Youth Education Offers Healing and Hope

Everyone faces stress and setbacks in life but living in a healthy environment within a strong community can make it easier to cope and thrive. In reality, though, many places aren’t healthy and the people living there don’t have strong support networks. Fortunately, there’s a solution that works. Investing in young people and connecting them with the natural world can lead to hope and new ways forward.

“More and more science and studies are validating why it’s critically important for kids to spend time outdoors and be connected with nature,” says Sophie Twichell, executive director of the National Recreation Foundation. “In addition to improving mental health, offering stress relief, greater creativity, decreased cortisol levels, it empowers kids to be part of the solution.”


Para La Naturaleza creates opportunities for Boys & Girls Clubs of Puerto Rico youth to connect with nature and to actively engage in reforestation efforts. Image courtesy of Para La Naturaleza.

Young People Become Informed and Engaged

How does that play out in real life? In Puerto Rico, for fifty years, Para La Naturaleza has been teaching young people in the summers about the world around them, but today, because of National Recreation Foundation funding supporting a collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Puerto Rico, the organization can offer the same kinds of programs after school and on Saturdays, reaching more people and creating a continuum of learning all year round.

This includes working with young people in a classroom with no walls, teaching them the intelligence and value of species like the mangrove and helping them understand why it’s so well-adapted to its environment. Going to culturally significant places, like a former coffee or sugar cane plantation offers a deeper understanding of history and the relationships of people with the land. Citizen science allows students to participate in research led by university professors, monitoring birds and ecosystems, or studying coastal erosion and sea level rise.

Lloveras + Valenzuela

Fernando Lloveras (left) of Para La Naturaleza, with NRF trustee General Alfred Valenzuela

Rising seas and coastal erosion are of particular significance for those who know first-hand what it means to live in hurricane alley and the challenges of recovering from one as massive as Maria. “It was an important lesson for child and adult,” says Fernando Lloveras, president of Para la Naturaleza.

“When you live in the tropics, you never see a forest without leaves. It was shocking to see the devastation,” Lloveras says. “But after a couple of months everything was green again and the birds and insects were back while the people were still without electricity and struggling. It became an inspiration, a source of hope.” As did students who learned about the importance of trees in maintaining water quality and preventing erosion and then helped with reforestation by planting trees.

Providing Opportunities for Everyone

That need for hope and rebuilding is just as relevant on the streets of Chicago, where a National Recreation Foundation Grant supports Pride ROC’s Gang Rescue and Refinement Passages program. Supporting young men who are traumatized by violence and see no way out, who are most likely to shoot or be shot, the program starts by removing them from their environment. They spend time in a natural area where they can do physical activities and learn to take care of themselves. Those experiences help to heal and create a new way forward where the young men can start to move toward a future that they didn’t think they had. It’s part of a critical process to support individuals in ways that make the community healthier for everyone.

Whether in Chicago or Puerto Rico, these stories of learning and hope aren’t limited to specific people or places but can apply to anyone, anywhere. We all have a universal need and right to a healthy environment and community. And when we give young people the opportunity to learn in the outdoors in meaningful ways, we access that power to build a better a future for all of us.


NRF Celebrates Its 100 Year Old Roots in 2019

The National Recreation Foundation, Inc. was incorporated in 1965, making it 54 years old this year. Although that may seem relatively old for a nonprofit in the United States, NRF’s roots actually reach all the way back to World War I.

Support for the war was one of the nation’s top priorities. Concern arose for recreation and leisure opportunities for troops, as this was understood to insure mental and physical preparedness. Prior to the war, the regular U.S. Army numbered 133,000, but over 4 million were mobilized by Armistice Day. Little was available to them in terms of recreation, thus the War Camp Community Service (WCCS) was established. The WCCS became one of seven social service organizations addressing military welfare and recreation,[1] and it funded athletics, libraries, motion pictures and theatrical entertainments among activities for the troops


Image Credit: The Spirit of War Camp Community Service [image of woman at piano with Navy Men]. Published by the United States Government Printing Office.

