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November 21, 2011

Inner City Outings Leader Heads to the Peace Corps

Sina kayaking

Over the next month Sina Szabados, an invaluable Inner City Outings leader, will be saying farewell to friends, family, and the kids she's made connections with over the years as Outdoors Programs Coordinator with the Presidio Community YMCA in San Francisco. Sina's packing her bags, joining the Peace Corps, and at the end of the year heading to Panama, where she'll be working on conservation and community projects. Exactly what she'll be doing, she's not sure.

"It depends on where I'm located. I could be coastal or I could be in the middle of the Darien Gap," she says.  

But along with her luggage, she'll be taking plenty of ideas with her.

"I could foresee working on soil erosion, which is a big problem down there," she says. "Maybe we'll plant trees, which have the roots needed to hold soil. We can plant nut trees. And then the women there could use the shells of the nuts to make jewelry. And then maybe I can start some sort of fair-trade jewelry business in the United States and bring funding back to the community for projects with kids -- and take them on a trip, or teach them environmental solutions. Or maybe they'll need to build wells. Things like that.

"It's really all about what you make of it, what the needs are, and where you can be creative," she says.

Sina Szabados, YMCA

As someone who curated the partnership between YMCA and ICO in San Francisco, Sina has taken kids all over, from snow camping in the Sierra to hiking through the majestic Marin Headlands. ICO comprises 50 volunteer-run groups nationwide, 800 outings each year, and more than 11,000 kids. In many cases, these kids are at-risk youth who rarely see nature.

"I'll never forget one eighth grade girl who went on one of our night hikes in this meadow. She looked up and saw real stars, not just a speck or two in the sky you see in the city," Sina says. "She said, 'Oh my god, Sina, it's so peaceful.'"

Sina says nature not only provides kids a sense of peace and adventure, but it "takes them out of their comfort zone," teaching them self-reliance. "Whenever kids fall in love with the outdoors, they become the future stewards. In 20 years, they will be the next us. My biggest goal is to empower them and make them want to get outside and get away from their TVs and video games."

Sina grew up in Calaveras County, California, and vividly remembers her first Sierra Club outing at the age of 14 -- a two-week backpacking trip near the Pinnacles along the Pacific Coast.

"One night it actually snowed on us. It was crazy. I loved it."

She then took Outward Bound courses and went off to college to study environmental education.

"By then I already knew I wanted to teach people about the outdoors," she says. "Once I graduated, I posted a resume on Craiglist and three days later the YMCA called me in. I interviewed, and that evening they hired me. It all happened really fast."

ESC kick off 013

Although Sina shares her outdoor experience with others, she also values her time alone outside because "that's when my most creative thoughts on bettering myself come from and where I get my peace."

But her biggest reward is when she takes the kids along.

"When someone's a really good cook and they bring their meal to the table and all these people praise them for their food, they get excited by that. It's the same thing when I take kids to the outdoors. I get to see that glow in their eyes. It shows that I'm really doing something positive with my life. It's a reciprocal relationship in that sense. They're getting as much out of it as I'm getting."

Inner City Outings will truly miss Sina's work and dedication.

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


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