Youth Outside

In these last few posts, we are providing additional resources for recreation programmers and administrators by sharing a few online recreation platforms and resources from leading organizations within the field. In the previous post, we highlighted OPEN Space, the official blog of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). This publication focuses on topics such as outdoor recreation, physical activity and health and wellness.

In this post, we are focusing on a relatively new organization—Youth Outside which was founded in 2010 in Oakland, California as the Foundation for Youth Investment. It was started through a $10.7 million grant from the Pacific Forest and Watershed Lands Stewardship Council as the result of a legal settlement. The expectation is that funds are distributed throughout northern and central California in support of outdoor and environmental programming for youth.

In 2015, the Foundation changed its name to Youth Outside, which more accurately represents the organization’s work to ensure that youth who have been traditionally or historically underrepresented in the outdoor movement have the opportunity to connect with the outdoors in culturally relevant and inclusive ways by eliminating barriers that could hold them back.

For example, they support organizations that remove logistical barriers that keep many youth from getting outside such as transportation, gear and program costs. But they also work to remove systemic barriers that are connected to dominant culture, institutions, and power dynamics. For example, youth who are traditionally underrepresented in outdoor spaces can feel unwelcome and discriminated against in nature. They rarely see their identities reflected in the people working in the outdoors or find signs in anything other than English. To truly connect with nature, these young people must interact with people who look like them, come from similar backgrounds and speak similar languages when they participate in outdoor programs.

Youth Outside accomplishes their mission through a variety of approaches:

  • They make grants to organizations who are working to remove these logistical and systemic barriers. For example, they’ve helped provide funding for field trips with an environmental focus for over 100,000 youth.

    7-OEI YES Camp 2016

    Image courtesy of Youth Outside

  • They provide a variety of training & capacity-building programs designed to support individuals in the building of the skills and confidence that they need to be leaders and educators in the outdoor field. They also engage organizations in recognizing and removing barriers within their own cultures and systems. One of their programs, the Outdoor Educators Institute (OEI), focuses on increasing the number of outdoor educators from a wider range of racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. This workforce development program weaves opportunities for young adults to learn outdoor skills such as backpacking, sea kayaking and rock-climbing with conversations around the need for equity, inclusion and cultural relevancy in current and future workplaces. The NRF supports Youth Outside’s OEI program, and its initiative this year (2018) to empower and advance young women from communities of color in the outdoor recreation field by hosting an all-female student cohort this year.

Image courtesy of Youth Outside

  • They are also committed to asking the hard questions and facilitating the difficult conversations needed to drive broader change across the outdoor field. The organization recently began a blog titled #DifficultTerrain which focuses on topics of equity and inclusion in outdoor education and outdoor recreation. This recently launched blog will provide salient information on these complex topics in the future.

Check out the Youth Outside website to further explore this organization and the work they are doing to help as many youth as possible have meaningful outdoor recreation experiences.

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Image Courtesy of Youth Outside



OPEN Space: The Official Blog and Podcast of the NRPA

One of the purposes of this blog is to share resources that lie within the purview of the National Recreation Foundation, with focuses on areas such as, outdoor recreation, physical activity, and health and wellness.

Open Space

The National Recreation Foundation (NRF) and the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) are long time partners and share roots in the same organization, the war camp community service, dating back nearly 100 years to 1919. Today the NRPA is the leading professional association in the area of parks and recreation. The Association has a variety of offerings including, standards and certifications, a plethora of resources for individuals in the park and recreation field, educational opportunities, an annual conference and workshops throughout the year across the country. The NRPA hosts several publication platforms, including a blog and podcast entitled OPEN Space.

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OPEN Space shares information pertinent to parks and recreation departments, organizations, and professionals in the field 
of recreation. Posts include: NRPA news and updates, information on the NRPA annual conference, trends and current events within the field, and in-depth information on topics such as accessibility, inclusion and social equity, and discussions on funding options and opportunities.

Click here to begin exploring this resource.

National Recreation and Park Association Forecasts Top Trends in Parks and Recreation for 2018

As we are now fully into 2018 and with spring and summer just around the corner, it may be a good idea to consider some of the current trends in recreation and park culture and activity observed and projected for this coming year. The National Recreation and Park Association, the main organization body in our field of parks and recreation administration, recently published an article on its website outlining trends for the 2018 year. The following are some of the highlights from that article:


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Parks Everywhere! An increasing number of people living in cities and urban areas has created a shift in focus to development of outdoor green spaces and city parks. Parks continue to emerge in a variety of unconventional spaces, including: old railway corridors, empty city lots, and even in unused underground spaces (e.g. New York’s “Lowline” park in a trolley terminal). It is expected that 2018 will continue to see park development and an increase in unused space transformed into community parks.

