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February 21, 2012

Inner City Outings: A Time for Imagination

Lara Guttadauro ICO 3Lara Guttadauro was an Inner City Outings leader before she became a mother.

So when her daughter entered elementary school, Lara decided to combine the two, bringing the rewards of the Sierra Club program to her child's classroom. Now nearly every Wednesday after school, Lara and other parents take about a dozen kids on an outdoor adventure -- whether it's a mile-long trail loop or the local aquarium.

"It's so enjoyable to see the kids outside playing," Lara says. "We can walk two blocks to a playground where the kids play for two straight hours. They interact and use their imagination. The girls will put together dirt and leaves, come up to you, and offer it as a cupcake. This is the time for them to have fun and be creative."

Lara is one of the several volunteers across the country that brings Inner City Outings to life. ICO encompasses 50 groups that lead more than 800 trips for 14,000 kids each year. In many cases, kids in ICO live in crime-ridden areas without access to the outdoors.

Lara, who lives in Newport, Kentucky, had been a Sierra Club member for 23 years. But she wasn't an active member until 2002, when Lara and her husband were looking for ways to get involved and share their love of the outdoors. Reading about ICO in their chapter's newsletter, they decided to attend a meeting about it. ICO was the perfect fit. The local ICO group's focus was with 15 kids located in Cincinnati on the other side of the Ohio River.

"At first I was a little intimidated because we were in a bad part of town," she says. "But these were second and third-graders who were just so excited to be outside and have an adult focusing on them and guiding them."

For the next five years, Lara and her husband led ICO trips with the same groups of kids, taking them on outings and watching them grow.

"These kids became a part of our family," she says.

Lara Guttadauro ICO 1

Although the group disbanded as the kids grew up, the experiences stayed with them. Lara remembers chatting with one former member of the group who attended a eco-friendly high school that offered a "green" education.

"He chose that school because he liked the environment and his time with the Sierra Club," she recalls. "When he told me that, I thought, hey, that's one kid we reached. We made a difference."

When Lara's daughter recently reached grade school, Lara saw a chance to bring ICO to Newport.

"There are an awful lot of kids here who do not get the outdoor experience. It doesn't matter what your race or socio-economics are: All kids don't get out enough. They are nature deficient. And just free play-time deficient."

When kids play in nature, it triggers their imaginations. Watching their creativity swirl as they play reminds Lara of her younger days.

"My parents had an acre of property and a creek that ran in the back. They'd simply tell us, 'Go. Go play,'" she says. "So we'd run out there, collect sticks and big rocks, and build forts and castles."

Want to get involved? Visit Inner City Outings for more information.

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