Celebrating Our Military Families in North Carolina

04/16/2013

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For our second weekend of Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors events, Sierra Club volunteers and partner organizations hosted a fun day of activities at Sturgeon City Park in Jacksonville, NC, near Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

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Kids learned about animals and played games with our partners at Barney’s Almanac, they learned about water safety with the Coast Guard Auxiliary, enjoyed some snacks from the USO, saw and touched flounders with Sturgeon City, blew bubbles and played cornhole with Blue Star Families, and made pinwheels and hiked around the wetlands with the Sierra Club. The hit of the day was kayaking with Camp Lejeune Outdoor Adventures and the Sierra Club.

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It was many of the families’ first time kayaking and everyone enjoyed being on the water. It was fun to watch as the kids conquered their nerves and became confident in their boats. A couple of boys who had been hesitant to go out on the water without their father were soon proud of their new paddling skills and wanted their mom to send pictures to their dad overseas.

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Although, this was my last weekend with the Sierra Club, COMCO events will be happening all across the country through June. I can’t think of a better way to say thank you to our nation’s youngest heroes and military families. I’ve been honored to do this work and have been inspired by the passion and support our partners have shown for our Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors initiative. Letting us know that our work has been a success, one of the girls toward the end of the day exclaimed “this is the best day ever!” Find an event near you and take someone outside with you this weekend!

All photos courtesy of Nancy Card

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Kicking Off the Month of the Military Child

04/12/2013

Last Saturday, April 6th, was our Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors kickoff at Prince William Forest Park near Marine Corps Base Quantico in northern Virginia. Sierra Club Mission Outdoors worked with dozens of local and national partners to offer a free and fun day in the outdoors to honor our nation’s military kids and families. The day went spectacularly well; we had perfect weather, an excellent turnout, and a ton of fun with military families in the great outdoors!

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Aspiring climbers negotiate the rope ladder

Families enjoyed a range of activities including kayak demonstrations, organized hikes, nature lessons and games, bird watching and more! They also collected benthic macroinvertebrates from a local creek, learned climbing skills, and saw birds of prey from the local raptor conservancy. Some of the most popular activities (tree climbing and leaf throwing) were provided by the park itself.

National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis joined us as our keynote speaker, shared stories of his life with the National Park Service, and described the connected history of the military and our national parks.

Rangers were on hand to give out the annual America the Beautiful Pass, which is free for all U.S. military personnel and dependents. Sierra Club Board President Allison Chin also joined us to kick off the day, thanking military children for their unique service to our country and announcing the launch of our Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors initiative with over 20 events, hikes, and outings scheduled across the country to connect military children with the outdoors.

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Timeless fun - tree climbing

This event would not have been possible without Laura Cohen and the Amazing team from Prince William Forest Park. A huge thank you to all of our partners and volunteers for making the day great: Blue Star Families, National Military Family Association, OAK-the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, National Park Service, Children & Nature Network, U.S. Forest Service, Virginia and Maryland Sierra Club  local and ICO outings groups, Raptor Conservancy of Virginia, Team River Runner, Sportrock Climbing Center, Dog Tag Bakery, National Wildlife Federation, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, NatureBridge, Alice Ferguson Foundation, and the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program.

A special thanks to Marianne Weaver with Blue Star Families, as well as Josh Brandon and Sara Carmichael with the Sierra Club for doing a fantastic job coordinating logistics and handling much of the work for the day.

Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors events are happening all across the country throughout April, the Month of the Military Child, and into June. Find a full listing of events at sierraclub.org/GETOUT. If you don’t see an event in your area, you can find resources at sierraclub.org/missionoutdoors to organize your own and show your support for our nation’s youngest heroes!

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COMING HOME: How Nature Programs Offer Peace, Healing to Veterans and Families

04/10/2013

Originally published on the Children and Nature Network Blog

Getting outside makes coming home from war easier for our military service members, veterans, and their families. Even if returning service members do not have a physical or mental health injury, most, families or veterans, will still struggle with coming back into their families or society to a routine which is very different from war.