The Opioid Epidemic. In 2017, overdoses outnumbered murders by a ratio of 4-1, a number higher than ever before (The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 23, 2018). With what seems to be an out-of-control downward spiral of opioid use, parks may be able to assist. Cities and metro areas have begun to use parks and public spaces to combat this growing concern in a variety of ways. Parks and recreation departments have begun to develop programming focused on reducing the use and dependency on these drugs and getting people struggling with an opioid addiction the help that they desperately need. This linked article discusses the role that parks play in combating this epidemic.


Photo Credit: Atlanta Beltline

Partners in Evidence-Based Health Delivery: With an increase in research on health and wellness programs and more information on what works and what does not in terms of health outcomes, parks and recreation programs are expected to begin to implement these delivery curricula into their regular programming. It is expected that parksand recreation departments will continue to partner with healthcare agencies across the country as a means of health promotion. More on this topic can be found here.

Large Donations: Wealthy individuals, organizations and foundations continue to recognize the importance of parks and green space and are putting their money into these areas in masses. Millions of dollars have been gifted to parks and recreation departments such as, Central Park Conservancy ($100 million), River Parks Authority in Tulsa, OK ($350 million), Chicago Park district ($12 million), and many more ( Top Trends in Parks and Recreation, February 6, 2018). It is expected that these large donations will continue in 2018.

Focus on Park Sustainability: As a proponent of green space, parks have a natural connection with sustainable and environmentally healthful behaviors. It is expected that in 2018, there will be an increased focus on parks commitment to sustainable energy and land usage and will act as a model for the public on what responsible energy consumption looks like. The sustainability survey report from the NRPA provides a better understanding of the current sustainability efforts of Parks and Recreation departments.

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Economic Development depends on Parks: It is clear that economic development and quality parks and recreation opportunities go hand-in-hand. As companies look to develop operations bases, one of the reasons for commitment to a specific city is the quality and quantity of available green space for employees and their families. Parks and green space, as well as access to bike and walking paths, contribute to thriving metropolises, a characteristic that organizations desire for headquarters and business operations.

Follow this link for a full list of the projected 2018 parks and recreation trends.


Sustainability Survey Report:

Parks Combatting the Opioid Epidemic:

Play Fair, Play IX


For the last thirty-two years, a national initiative called the National Girls & Women in Sports Day (NGWSD) has worked to encourage, bolster support and celebrate the achievements of the millions of girls and women who participate in organized sports in the United States. NGWSD also works to further expand sport opportunities for women and girls in the future. For 2018, the theme is “Play Fair, Play IX”. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive Federal financial funding” ( This year NGWSD hopes to further instill and implement the basis of Title IX by dedicating a day(s) to the recognition of the accomplishments of women and girls in sport. The NGWSD website states:


healthy-active-kids-widget“For more than three decades, the NGWSD has empowered women and girls to get moving, embrace physical activity and push past their limits. The courage, confidence and character gained through sports participation are the very tools girls need to become the strong leaders of tomorrow” (

Photo credit: NESTLE Corp.

The website hosts a plethora of “stories” sharing information on how participation in sports and athletics have positively affected the lives of a variety of girls and women athletes, such as: Meghan Duggan, an Olympic ice hockey silver medalist; Scout Bassett, a track and field paraolympian; and Sloane Stephens, a U.S. Open tennis champion and founder of the Sloane Stephens Foundation.


Photo credit: Mountain Bike for Her

While the specific day affiliated with the NGWSD for 2018 was February 7th, there are still events occurring across the country focused on further enhancing the dialogue and encouraging women young and old towards (increased?) participation in sports. In order to find events near you or to plan an event affiliated with the NGWSD organization, visit the website To follow NGWSD on social media or to share photos of your events on social media platforms, use #NGWSD.

Farm to School Act of 2017

On September 6, 2017, members of Congress introduced the Farm to School Act of 2017. This bill has received bipartisan support, and it expands the current US Department of Agriculture’s Farm to School Grant Program by increasing funding from $5 million to $15 million annually. During the first five years the program received over $120 million in requests from 1,600 applicants. The program was able to provide grants totaling $25 million to 365 applicants in those years, however, that only satisfies one fifth of total requests. Clearly, there is a high demand for this type of program. But, what does this money support? The following provides an outline and some resources that further explain the proposed program.


Farm to school is a common sense approach to child nutrition that empowers children and their families to make informed food choices while strengthening the local economy and contributing to vibrant communities. (


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The program is flexible and often appears differently depending on the needs of the specific community, however, there are Three Core Elements of the program that remain consistent.