It is impressive to note that the massive work accomplished by the WCCS was undertaken without government support. Instead, these organizations raised funds on their own. Proposed by President Woodrow Wilson, a joint fundraising campaign was conducted during one week in November 1918 when every day Americans were invited to make donations in support of the troops. The campaign was hugely successful and raised a total of $190 million! Of that, $16 million was allocated to the WCCS.


War activities Of War Camp Community Service. [African American] soldiers’ club. Image Credit: Photograph 165-WW-127(137); War activities Of War Camp Community Service. [African American] soldiers’ club. With [the]coming…; ca. 1917 – 1919; American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917 – 1918; Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, Record Group 165; National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD. [Online Version,, March 18, 2019]

The war ended sooner than anticipated. Of the $16 million raised for WCCS, nearly $1.5 million was not spent and instead was placed in an investment portfolio.

In subsequent years, the increasing need for highly qualified administrators to manage the growing number of public and private recreation agencies was recognized. The National Recreation School was created in 1926 to provide graduate training for recreational leaders. The WCCS assets, now $2.7 million, were transferred to the National Recreation School, whose main objectives were:

“The development in all communities through public and private agencies and by every appropriate means of play and recreation, higher and more adequate community and neighborhood expression, a better life and better moral and social conditions, and particularly the training of workers and the carrying on of general educational work for the wise use of leisure to promote and further any of the above purposes.”[2]

The Heckscher Foundation Building, NY, NY

The Heckscher Foundation Building, New York, NY – Home of the National Recreation School, Inc.

The School was based in New York City and produced its first graduates in 1927. By 1935, the Depression resulted in the discontinuation of the graduate program of the National Recreation School. This coincided with the emergence of recreation curricula at some universities. In all, the School graduated 295 students.

In the 1940s and 50s, the School provided grants for the National Recreation Association from what was now a $3 million fund. At this time the School did not have any students and was acting more as a grant-making foundation than a school. In 1964, the executive committee of the National Recreation School agreed to move funds to a new entity called the National Recreation Foundation (NRF).

NRF was incorporated January 23, 1965 and held its first meeting February 1, 1965. It received all the assets of the School, valued at $5.4 million. The NRF has always been an independent foundation and while it historically provided funding to the National Recreation Association, now called the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), the fund was not designed to function as an operational fund for the Association. Instead, its purpose is to provide support for the development of recreation programs:

The National Recreation Foundation is to support, initiate or assist in the promotion or development of leadership, programs, or facilities in the recreation, park and conservation field of a scientific, literary, educational, or recreational nature.

NRF continues to fund recreation programs aimed at enhancing community and individual wellness, as well as mental and physical health. In today’s society, NRF is just as necessary and relevant as it was at its early inception. Through targeted giving, NRF continues to assist in the development and holistic health of the nation’s youth.

This history is outlined in the History of the National Recreation Foundation: Enriching the Quality of Life in America 1917-2010, compiled and edited by Charles E. Hartsoe and Tony A. Mobley, Sagamore Publishing LLC, Urbana, IL, 2011.

[1] The other six were: YMCA, YWCA, Knights of Columbus, Jewish Welfare Board, American Library Association and the Salvation Army.

[2] From the certificate of incorporation of the National Recreation School filed in the office of the Secretary of State of New York in 1930.

Funding Recreation Programs in the Wake of Natural Disasters

As the 2018 hurricane season is winding down, we are thinking of those in the Carolinas, Florida and Virginia who have been affected most severely by Hurricanes Florence and Michael and continue to work to rebuild. We know, however, that when natural disasters strike, thoughts and prayers are not enough.

The 2017 hurricane season hit the Caribbean particularly hard. Its islands were still picking up the pieces from one storm as another thundered in from the Atlantic. Hurricanes Irma and Maria had particularly devastating effects on Puerto Rico, where 58% of children were living in poverty even before the hurricanes hit. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 people died as a result of Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.1 Power was out in many areas for months.


