Originally published on The Planet: Sierra Club Stories from the Front Lines
Inner City Outings doesn't just provide incredible outdoor experiences for kids. It also allows adults to pass on their own childhood experiences to a new generation.
That's one reason why Raleigh, North Carolina, ICO leaders Sarah Johnston and Sara Felsen got involved. Johnston, who grew up in the West Virginia Appalachians, remembers bird-spotting with her family: "I hated it then because I wanted to be at the mall," she recalls. "But after a while, I grew to love it and now I spend all my vacations in tents."
Felsen, who's originally from western New York State, remembers camping with the Girl Scouts: "This is a way to pass it along to the next generation, especially to kids who might not otherwise have these experiences," she says. "But we volunteers learn as much as the kids, both on educational outings and just by learning what's going on in these kids' lives. We watch them grow and broaden their perspective on life with each outing."
Raleigh ICO is one of 50 volunteer-run groups across the U.S. that collectively lead more than 800 outings for about 14,000 kids each year. In many cases, ICO kids grow up in areas that struggle with drugs and gangs. ICO exposes kids to new worlds and experiences. The Raleigh group leads about 10 outings a year and provides adventures that range from camping in state parks to visiting science and nature festivals to canoeing.
"Canoeing is a favorite trip, and we go on day hikes and take kids ice skating in the winter," Johnston says. "There's also a local wetlands center, where there’s a waterfowl bird sanctuary. Last week, we took a group to some local farms and they've gone to see new goats being born, pick strawberries."
These outings instill a sense of courage and comfort with nature.
"If we’re at an amphibian or snake exhibit, some kids might stay in the back of the group, especially if they’re new participants. But after a few experiences they’ll be right up there in front," Felsen said. "When kids first start with us, they're afraid of everything. Putting them into a canoe for the first time—the young ones might even be crying. But when they come back a second time, they start running for the canoes.
"Kids that develop courage in the outdoors are great to have because that helps foster other kids," she added. "They'll see something like an eastern water snake and they’re so fascinated, whereas before the kids would be a mess."