Procurement: The program provides funding for local food purchase and service in cafeterias and lunchrooms. This provides not only healthy food options for students but also supports local farmers, ranchers, and fishers. In 2013-2014, schools spent $789 million on local food. The Farm to School Act notes that of every dollar spent on this food, $1.60 goes back into local economies. This suggests that schools generated over $1.2 billion into local economies for food alone during those years. In addition, a goal is to reduce the obesity rate and prevalence of childhood Type II Diabetes by increasing the amount of healthy fruits and vegetables served to children.

Education: As a part of the program, organizations incorporate food, agriculture, and health and nutrition programming into their educational curricula.

School Gardens: The program supports school gardens which provide students with hands-on learning through planting, gardening, harvesting, and food preparation. In 2013-2014, an estimated 23.6 million students engaged in a Farm to School program. Here is an Example of a farm to school program in Michigan.


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More information can be found at the Farm to School Website, which provides individuals and organizations with ideas, resources, and partners to aid in the development and with the ultimate goal of program success.

There is also funding available! Here are some examples of opportunities associated with this program.

Small Grants for plants and seeds ($200-$1,000)

GreenWorks Grants for Service learning projects ($1,000-$2,000)

National Institute of Food and Agriculture Grants ($945,400 available)


National Environmental Education Foundation Releases Teen Survey Partner Toolkit

Youth, and adults, in today’s culture are spending an increasingly less amount of time outdoors and more time indoors behind a screen. According to the Nation Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) the average high school student spends one hour outside each day, typically taking part in activities such as waiting for the bus or walking between classrooms. Outdoor experience has proven positive impacts on health and happiness. In one of the seminal studies on the topic of human health and the natural environment, Roger Ulrich (1984) found in his “view through a window” study that patients with a hospital room with a view of nature (i.e. trees) recovered from a minor surgery faster and were also observed to be happier and less combative with their care providers.  A more recent article found that outdoor experiences reduce the generation of negative emotions that we commonly associate as anger, sadness, frustration, or depressed moods, compared to similar individuals participating in a built or indoor environment (Bower, et. al., 2010)

During this time of the year here in the Midwest, it can be challenging to find the motivation to get outside, however, it is important to take what the research suggests to heart and make spending time outside a priority.Teens and the Environment

According to the NEEF 80% of adolescents prefer to spend time indoors, however, 92% understand that time spent outdoors helps make them healthier, and 88% recognize that time spent outdoors makes them happier. There appears to be a disconnect somewhere between this understanding and putting this knowledge into practice. The NEEF survey found that adolescents are very passionate and advocate for social causes such as “animal abuse and LGBTQ issues,” but less so about environmental issues. I would posit that this stems from the lack of experience. An individual is less likely to advocate for something with which one has had little experience, this is where the NRF and its grantee organizations step into play. The survey found that teachers, educators and leaders are the most trusted sources of outdoor and environmental education for adolescents, suggesting that these individuals, organizations and programs have the capacity of greatly influencing recreation tendencies towards participation and overall understanding of the outdoors.

NEEF offers a variety of resources that include facts related to this topic, social media post templates and suggestions, and program recommendations on their website as well as an overview to the survey here. 


2017 Crawford Prize Recipient

The National Recreation Foundation proudly presents Susan Teegen as this year’s Crawford Prize Recipient. Since 2003, the Crawford Prize recognizes a living person who has dedicated him or herself to enhancing recreation opportunities for youth. Each year, the Prize is awarded to an individual, whether professional or volunteer, who has made an extraordinary contribution in advancing recreation programs for at-risk youth. Susan truly embodies what the NRF looks for in a Crawford Prize recipient as a champion, supporter and influential educator for the youths she serves.

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Pictured: Susan Teegen. Image courtesy of ArtWell

Susan has made empowering youth her life’s work. In addition to educating her work includes, counseling, mentoring, and advocating for social justice in response to issues such as poverty and racism. Through this work she has witnessed youth flourish when they were given opportunities to learn, explore and create. Susan’s graduate work at Princeton Theological Seminary focused on the intersection of art, healing and transformation. She completed her studies at the University of the Arts in painting and printmaking. Her experience working with youth and her understanding on the transformative power of art, culminated into an idea for a program.

