% before; 97% after

“I plan to visit nature with my friends & family”: 25% before; 99% after

Innovation

ACCESSIBILITY. Meeting needs of underserved youth through financial scholarships (to 98% of participants), gear, transportation, and through recruitment/selection strategies.

PATHWAY FOR YOUTH. Free nextstep opportunities.

PARTNERSHIPS. Students engage with public land agencies, nonprofits and industry leaders, discovering novel passions and unlocking opportunities.

COMPREHENSIVE, EVIDENCED CURRICULUM. Blending leadership, stewardship, recreation, science, and natural & cultural history.

Replicability

Youth Leadership Adventures, and the network that makes it possible, can be used as a model for a more holistic learning, healing, and empowering experience. Our extensive network of outdoor industry organizations, public land agencies, and peer nonprofits enables YLA to tackle more outcomes than similar programs across the country.

Biggest Challenge to Advancing This Work

Capacity: YLA receives more applications than it can accept. We are limited by space in our facilities, staffing, and resources like gear and transportation. We are not looking to grow our capacity, but instead are looking to support the efforts of other organizations to address the need across the region.

OrganizationOne Common Unity
InitiativeFly By Light
LocationWashington, D.C.
Founded2000
LeadershipHawah Kasat, Co-Founder/Executive Director
Aaron Shneyer, Managing Director
Shaden Dowiatt, Program Director
ContactHawah Kasat, hawah@onecommonunity.org

Initiative Overview

Our Fly By Light program immerses D.C. youth (ages 11-18) in the great outdoors through field trips and nature retreats to public lands and national parks, including the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, the Frederick Douglass House, and Catoctin Mountain Park. Youth deepen their sense of responsibility for the environment—creating campaigns to protect open spaces, promote healthy, locally-produced food, and minimize pollution. 

The problem is that spending less time in nature causes a wide range of socio-psychological issues, including anxiety and depression, among urban youth. The solution? We empower youth to become the environmental stewards of our future.

Impact

The Fly By Light program immerses disadvantaged D.C. youth in nature for the first time in their lives. Participants also achieve long-term academic and professional success, including higher than average rates of high school graduation, college enrollment, and long-term employment. 

In the 2017-2018 school year, we engaged over 5,000 students across 14 D.C. public schools and reached thousands more through school- and city-wide social and environmental justice campaigns. In the past 17 years, we have worked in 32 schools and trained over 9,800 teachers in our innovative arts driven social-emotional learning pedagogy. 

Impact by the numbers

  • Over 22,500 youth and families directly engaged to date 
  • Programs active in 16 D.C. public schools
  • 95% of youth increase their knowledge of public lands
  • 75%-85% achieve high school graduation, college enrollment and/or long-term employment

Innovation

Our youth nature retreats include indigenous “Rite of Passage” ceremonies. Under the guidance of a shaman, youth have powerful life-changing experiences further preparing them for the journey from teenager to adulthood.

Replicability

In the upcoming year, we hope to scale the Fly By Light program to serve over 20 middle and high schools in Washington, D.C. We also hope to build partnerships with schools in other cities facing similar challenges, such as Baltimore, Richmond, and Philadelphia. 

Biggest Challenge to Advancing This Work

We estimate that there are thousands more youth in D.C. who could benefit from our programs. The biggest challenge is innovating and scaling the program to meet this tremendous need.

OrganizationOutdoor Outreach
LocationSan Diego, CA

Description

Outdoor Outreach serves San Diego communities challenged by low educational attainment, concentrated poverty, rising crime, and high youth unemployment. Stressful environments like these are strong predictors of psychosocial outcomes and health risk behaviors in adolescence. Furthermore, nearly all the communities they serve are characterized as being “park-poor,”[1] where youth face multiple barriers to accessing the outdoors: In a 2017 survey, 75% of Outdoor Outreach participants responded they lack transportation; 44% responded their families do not support spending time outside; 44% were not aware of open space areas near their homes; and 13% responded that gangs or crime make close-to-home open spaces unsafe.

Outdoor Outreach uses collaborative partnerships with schools, agencies, and other nonprofits to re-envision how we create social and physical environments that promote good health for all youth. They work with teachers and administrators to engage students ages 9 – 18 at 18 Title I schools, where upwards of 75% of students may qualify for free or reduced lunch assistance. They also work with 20+ other agencies like health centers, social services and YMCAs, and through those partnerships, engage students from many additional schools across San Diego.

Outdoor Outreach provides 400+ outdoor programs serving 1,700 individual youth each year. With every opportunity to rock climb, mountain bike, or snowboard, they give those young people two things that greatly increase their chances of success: First, they provide opportunities for them to explore their world, challenge themselves, and discover what they’re capable of. And second, they give them the chance to connect with supportive peers and mentors who believe in their potential. By investing in getting 1,700 youth into the outdoors each year, they’re creating 1,700 solutions to help those youth be resilient in the face of challenges, and confident in their power to make a difference.

OrganizationWings of America
LocationSanta Fe, NM

Description

For 30 years, Wings has created opportunities for the next generation of Native role models and leaders by creating opportunities for devoted young runners. These young people have gone on to become coaches, teachers and health care providers for newer generations and walking proof that it is possible to defy the stereotypes and statistics.

Technically, they more often connect our participants to lands that are held in trust by the federal government for the Tribes rather than “public lands”. But yes, through running they connect participants of all ages to the land. Wings summer Running & Fitness Camp facilitators perhaps create the strongest connections to “public lands” of any of our constituents. Equipped with job assignments, vehicles and a group of able bodied peers, these young leaders criss cross “the rez” each summer delivering fitness programming to youth ages 6-18. Apart from visiting the incredible landscapes that many camps are hosted nearby, facilitators are encourage to visit monuments and parks nearby their workplaces. These experiences create unforgettable summers that morph their young runners into conservationists with in-depth knowledge of their ancestral homelands.

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