DSC_0581-1024x680The level of struggle will vary between families and individuals, but outdoor activities can be universally applied for all individual veterans, military families and especially children, for ensuring success in integration, employment, and education. Outdoor activities may take on additional importance for those returning with physical or mental health injuries that require adaptations due to a loss or limited use of a limb or traumatic brain injury.

We know from repeated testimony that increased confidence, family and social connections, learning how to live with a new physical adaptation, improved mental health, and even recovery from addiction, are attributed to time spent in the outdoors by veterans and military families.

Unfortunately, children, spouses, and caregivers are often forgotten. While one parent is deployed, children, spouses, and caregivers all take on different roles than when the military parent was at home. These roles can be difficult to relinquish or redefine when a parent comes home.

The outdoors provides an opportunity for kids to be just kids and for families to reconnect. Children can see in the outdoors that just because Mom or Dad may be missing a hand, Mom or Dad can still be an active participant in their childhood.

The National Military Family Association’s Operation Purple Camps and RetreatsOutward Bound for Veterans, the Wounded Warrior Project’s Project Odyssey, and the collaborative effort between 4H offices and National Guard and Reserve families that created Operation Military Kids, alongside the YMCA and several adaptive sports programs located at different winter and summer resorts, set the standard early on for outdoor recreation programs. Families and veterans can find opportunities through 125+ organizations, and that number is increasing, that cover the spectrum from afternoon picnics to multi-day expeditions.Programs like the collaborative agency and organization effort, Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors helps, on a community level, to connect local outdoor organizations with the local military and veteran community family. It is an outgrowth of a years long partnership between The National Military Family Association and Sierra Club to shift to a low cost, high impact partnership with more than 20 other organizations, the National Park Service, and United States Forest Service.

Demond-on-belay-225x300Some programs, like Higher Ground and Project Sanctuary include a deliberate therapeutic component. Others, like Project Healing Waters and Veterans Expeditions, argue that time in the outdoors, fly fishing or climbing respectively, inherently provide the therapy. Most programs fall somewhere in between. Increasingly, programs are finding ways to collaborate to save on resources and maximize impact.

Project Rebirth’s Resiliency in the Outdoors program, being led by US Army MAJ Aaron Leonard in his free time, aims to prove to military commanders that outdoor activities shouldn’t just happen after deployments, but when done before service members head overseas can improve mental health resiliency and expand on traditional leadership skills.

MAJ Leonard’s work is helping to shift the context of the outdoors for the military and veteran community from something nice to do if you have the time and the resources, to an integral, fundamental part of being a healthy soldier or veteran. If a day hike, or family picnic can provide the mental health relief and confidence building needed to find a job or get through a rough day at work or school, even if that work is combat, it should, and is, being prioritized. The positive implications this will have on outdoor recreation in general should not be discounted.

The Department of Interior has stepped up to make accessing public lands easier by offering free America the Beautiful passes While the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors ensures long term, repeat engagement outside for families, kids, and adults before or after they experience multi-day opportunities.

Across the spectrum however, we need to better tell our story and enlist the support of media outlets and not just those focused on outdoor recreation. Specialty magazines are great, but the outdoors and outdoor activity needs to become part of our total cultural landscape not just the reprieve of flannel and plaid wearing adventures normally profiled in outdoor magazines. Hand in hand with improved story telling, we need to significantly expand the body of research that shows with data, what we know through testimony to be true about the value of the outdoors.

The great news about military families, veterans and the outdoors is that it is an easy way for everyone to help and get involved. Next time you go on a hike, invite a veteran or military family!

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Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors

04/08/2013

by Dr. Jill Biden

Originally published on the White House Joining Forces Blog

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As we mark the second anniversary of Joining Forces and celebrate the Month of the Military Child, April gives us the opportunity to celebrate our nation's youngest heroes—the children whose parents serve in our Armed Forces.