In 2001, Susan founded ArtWell. Artwell’s mission is to support young people and their communities through arts education and creative reflection to discover strengths, face challenges and awaken dreams. Since it’s inception Artwell has partnered with over 400 private, public and charter schools, as well as, faith-based and community organizations to connect with over 35,000 youth in the greater Philadelphia area. Artwell’s art education programs utilize art as a tool for deep reflection, enhancing communication and academic achievement. ArtWell transforms the lives of young people facing discrimination, poverty, violence and everyday challenges. Susan has proved her proficiency in developing partnerships and encouraging community support through connections with local artists, schools,educators and education systems to engage students and their communities.


Pictured: Left to right. Susan Teegen, Pina Templeton (NRF Trustee), and Bob Stuart (NRF President)

The National Recreation Foundation is honored to present this award to a very deserving recipient. Join us in congratulating our 2017 Crawford Prize winner, Susan Teegen.

NYC Organization Works to Address Lack of Diversity in the Outdoors

One of my favorite parts of the trend of social media is that I get introduced to all sorts of new and innovative programs. I take special note of those that fall within our scope at the NRF and feel that is important to share them. Programs are able to use the social media platform to share program information, attract participants, and garner support both in terms of public support and financial assistance. As many of you know I am an avid rock climber. I support and follow several rock climbing specific organizations on Facebook and Instagram, such as, the American Alpine Club, the Access Fund, and the American Mountain Guides Association. Several months ago the American Alpine Club posted about Brothers of Climbing (BOC), an organization based out of New York City.


Founded by Makhail Martin, BOC is dedicated to making outdoor recreation, and specifically rock climbing, accessible to populations that may never have been thought of rock climbing as a viable recreational activity. Martin, who grew up in Queens New York, comments on the perception of climbing and the outdoors in which he grew up, “Out here (Queens) there’s no rock climbing gyms, there’s no mountains… There’s nothing out here like that, my idea of the outdoors is the backyard, you know?”
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Photo Credit: REI

BOC is working to ensure that minority populations not only have an opportunity to experience the outdoors but also provides a community of support and familiar faces that encourage continued participation. One BOC member mentioned growing up being told, “black people don’t go outside and that it was a dangerous place.” As a result many minority youth do not have outdoor experiences while growing up. As one BOC member says, “It just goes back to not being exposed to the outdoors, and the problem is that we are telling ourselves that we can’t do it and then on the other end there is no one telling us that we can do it, so it’s a problem on both sides of the coin, and we have to attack it from both sides.” Martin states, “BOC’s mission is to increase involvement of minorities in the outdoors, right now we’re starting with climbing but I want to see more of us participating in outdoor activities, because if more of us where out there it would just be more of a common thing.” BOC has grown from just a few members to thirty or forty members regularly attending organization events, programs and trips.

While this organization is not youth specific and works more with younger adults, programs like BOC provide useful tips and techniques on how to develop influential programs that cultivate change within participants and the communities in which they serve. Attached are two short videos that provide more information and a deeper look into the work that BOC is doing.

Solo No More

REI Presents: Brothers of Climbing


The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Outdoor Recreation, Conservation and Environmentalism

A recent post on the Blue Sky Founders Forum addresses the topic of diversity, equity and inclusion, what Blue Sky refers to as DEI, specifically in the areas of Outdoor Recreation, Conservation, and Environmental Advocacy. This is an interesting topic within these spaces, for many of us we do not immediately think of DEI when evaluating the effectiveness or success of an organization, department, or program. How does increasing DEI in these areas help? As long as the organization or program is achieving their goals within the realm of Outdoor Recreation, Conservation and Environmental they are successful, right? The following from Blue Sky shares 11 Lessons Learned about how working towards DEI is an important addition to achieving organizational mission, vision and values.

First, it is important to define several of these terms. Blue Sky defines Equity and Inclusion this way:

Equity – “an approach to ensuring all people have equal access to a resource.”

Inclusion – “Amplifying, valuing, and celebrating those identities, voices, values, and styles have been marginalized.”

The following are excerpts from “11 Lessons We’ve Learned as Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity Consultants in the Outdoor, Conservation, and Environmental Sector” written by Ava Holliday and Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin.