Pictured: Damage from hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico

As the people of Puerto Rico engage in the difficult and expensive work of rebuilding, the National Recreation Foundation (NRF) is focused on the needs of the organizations and programs providing recreation opportunities for Puerto Rico’s youth, especially as they work to cope with the traumatic experiences endured. At its Annual Meeting in November 2017, NRF’s Board of Trustees made a commitment to support the youth of Puerto Rico.

NRF invited several organizations to submit proposals for special projects focused on Puerto Rican youth. NRF executive director, Sophie Twichell, and NRF trustee, General Alfred Valenzuela, visited the island in May 2018 to meet with applicant organizations and to conduct site visits. The quote below from General Valenzuela, outlines his experience in Puerto Rico, as he and Twichell assessed damage and need:

NRF gave me an honor by allowing me a first-hand visit to Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. My mission was to evaluate the needs on the ground and the solutions proposed by applicant organizations, and how this dovetailed with NRF’s desire to ensure Puerto Rican youth have access to safe spaces and programs to play, learn and recreate. Based on that scenario, I offer the following:

valenzuela in damaged aguas buenas club
Pictured: General Valenzuela on a visit to a recreation center showing extent of storm damage.

I was absolutely taken aback and shocked by the damage we witnessed on the ground. The recreational assets serving Puerto Rican youth (clubs, courts, fields) sustained significant damage. In addition to the physical damage to buildings, the organizations we visited had lost large numbers of staff who had fled the island. It was clear to me that the closed schools, damaged recreation facilities and loss of after-school programs could further traumatize these children unless we provided immediate assistance.

Through our tour of the affected areas, it was evident that support from NRF would have a significant positive impact on the island’s youth, especially if we could respond quickly. Upon our return, we shared the story of what we saw with NRF’s Board of Trustees.

I serve on the NRF Board of Trustees because I am committed to nurturing our nation’s young people. The dire situation I witnessed in Puerto Rico convinced me that I, and NRF, needed to step in right away if we were to live up to our reputation and our goal of giving where it is needed most. My heart was broken by what I saw, but the impressive organizations working on the ground helped me imagine smiles returning. I truly believe that we were living John 15:13, where he said that there is “No Greater Love” than one who helps another.

Support from NRF is providing critical resources for desperately needed after-school and weekend recreation programs for low-income Puerto Rican children, with a focus on health, well-being, education and exercise. I am grateful to be part of a foundation that is responsive to real need and committed to action on behalf of our children.


General Alfred A. Valenzuela

Two organizations were identified by NRF as strong candidates for support: the Boys & Girls Club of Puerto Rico (BGCPR) and Para La Naturaleza (PLN). BGCPR is a member club of Boys & Girls Clubs of America and provides critically-needed after-school programming for island youth. PLN encourages the stewardship and conservation of natural and human ecosystems by protecting areas revered for both their natural beauty and cultural significance.

Both organizations designed recreation programs specifically focused on addressing the serious needs of Puerto Rican youth post-hurricane. In partnership with BGCPR, NRF is supporting an enhanced Triple Play program, which celebrates mind, body and spirit. In addition to an emphasis on physical activity, healthy lifestyles and character advancement, a mindfulness component was incorporated, thereby providing youth with skills to address trauma experienced during Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.

img_3352PLN is piloting an after-school immersion in nature program to build environmental awareness in over 200 students by engaging them with nature at area preserves. The purpose of the program is to offer these students the opportunity to play, discover and explore the outdoors, create and nurture a long-standing connection with nature, raise awareness about the protection and conservation of the environment, develop leadership skills and increase their confidence and resilience to overcome the cycle of poverty.

img_3904With encouragement from NRF, these two organizations also submitted an application for a new collaborative program to provide BGCPR youth with weekend outings into natural areas to develop understanding and appreciation of natural habitats, healthy living and interdependence with nature. Participating youth are learning about the environmental causes and implications of hurricanes, coupled with excursions to investigate the island’s diverse ecosystems. These students will be part of the rebuilding process by engaging in citizen science, as well as participating in a reforestation campaign. Students img_3900are planting trees, a critical activity for combating erosion, improving water quality and enhancing wildlife habitat. They are actively engaged in healing the island they call home, as well as increasing its resiliency to future hurricanes.