Military children face many unique challenges – on average, they attend six to nine different school systems by the time they graduate from high school. Through each transition, they have to leave their friends, try out for new sports teams, and adjust to a new school. 

As a teacher, I have been so pleased to see the progress we are making to raise awareness and understanding about how to help military children in the classroom. Through Joining Forces, more than 100 colleges of teacher education have signed on to Operation Educate the Educatorsan effort to help better prepare future teachers to help military children in the classroom.

But as a military mother and grandmother, it is important to me that we are supporting our military children outside the classroom as well.

That’s why I'm delighted to see that, for the third consecutive year, the Sierra ClubBlue Star Families, theNational Military Family Association, the Children & Nature Network, the Outdoors Alliance for Kids, the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and other partners will join forces for the Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors.

Getting children outdoors is a wonderful way to help them reduce stress and anxiety and improve physical fitness. It can also help bring families back together following a deployment.

Most of all, Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors is about creating opportunities for military children to explore and enjoy the beautiful land that they and their families have sacrificed to protect.  

This year’s celebration kicked off with a family-friendly event on Saturday, April 6th just outside Washington, D.C., in Virginia's Prince William Forest Park. There was hiking, fishing, tent races, and plenty of opportunities for hundreds of military kids to have fun outdoors, enjoy the natural world with their families and simply know that they are loved. There will be additional events and hikes happening across the country all spring long. Visit sierraclub.org/GETOUT for the full listing.

The Month of the Military Child is a time to remind ourselves that it is not just the service members who serve. It is also their families. We cannot make all the challenges of being a military child disappear, but we can make sure they know we’re standing beside them. And a great step forward is a program like this one, helping military kids and their families have fun and reconnect in the fresh air of nature. 

Adaptive Skiing: We All Do It!

 

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Sierra Club Mission Outdoors backcountry ski team
I love to ski, and the thing about skiing, as with snowboarding and even ice climbing, is that by its very nature it is an adaptive sport. You can't just "go skiing" without first strapping or clicking on a couple of extra appendages to your body, and from there, the learning curve begins. We, however, make a distinction in our sport between regular skiers and adaptive skiers. Those skiers who have more or different things that they have to strap on, say a lower leg and a prosthetic foot or a mono ski, are the "adaptive ones." In some cases, these skiers may actually have less to strap on, in the case of certain amputees who use one ski and outriggers, or those who are missing an arm, or blind skiers who use the same set up as fully-sighted skiers but need a guide in front or behind them as they head down the mountain.

 

Certainly, the challenges are different and the sport often harder to access the more adaptation

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Big mountain skiing in Colorado's backcountry
required, but the joy and the beauty are no less when someone simply skis. We can, and we should, work together to get over and around those obstacles. And yet it seems we shy away from telling the stories of these skiers in the backcountry or anywhere, who are finding ways up and down the mountain. Perhaps we are too concerned that the story of further adaptation will fall into a formulaic TV movie of the week plot line that can invite pity, rather than respect for the challenges Johnny overcame to finally ski again, or to ski for the first time.

 

Instead, if we recognize that especially with skiing, all of us are adaptive athletes to some degree, and all of us, especially while learning, require a good deal of help to not only get good, but just up the mountain, perhaps we can begin to see those who are missing, or perhaps adding on more to their bodies than we have to, as athletes just like the rest of us: skiers seeking out bigger and steeper lines, fresher powder and an escape from the crowd -- we can begin to see only skiers. And with that, we can begin to see skiers, regardless of adaptation, in all the movies, catalogs, and festivals.

 

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Powder-hungry skier executes deep turn!