  1. “Don’t conflate diversity with race. People tend to use “diversity” as code for “race” and “diverse” as code for “people of color,” perhaps because the word “diversity” is more comfortable. But diversity represents all facets of our identity—not only race—based on which we experience barriers to resources and opportunities.”
  2. Approach DEI work intersectionally. Organizations also silo race-related efforts off from other efforts such as gender equity and anti-harassment efforts, the creation of safe spaces for LGBTQ constituents, indigenous rights advocacy, or physically accessibility initiatives. The reality is that our identities are not siloed because we walk through the world at the intersection of multiple identities, including race, ethnicity, indigeneity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, ability, class, and more. More importantly, intersectionality cultivates a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity (where initiatives compete with each other for the same budget dollars).
  3. Go beyond numbers in measuring success. Organizations usually rely on race and gender diversity metrics to measure success. But focusing only on racial composition and creating a visually colorful workforce is not sustainable unless organizations are also paying attention to retention and fostering inclusive work cultures.
  4. Focus on equity rather than inclusion or diversity. Leading with equity—an approach to ensuring everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources—is the best way to create lasting change. Solely focusing on diversity and inclusion efforts does not necessarily require an interrogation of history and power dynamics, and therefore often falls flat.
  5. DEI work should be external and internal. DEI work isn’t just about outreach to grassroots organizations or recruiting at, for example, historically black colleges. These are just two externally facing efforts that belong to a much longer list. To create truly sustainable DEI efforts, internal strategies such as implicit bias training, inclusive benefits, mitigation of bias in evaluations and promotions, and more, should be equally prioritized.
  6. External work should be mutualistic. Many organizations invite grassroots organizations that work with (for example) communities of color to tell them how to become inclusive and culturally relevant. But often these relationships are parasitic rather than mutualistic. Borrowing the analogy of an understandably frustrated colleague, grassroots groups are not “insulin pumps” prepared to inject people of color into the environmental movement. To truly engage with (not merely “serve”) communities, simply ask prospective partners how you can support them.
  7. Invite all stakeholders to the table. You can’t say you’re working with specific communities if you’re doing so within a structure that does not invite their input or collaboration. Try to identify everyone who will be impacted by your project and invite them to engage in a meaningful way.
  8. Expand beyond the traditional framework of environmentalism. Environmentalism was born out of a particular time by a particular group of people (i.e. the usual suspects, such as John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Henry David Thoreau, Edward Abbey, and Aldo Leopold). The dominant narrative about environmental history has silenced the voices, buried the stories, and denied the experiences of many communities, including indigenous people, women, and people of color…The reality is that people have myriad connections to nature and ways of protecting land, all of which should be folded into the environmental movement if we are to be relevant to more people.
  9. Examine your implicit biases. Organizations cannot effectively tackle the biases that manifest in their practices, policies, protocols, and procedures without leaders and staff first looking in the mirror and examining their own individual biases. One way to do this is by taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which has become a common way to measure the biases we have with different identities. To grapple with implicit bias, we urge our partners to expose themselves to different perspectives and voices, attend workshops on implicit bias, and continue to engage in difficult conversations.
  10. Articulate your “why” and build a plan. DEI work can be lackluster and subject to fits and starts unless organizations are able to clearly articulate why DEI is important to their mission and build holistic plans addressing all of the ways they will add a DEI lens to their ongoing work. The lack of a clear plan can create pitfalls when, for example, a low budget year comes around and DEI goes on the chopping block because it’s not in a formalized initiative, or when you engage in dialogue with resistant constituents who insist DEI is “mission creep.”
  11. Meet people where they are. There are and will always be people who are either resistant or relatively new to the concepts surrounding DEI. And there are and will always be people who are wondering why we are still having the same conversation about sexism and racism 20-odd years later. Meeting people where they are helps navigate both resistance and DEI fatigue. This means using accessible language (such as implicit bias), celebrating small wins to help people feel successful, consistently soliciting feedback, and providing concrete checklists to help the work feel tangible.”

To read the whole post visit Blue Sky’s Blog Here. 

Forest Bathing: Reconnecting with Nature

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Shinrin-Yoku or “forest bathing” originated in Japan as a way for individuals to reconnect with the natural world. Forest bathing has quickly expanded around the world due to the positive mental and physical health outcomes associated with the practice. The name may suggest that this practice involves swimming or washing in the forest, however, it has very little to do with hygiene. Rather, the term suggests a sort of cleanse from the stressors and responsibilities of everyday life by taking some time to be alone and quite in nature. Breathing in the sights and sounds of the surrounding natural environment.


“Cross between a hike and a meditation class.” An NPR journalist suggests that a forest bathing experience is like a “Cross between a hike and a meditation class, where the aim is to slow down and immerse yourself in the forest.”

Studies on forest bathing participants found that individuals who had spend time in nature had lower hostility scores and lower depression rates than those who had not spent any time in nature on a specific day. Individuals also had higher vitality scores or as the study suggests, were more lively.


The research on forest bathing continues to find both mental and physical health benefits associated with spending time outside and bolsters support for nature prescription programs, including the National Park Service’s Park Prescription Program and the ParkRx Program. These initiatives look to encourage doctors to prescribe time outdoors as a valid “medication” for many health issues including, depression, obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Listen to the full NPR radio story Here.