From the "Children & Nature Network" Blog - ELEVATING YOUTH: By Increasing Access to Nature
As a person who had plenty of opportunities to recreate outside as a kid, access to nature was not something I gave a lot of thought to before December of 2017. At the time I was working in a store in Boston that was hosting the first fundraiser for a newly-established non-profit, Elevate Youth.
As I listened to founder Alec Griswold talk about the organization’s mission— to empower underserved youth through outdoor experiences— my interest was peaked. I had recently moved to Boston from living on the West Coast for a few years, and I had been struggling to find ways to engage in outdoor activities since moving to the city. Fortunately for me, Alec was looking to make his first hire, and after an interview just a few weeks later I became Elevate Youth’s first employee.
I know it’s important for kids to spend time recreating outdoors, and I strongly believe in the negative side-effects influencing both kids and adults who do not spend nearly enough time, if any, in nature. However, since the day Alec hired me to help him turn his non-profit vision into a reality, I have learned so much about the inequities surrounding and within outdoor spaces both for people living in low-income neighborhoods and people of color, and this is what has kept me so invested in the mission.
The fact is that too many kids do not grow up with the same outdoor access that I had. There are many factors that make immersive outdoor experiences difficult to come across for low-income families: costs, lack of transportation, few or no friends/family with outdoor skills, no access to out-of-school outdoor programs.
Reducing obstacles is where Elevate Youth comes in.
Currently, in our second operating year, we are on track to run 170 outdoor trips for over 160 youth. On our trips, we expose kids and their adult mentors to a range of outdoor activities over the course of a year and beyond. Activities on our trips have included hiking, fishing, kayaking, sailing, camping, backcountry yoga, surfing, alpine & cross country skiing, indoor & outdoor climbing, and horseback riding. We provide transportation from schools or community centers to outdoor spaces, provide guidance and instruction from outdoor professionals, and make our programs 100% free for all participants. By doing all of this, we hope we are breaking down some of the barriers that keep low-income families from regularly engaging in outdoor activities.
It is exciting to watch the kids on our trips try new, challenging, and sometimes strenuous activities. And yet 99% of the time we do not hear a whisper of protest. And believe it or not, there have been very few times when we have had to enforce our “No Phone Policy.” Many people are quick to criticize kids for being on their phones constantly, but I think we have found the solution…bring them outside! On a recent ski trip, one of our mentors asked a kid what he might be doing if not skiing that day, to which he responded, “watching Youtube.” Fair enough. But when we asked what he would prefer to be doing he said “Skiing! Cause this is real life!”
Luckily for us, Elevate Youth received its status as a non-profit organization at a very exciting time, with diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives prioritized by many organizations and companies. We were both humbled and ecstatic to receive one of two grants from Patagonia Boston as they kick-started their own DEI initiative within their company philanthropy efforts.
I am proud to be a part of the Elevate Youth family as we continue to expand, reach more kids, and watch as they grow comfortable in nature. Our office might be a tiny closet in downtown Boston, but we are doing big things to diversify the outdoors in Massachusetts and beyond. Stay tuned!
by Annie Hayes, Program Coordinator for Elevate Youth