Maybe everyone already sees it this way and is more enlightened than I am. If you are already there, rather than climbing up to get there, then I hope you can enjoy the following photos of an amazing backcountry ski trip sponsored by Sierra Club Mission Outdoors and run by the Telluride Adaptive Sports Program with plenty of help from San Juan Outdoor SchoolJagged Edge, and theAlta Lakes Observatory. We had an amazing group of athletes, veterans and non-veterans, who just like the rest of us are absolute powder hounds.

 

 

 

 

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Special thanks to Craig Stein for his donation of the wonderful images.

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Team of skiers gains the ridge in the mountains of Colorado

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Backcountry skiers traverse through the high alpine


Summer Road Trip with Mission Outdoors: Celebrating 5 New National Monuments

04/05/2013

The arrival of spring brings with it the inevitable question of what to do for the summer. This year, let Mission Outdoors be your guide and take advantage of the 5 new National Monuments that have been created for your enjoyment. With a diverse range of offerings, from coast to coast, we have you covered.

1. San Juan Islands National Monument

 Now that the San Juan Islands have been designated as a National Monument, enjoy an active get away and witness some of America’s most spectacular scenery. The 450 islands that make up this archipelago offer endless opportunities to explore, and a kayak is just the way to do it. Paddle amongst orca whales and harbor seals while bald eagles soar overhead. Unsure where to start? Contact the outings folks at the Cascade Chapter of the Sierra Club for some local knowledge.

 2. El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument

As we move east from Washington State we come to another natural treasure in northern New Mexico, the El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument. Landscape_OrganMtnsWhether it is hiking amongst extinct volcanoes, or running the river gorge’s whitewater by kayak or raft, outdoor recreationalists will not run out of options here.  While there are endless opportunities to enjoy the beautiful desert landscape of this river gorge, take some time to investigate the cultural and historical richness of this land as well. By understanding the diverse cultures that have called this region home, you will better appreciate the need to protect the land for future generations. The designation of this monument was made possible by a shared struggle comprising many constituencies, including the tribal nations, that have lived there for centuries. No matter your focus, Mission Outdoors is making it easier to experience the region. Contact The Rio Grande Chapter in New Mexico to find out more.

3. Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument 

From the deserts of the southwest we head northeast to another site of historical and social significance in Ohio. The Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument honors the life of Colonel Charles Young, who served as the Army superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant National Parks before the creation of the National Park Service. Combine a visit to the Colonel’s old house with an outing led by the Miami Group of the Sierra Club for an active and educational day!

4. First State National Monument

As the first state, Delaware has been long overdue for its first National Monument. This designation makes up for that by providing visitors with access to over 1,000 acres of land, much of it with established hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails, as well as riverfront access with paddling opportunities for the aquatically-inclined. Tired of all the physical activity? Visit the New Castle Court House where Abolitionists Thomas Garret and John Hunn were tried for violating the Fugitive Slave Act. The Sierra Club’s Delaware Chapter is a great place to start when planning any visit to the area.   

 5. Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument

Our trip has taken us from sea to shining sea, down river gorges and up extinct volcanoes, and still has one stop left. CranesThe Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument along Maryland’s eastern shoreline commemorates Tubman’s commitment to freeing slaves.  Comprised of public lands included in the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, the area provides outdoor enthusiasts with opportunities to view a diverse array of species. For information about enjoying the area and potential outings in the new monument contact the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club and check out their outings calendar.

 

These National Monuments were created through the exhaustive efforts of local people whose common goal of preserving America’s natural and cultural history benefits us all. This summer, let Mission Outdoors help you enjoy your national heritage so that you continue to be inspired to protect it.

 

 

 

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Green Jobs in the Great Outdoors

04/03/2013

Originally published on GoodJobsGreenJobs.org

Think fast — which industry provides more jobs for America: the outdoor recreation economy or the oil and gas sector? Answer: the outdoor recreation economy, and by a huge margin.