In total, NRF provided $455,000 in funding for these three programs.

The many recent natural disasters across the U.S. have demonstrated that the generosity of individuals, organizations and foundations is vital to recovery. We are proud that NRF is able to provide support for Puerto Rico’s young people during this period of hardship.

1 The Puerto Rican government concurs with a study by George Washington University regarding the death toll. “Ascertainment of the Estimated Excess Mortality from Hurricane María in Puerto Rico” (PDF). Milken Institute of Public Health. August 27, 2018. Archived (PDF) from the original on August 29, 2018. Retrieved August 28, 2018.

2018 Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize

With its Robert W. Crawford Achievement Prize, the National Recreation Foundation annually recognizes a living person who has made an extraordinary contribution in advancing recreation programs for disadvantaged youth. NRF proudly recognized Peter Westbrook as its 2018 Crawford Prize recipient.

peter westbrook2 - cropped

Pictured: Peter Westbrook

As a boy, Peter Westbrook took up fencing as a result of a five-dollar bribe from his mother. A single parent, she was desperately seeking a way to keep her son off the streets of Newark, New Jersey. Born in Japan, her ancestral lineage included Samurai warriors and Noh dancers. She understood that fencing required discipline, speed and posed a mental challenge that just might capture the interest of young Peter. She was right – Peter excelled at the sport. And, it helped earn him a scholarship to New York University.

Peter holds the American record for 13 U.S. National Sabre championships. Peter is a six-time Olympian and the first African-Asian American Olympic Sabre-Fencing Champion. Peter won the Bronze Medal at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles and three Gold Medals at the Pan-American games. Peter was honored by his fellow Olympians with the role of the flag bearer for the U.S. during the closing ceremonies of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

In 1991, Peter founded the Peter Westbrook Foundation, which uses the sport of fencing to assist young people to achieve their personal best emotionally, intellectually, and physically.

In addition to these personal character development areas, the young athletes with the Peter Westbrook Foundation boast an impressive list of accomplishments, including: Olympic qualifications and medals, qualification and medaling in the Senior World Championships and 37 individual and team national titles. Due to the rigorous training these young people receive, participating athletes consistently qualify for and receive outstanding scholarships, perform well academically and graduate from top U.S universities.

These impressive accomplishments demonstrate how participation in sport, here fencing, can result in a myriad of successes surpassing the physical. The discipline, grit, dedication required can have profound, life-changing effects beyond the athletic field, or as called in fencing, the “piste.”


Pictured: Left to right. John McCarter, Bob Stuart, Peter Westbrook, Sophia Twichell, Bob Crawford, Edwin Moses, Tim Richardson

Pictured Left : Left to right. John McCarter, Peter Westbrook, Judy McCarter. Pictured Right: The Crawford Prize Medal

Please join us in congratulating the 2018 Crawford Prize recipient, Peter Westbrook.

Concerns of Equity and Access: Campaigns and Resources

Park access disparities between low-income, racially diverse and more affluent mid- and high-income neighborhoods in the United States is a subject of concern to park and recreation programmers and researchers. Studies find that youth in low-income, racially diverse neighborhoods have significantly less access to urban parks than their mid- to high-income counterparts (Rigolon & Flohr, 2014). Research demonstrates that the lack of a proximal green space may result in negative health outcomes for children as well as adults. Individuals who live closer to a greenspace or park are more likely to report higher mental and physical health benefits than those that do not. A recent post, entitled “Taking Park Access for Granted and Resources to Help” by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) on its OPENSpace blog shares current trends and efforts to mitigate these differences, in order to boost equity in access to parks among urban dwellers. The post outlines how limited access to parks and greenspace results in negative quality of life outcomes for many people.

