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Scrapbook: Inner City Outings Brings Out the Kid in All of Us

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Sierra Club Scrapbook

April 25, 2012

Inner City Outings Brings Out the Kid in All of Us

San Diego ICO

The facial expression of a kid can really tell a story.

Just ask Allan Fein, a San Diego Inner City Outings leader. He recalls an overnight road trip to Sequoia National Park in which the group of kids and trip leaders set up tents under the stars.

"The next morning the kids climbed out of their tents and stood next to these giant sequoias that they couldn’t see in the dark of night," he says. "They had never seen anything that large in their lives. Put a nine-year-old next to General Sherman that's 108 feet around and 250 feet high. I saw her eyeballs pop out of her head."

Moments likes these are a dime a dozen on ICO outings. And that's why outings are as rewarding to adults as they are to the young ones.

Inner City Outings is made up of about 50 groups across the country, reaching some 14,000 kids who rarely experience nature. Many of these kids grow up in tough neighborhoods, unaware of the natural areas nearby.

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"I've taken kids who live 20 blocks from the Pacific Ocean and they've never been to it," Allan says.

A chapter leader since 1993, Allan started San Diego's ICO group in part to recapture the fun he had in his younger years as a daycamp counselor.

"It's a blast working with kids. Something changes as we get older. But kids are very playful and fun, and they see certain things that adults overlook. Your ability to notice things right before your feet disappears. Kids notice everything."

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When Allan launched ICO in his city, the challenges were apparent. Meetings were unorganized and the group's direction was out-of-focus. But after a while, ICO meetings began smoothing out and more volunteers stepped forward. Then one day, a local news van showed up.

"A friend put my name into Channel 10's leadership award program that recognizes people who makes a difference. I ended up winning it. They sent out a whole TV crew and we had ICO kids with us. After that, donations of money and gear took off."

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Nowadays, ICO volunteers are discovering that taking a kid outdoors brings the kid out in all of us.

After a recent outing to Anza Borrego Desert State Park that included 10 adults and 10 kids, one leader wrote to Allan, "Hearing the kids' excitement as we made our way through the rigorous paths brought me back to a time in my childhood when curiosity consumed me and anything was possible. As we arrived at the oasis, I felt very proud of myself. Not because I had made it to the end of the trail, but because I did not allow myself to abandon my childhood….I was able to share my enthusiasm with the kids."

Allan can relate.

"I don't have any children, but I used to be one and I miss it. So thanks to Inner City Outings, I get to have that experience again through them."

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Want to get involved? Visit Inner City Outings.

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