An oft-overlooked economic driver, protecting and connecting people with the great outdoors supports 6.1 million jobs right here in America,according to the Outdoor Industry Association. In fact, in 2011 our National Parks alone generated $30.1 billion in economic activity, contributing 252,000 jobs to the American workforce. Outdoor recreation bankrolls more jobs than a host of economic behemoths like oil and gas (2.1 million jobs), information (2.5 million jobs), transportation and warehousing (4.3 million jobs) and construction (5.5 million jobs). Supporting these outdoor recreation jobs (not to mention the additional $80 billion in federal, state and local tax revenue that they generate) is consumer spending to the tune of $646 billion each year.

Unfortunately, we may not be adequately preparing the next generation of job seekers to participate in the outdoor economy, which has seen steady five percent growth since 2005. Today’s children are spending less time exploring and enjoying the great outdoors than their parents did just a generation ago. Young people are using most of their free time on increasingly sedentary and indoor activities. For instance, youth spend more than seven hours a day on electronic media. And it’s not their fault, they have nowhere to go. One in five kids cannot even access close-to-home outdoor spaces because they do not have safe parks or playgrounds nearby.

We need to do more to ensure that we are teaching relevant skills to today’s young people so that they may contribute to the conservation and recreation economy, where they can earn a living in protecting and connecting people with America’s great outdoors. Our work starts by making sure all people, beginning with little kids, have every opportunity to explore and enjoy the natural world where they can develop an appreciation for the great outdoors. Then we need to make sure that young people have the appropriate skill sets to protect and restore our public lands — the places on which a robust outdoor recreation economy depends.

The “Green Jobs in the Great Outdoors” workshop at the Good Jobs Green Jobs National Conference will bring together experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities for ensuring we have a workforce well-equipped to take on green careers in recreation and conservation. For example, you’ll hear about Sierra Club’s Outdoors program which is both connecting people (young and old) with the great outdoors and training the next generation of outdoor leaders. You’ll hear about conservation and restoration skills training programs provided by the Student Conservation Association and the various programs and initiatives housed with our federal land management agencies to prepare current and future generations for careers protecting and connecting America with the natural world.

This year’s conference theme is Let’s Get to Work: Climate Change, Infrastructure and Innovation. Protecting our public lands for the public benefit allows us to grow an economy that greens our planet and our pockets. Outdoor recreation supports three times more American jobs than does the oil and gas industry, so let’s grow our economy by keeping the oil and gas in the ground and protecting the lands on which the outdoor recreation economy and 6.1 million Americans’ jobs depend.

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Inner City Outings: A New Generation of Experiences

03/25/2013

Originally published on The Planet: Sierra Club Stories from the Front Lines

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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."

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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."

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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.

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"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."

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Environmental Leaders Making Herstory

03/21/2013

originally published in The Huffington Post

“Do me one favor, get your children and grandchildren outside to play.” President Obama’s nominee to lead the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Gina McCarthy, appealed to a room full of environmental leaders this morning at the second annual White House Women and the Environment Summit. According to McCarthy, we’ve got two great environmental challenges on our hands, climate change and the growing divide between kids and nature.

March is Women’s History Month, and I am reminded of the incredible women throughout history who stood up to solve the greatest environmental challenges of their day. Rachel Carson, my personal hero, awakened a generation to the dangers of pesticides with her book Silent Spring, which led to the banning of DDT and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. I am also remembering Dian Fossey who gave her life studying and protecting gorillas in Rwanda and Wangari Maathai who endured police brutality for her causes and inspired the Green Belt Movement which has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya and across Africa since the 1970s.

And let’s not forget the leaders of our time – just a few weeks ago, Daryl Hannah went to jail with Sierra Club and other leaders for protesting the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. This morning Gina McCarthy encouraged us to think about each of the women that we know making a difference for the environment. I started thinking about some of the heroes I get to work with – Allison Chin of the Sierra Club, Cheryl Charles of the Children & Nature Network, Rue Mapp of Outdoor Afro, Christine Fanning of the Outdoor Foundation – to name just a few female Presidents and CEOs that are making a difference for the health of our planet by connecting kids and communities with the natural world.