In an effort to address concerns of equity and access, NRPA is partnering with the Trust for Public Land  (an NRF grantee) and the Urban Land Institute on a campaign entitled 10-Minute Walk.  This campaign’s vision is to ensure that everyone, in all neighborhoods and cities across the nation, has a good park within a 10-minute walk from their home. According to NRPA, “the 10-Minute Walk Campaign aims to increase park access, quality and funding with a 10-minute walk from home.”

NRPA also is committed to increasing awareness of equity, diversity and a

ccess issues. As such, NRPA is offering

multiple sessions at this month’s NRPA conference in Indianapolis focusing on these topics. A full list of these sessions can be found here. I want to highlight a few sessions from the conference that may be particularly interesting for those of us connected with NRF and the populations our programs serve.


Tuesday, September 25

The Age of Connectivity: Putting Trails and Parks at the Center of Our Communities

As transportation habits change and technologies, like autonomous vehicles, become mainstream, a new opportunity exists to prioritize trails and linear parks in places where we live. Explore how we can create the change we want and put trails and linear parks at the heart of healthy, thriving communities.

Is Proximity Enough? How Characteristics Like Awareness Affect Participation

Some of the driving aspects of community use (participation) and advocacy for parks and recreation agencies are related to the availability and proximity of programs and facilities (components of a parks system), and quality and satisfaction with those components. This session will look at the roles community resident and visitors awareness of park and recreation programs and facilities play.

Friends Groups and Foundations: A Key to Leveraging Resources for Your Park

A park can’t live on tax dollars alone – enter the friends group or foundation. These entities are not bound by the normal restrictions of local government and, as such, can get a tremendous amount done if everyone is on the same page! We will visit three Indianapolis parks with different approaches to community engagement: Holiday Park, Garfield Park, and Eagle Creek Park.

Wednesday, September 26

Advocacy by Design: Innovations in Parks and Public Places for Building Diverse Constituencies

This session explores ongoing efforts in Akron, Chicago, Detroit, Memphis and Philadelphia to reinvent how cities and local organizations engage people in improving, programming and maintaining civic assets.

Parks in Changing Communities

Many park planners and designers strive to create well-designed parks that generate positive and productive benefits, including human and environmental health. Looking at projects at multiple scales, from the individual park to the connected park system, this session will consider the tough questions of who change, what is changing, and what role do parks and designers play in this process.

 Thursday, September 27

 Best Practices When Approaching Diverse Communities and How to Engage Them

We need to create and implement new and original ideas to keep the community engaged. In this session, tips and best practices will be shared to better approach, work and build trusting relationships with these groups, so everyone can access the services that your department (organization) offers.

 These are just a few sessions that stood out to me from what looks to be a list of excellent and informative sessions being offered in regard to access and equity. For more information on sessions and the conference visit the Conference website here.


Rigolon, A., & Flohr, T. L. (2014). Access to parks for youth as an environmental justice issue: Access inequalities and possible solutions. Buildings, 4(2), 69-94. doi:



Interview with National Recreation Foundation Trustee – Jim Pearce

In this post I am sharing highlights from a conversation that I had with NRF Trustee, Jim Pearce. Jim lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and he helps NRF identify interesting and effective recreation programs for at-risk youth in the Greater Cincinnati area.  In my conversation with Jim, we talked about his experience as an NRF trustee and his perspective on the importance of recreation, as well as what he personally enjoys doing for recreation. We also discussed some of the programs he has sponsored over the years, including a unique collaboration between two grantee partners.

Tell us a little about your experience as a NRF Board of Trustees member. 


I have enjoyed the work of the Board and the terrific people – both the other Board members and our staff.

