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June 13, 2013

Inner City Outings: Feeding Off the Kids' Energy

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Inner City Outings connects kids from city neighborhoods with the outdoors -- something they rarely ever get to experience. For ICO leaders, just witnessing the kids' reaction to nature makes the program worthwhile. The proof is in the thank-you notes.

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"It's amazing," says Roger Johnston, who currently chairs the Inner City Outings group in Los Angeles. "For kids, there's a natural attraction of the outdoors. These trips always end with them wanting to come back. The last outing, a bunch of them were writing down the name and address of the place we visited so that they could go with their parents."

Roger is one of many ICO volunteers across the country who run 50 ICO groups. Together, they conduct more than 800 outings each year, serving about 14,000 youth. Many of these kids have no outdoor experience and instead live in areas that struggle with crime and drugs. ICO outings provide a respite from that and connect kids to natural areas that they didn’t even know existed.

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Los Angeles' ICO group is one of the most active, with more than 40 leaders coordinating more than 100 outings a year. Many trips visit such special places as the Santa Monica Mountains, Solstice Canyon, and the Sierra Club's Harwood Lodge in the San Gabriel Mountains.

"Some of these outings are an educational opportunity," Roger says. "For example, if we're in the Santa Monica Mountains, I'll talk about how the Native Americans used to live on the land, plants, and animals. I’ll talk about the yucca moth and how it’s the only insect that can pollinate the yucca plant and how they connect."

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When visiting Topanga State Park, Roger talks to them about its oak trees and how they’ve evolved for more than 300 years when the Native people lived there. "These trees were here when the Tongva tribe was here. They were here when the Spanish ranchers arrived. That’s the sort of thing that gets them excited and challenges them," he says.

Roger grew up with parents who took him to the Sierra and Lake Tahoe. From there, he grew an affinity for the outdoors and eventually hiked the John Muir Trail. Now he gives back through ICO and, as he says, "I feed off the kids’ energy because they’re just a whole lot of fun."

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Want to get involved? Learn more about Inner City Outings.


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