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Last Child on the Couch

How 10 grassroots innovators are helping kids get active outdoors

Save Outdoor Education
In May 2009, the school board in Olympia, Washington, voted to cut the three-day trip to Cispus Learning Center, an outdoor learning camp that Ryan Hall’s fifth-grade daughter, Jordan, was set to attend. Not so fast. By December, Hall and a team of dedicated parents had raised $60,000–mostly from movie nights, raffles, and selling Christmas wreaths–to retain the treasured program. Olympia’s dilemma isn’t unique. Cash-strapped boards from Toledo to Philadelphia are cutting camps. The solution, according to Hall, is to mobilize the support a threatened football team would get. That model has worked in Flagstaff, Arizona, where the school district’s Camp Colton turned to a local nonprofit to help fund their weeklong wilderness camps for sixth graders. Another strategy is keeping tabs on your local school board. "If there had been 10 people at the May board meeting saying, ‘We should save Cispus,’ it wouldn’t have been cut," Hall says.

Become a Grassroots Mentor
Juan Martinez is suitably awed by Yosemite and the summits of Fourteeners he’s climbed, but the Los Angeles resident says it’s the nature in a kid’s own backyard that makes the biggest difference. And he should know, since it was a detention assignment–planting a spice garden–at his South Central high school that turned him into a backpacker. "After I grew those seeds and made salsa for my mother," he says, "I wanted more–more nature, more discovery." With help from his school’s Eco Club and several mentors, Martinez hiked in the Tetons and rafted the Grand Canyon. Now, at 26, he’s back home grooming young leaders for the Children & Nature Network. "The natural world shouldn’t be extreme or far away," he explains, especially for lower-income urban kids who lag behind their more affluent peers in outdoor participation rates. Through the Network, he inspires new leaders and supports a wide range of hyper-local gateway activities that aim to lower the barriers of cost and proximity. You can, too: naturalleaders.org.

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