Most of all, I have enjoyed the more personal and hands-on involvement in community grant- making that the NRF system requires. The NRF experience is unique, because at NRF I am not just a Board member, but I:

  • Am charged with having a comprehensive understanding of my community. I am always combing the landscape to find potential applicant organizations that are offering innovative programs building life skills in Cincinnati-area youth through recreation
  • Investigate the applicant organization’s reputation and track record
  • Orient the applicant organization to the NRF system and expectations
  • Serve as a sounding board for the organization as it crafts a proposal
  • Monitor the organization’s grant performance with site visits and check-ins
  • Review interim and final reports
  • Respond to NRF staff questions about the organization and its programs.

It has been an honor to represent the Foundation in the Greater Cincinnati community.

How does recreation play an important role in your life? 

I am not a golfer or tennis player. My lower back would not hear of it starting at an early age. I was a jogger up to 50 and then my back spoke to me again. I am a fisherman and belong to an angling club and join them for various outings. I have hooked my four grandkids, to various degrees, into the great joy of catching a fish. It’s a riot!

Now I prefer my therapeutic exercise regimen: Pilates 2-3 days a week and, on the off days, I walk one-two miles. Whether exercise is recreational by your definition or not, it is something that I do that makes me feel better, clears the brain and aids a restful night. It certainly kept me sane when I was working.

Is there a program you have sponsored via NRF that stands out as particularly innovative or successful? 

Shortly after I was invited to join the NRF Board of Trustees, I connected with staff members at the United Way of Cincinnati with whom I had worked in the past. I asked them which were among the best organizations in the youth recreational and development area. Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Cincinnati (BGCGC) and Camp Joy were high on the list. Recognizing the important work each organization does in the Greater Cincinnati region, NRF ended up awarded grants to each organization.

What I found most intriguing was the collaborative partnership between the two organizations – BGCGC and Camp Joy were working together to bring some of the BGCGC kids to Camp Joy for a week of summer camp. According to Camp Joy, experience at camp results in a multitude of positive outcomes for at-risk youth, such as as leadership development, increased self-esteem, and enhanced social skills. Most of the BGCGC kids loved the Camp Joy experience, and word got back to rest of BGCGC kids about the neat week their friends had at camp. Each year more kids wanted to experience Camp Joy. Resources were at capacity. Camp Joy and BGCGC were working hard to raise money to build on this success. NRF worked with Camp Joy on some strategies to enhance capacity, but at the same time, the Cincinnati United Way was raising less money and shifting priorities away from Camp Joy and BGCGC. As a result, Camp Joy’s summer capacity was again limited. Then someone came up with the brilliant notion: why not have winter weekend mini-camps at Camp Joy for BGCGC youth?

The human and financial efficacy of this approach is now being tested,and we are interested to evaluate the outcomes of this new program.

You have referred to the success of Camp Joy and BGCGC partnership. What would you say are some of the key elements of a successful program or what are some characteristics that you look for when you are considering programs that you would like to recommend for support?

  1. A solid, respected partner organization: Good reputation; good people (honest, committed); good business model.
  2. An organization with innovative programs and ambitious plans of what they want to accomplish. Quite often these kinds of programs may have some incremental risk attached to them. Supporting the status quo may be fine when one is trying to get to know an organization, but I like to see and help my experienced grantees move their organization forward. These kinds of grants do have higher risks.
  3. Program evaluation is key. An organization must measure success of outcomes, and then make program adjustments based on those results. There’s always room for improvement, and the best programs are always seeking to improve outcomes for the youth they serve.

Pictured Left to Right: Jim Pearce (NRF), Mike McGinty (Camp Joy), Sophie Twichell (NRF), Gunner Blackmore (Camp Joy).


Jim Pearce has served on the National Recreation Foundation Board of Trustees for over a decade. He has been influential in the Foundation’s leadership and strategic planning. Thanks, Jim for all you do for the NRF and for taking the time to share a little more about your story. 

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.

open space

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:


photo credit:

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.

bike picture

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.