Over the next few weeks and months, two more women are likely to assume leadership positions that will help shape how and with what sense of urgency we address the greatest environmental challenges of our time. This morning Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell cleared a committee vote in the Senate (19-3) along her way to confirmation. Jewell, CEO of REI, has been a steadfast champion for connecting children with nature. Under her leadership, REI helped to found the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) a growing coalition of over 50 national organizations working to bridge the divide between kids and nature. Jewell understands that ensuring each and every child can enjoy a simple walk in nature is the first step towards a lifelong appreciation for the great outdoors and a larger and more inclusive conservation movement in America.

President Obama also nominated Gina McCarthy, the host of this morning’s Women and the Environment Summit and a leader on both climate and connecting kids with the outdoors, to be our next EPA Administrator. During her tenure as Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection, McCarthy established the “No Child Left Inside” campaign to encourage families throughout the state to visit their parks and forests. McCarthy knows that bridging the divide between kids and nature improves the wellbeing of our children and the long-term health of our environment.

While we should celebrate and lift up the women making a difference for our communities and our planet every day, Women’s History Month gives us a nudge to do it now. As a fellow woman in the fight to ensure that our children and our children’s children have a clean and green environment (with lots of safe space to play and connect with nature), I am honored to have been surrounded by female environmental leaders at the White House today, even if we do only get together like this for a few hours each year. 

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Calling All Role Models -- Including Elmo

03/18/2013

originally published in the Huffington Post

When given the choice between broccoli and chocolate, only 22 percent of kids will choose broccoli. But if you put an Elmo sticker on the broccoli, that number jumps to 50 percent. Last week during the Partnership for a Healthier Americasummit, First Lady Michelle Obama reminded me of the power of role models (and marketing) to solve the national childhood obesity crisis.

Since I was a kid, the rate of childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents. In that same time period, the amount of free time kids spend outdoors has been sliced in half.

I used to be a role model for kids. Before moving to Washington, D.C., I was an environmental educator. I spent my days in the field, inspiring kids to learn in and about nature. At the time I didn't realize that I might be helping to prevent or reverse childhood obesity by modeling an active lifestyle in the outdoors.

Today, 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, 15 million children cannot safely walk to a park or a playground, and kids spend 7.5 hours each day on electronic media. These barriers to spending time outdoors must be brought down, but until all kids have safe parks and green spaces down the street, we'll need role models and mentors to help ensure that kids can access the outdoors safely and regularly.

At the Sierra Club, the power to inspire kids to explore and enjoy the great outdoors is fueled entirely by the good will of a vast network of volunteer role models we call outings leaders. Sierra Club's role models don't have red fur or say "oh boy, that tickles" when you squeeze them; they're just ordinary people like you and me doing extraordinary things every day in their communities.

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Sierra Club's volunteer outings leaders get over 10,000 youth outdoors each year, but we know that we can't reverse the growing divide between kids and nature all by ourselves. That is why we are proud to be a co-founder of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) which brings together over 50 national businesses and non-profit organizations to advance opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the well-being of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. We also believe that childhood is the best time for instilling and fully benefiting from a connection to nature.

During the Partnership for a Healthier America summit, I was honored to join some of the co-founders of OAK on a panel discussion called Get Out!(side). Led by the YMCA of the USA, we shared strategies to connect kids with nature and empower a generation of youth leaders in the outdoors. OAK believes that advancing environmental education, community health and wellness, and environmental stewardship initiatives are critical to bridging the growing divide between young people and the outdoors.

Outdoor kids are active kids and advancing opportunities for young people to spend time in the natural world is one way to help end childhood obesity; Let's Move Outside! And, Elmo, if you'd like to show kids and families just how fun it is to get outdoors, we'd gladly take you on a hike.

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