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Experiencing the Environmental World in 134 Days


Never before did I believe it was possible to wake up any time before 7:00am and truly be excited for the day. But working as an intern for the Mission Outdoors program at the Sierra Club has taught me otherwise.

I clearly remember the first week of my internship: a steering committee meeting, a rally at the Capitol, and acting like a sponge, constantly soaking up information. When I think back to January, I think of how much I’ve learned since then. It became apparent to me early on that environmental education and getting people (especially kids) outdoors is something I am passionate about.

After confirming my position at the Sierra Club, my incredible supervisor, Jackie Ostfeld (who is a tireless champion for getting kids outdoors), recommended reading Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods. Reading this book opened my eyes to the magnitude of the problem of kids and their disconnection to nature. It was essentially the jumpstart I needed before coming to D.C. and facing this issue head on.

Through involvement with Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK), I have witnessed much inspirational, hard work to get kids outdoors. Through the coalition I have learned about great examples of outdoor education, everything that can result from a lack of outdoor activity, and have seen steps taken in the right direction to push these efforts that need to be pushed. Who knew that making mud pies in the backyard after it rained or going to the park with my parents could be part of something so beneficial?

During my internship I also got the chance to help organize Mission Outdoors’ kickoff event for military kids and families: the Celebration of the Military Child Outdoors. Thanks in part to my awesome colleague Stacy Bare and his moving stories, I was able to better understand how military children are indeed the nation’s youngest heroes. Seeing their joyful faces on the day of the event was a reflection of how much they need and deserve to enjoy the land their families protect.

Approaching the day to leave is nothing other than saddening. I feel so lucky to have had this opportunity and am honored to have experienced my first, real environmental advocacy work with the wonderful people at the Sierra Club. Getting to see people so driven about their work is truly inspiring for a college student soon to be thrown into the workforce world. I can only hope to cross paths with them again in the future, as I have been inspired to continue to feed my interest in environmental work.

Thank you, Sierra Club!

-- by Sally McGuire, Mission Outdoors Intern

Overcoming Environmental Injustices through Programs and Access to the Outdoors


This week is National Environmental Education Week and I had the pleasure of kicking it off right by participating on a panel called “Overcoming Environmental Injustice: Getting Latino Kids Outdoors.” The panel was part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 2012 Young Latino Leaders Summit, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) Graduate Summit.

I was honored to share the stage with our host and moderator Melissa Ocana (Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute STEM Graduate Fellow), Rowan Gould (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), Lisa Garcia (Environmental Protection Agency), Laura Hickey (National Wildlife Federation) and Roger Rivera (National Hispanic Environmental Council).

Melissa opened the panel by sharing the results of her research. “Environmental justice barriers must be overcome to ensure Latino youth have a fair chance to reap the many benefits of outdoor activity,” said Melissa. “In particular, outdoor activity can result in youth engagement in STEM fields and academic improvement.”

I couldn’t agree more. In fact, Sierra Club supported a study a few years ago to determine how sixth graders from California (primarily Latinos) would respond to an outdoor environmental education experience. Following a weeklong outdoor education course, the students saw improvements in classroom behavior, interest in learning and a 27% increase in their science test scores! More and more research is demonstrating that kids who learn outdoors do better in school across subject areas.

Unfortunately, most kids aren’t getting outdoors, let alone the chance to participate in an environmental education program. Did you know that 80% of Americans (and 90% of Latinos) now live in urban areas with limited access to green space? In fact, 30% of Latino adolescents have ZERO access to safe parks or open spaces. And even if they do have access to get outdoors, the air quality in their neighborhoods is likely sub-par – 66% of Latino families live in areas that don’t meet air quality standards. Sierra Club is fighting for cleaner air and addressing environmental justice issues across the country. 

Through Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors program, we are working to overcome some of the barriers that are boxing an entire generation inside four walls. Each year, Sierra Club trains and certifies hundreds of outings leaders and reaches over 10,000 kids a year through a vast volunteer network of Inner City Outings volunteers. For the last two years, the Baltimore and Washington, DC ICO groups have partnered with the federal government to connect primarily Latino youth with nearby public lands through the Diverse Youth Outings Project.

We’re making some progress, but there is still a big hill to climb. We need to protect funding for environmental education and grow the ability for schools and community-serving organizations to provide quality programming for kids across the country. We also need to work together to ensure that all kids have access to safe, clean and green spaces where they can run and play outdoors.

Be sure to subscribe to the Mission Outdoors newsletter, where we will keep you posted on upcoming opportunities and ways to get involved. 


Profile_EXTRASMALL      by Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative

Environmental Education in Tough Budget Times: White House Summit


Yesterday, I had the honor of attending the first ever White House Summit on Environmental Education. It was inspiring to listen to stories and suggestions from the government, business and non-profit communities about growing our commitments to deliver lifelong (K through Gray) environmental education for all.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson kicked off the summit with the recognition that “environmental education is vital to expanding the conversation on environmentalism and pursuing environmental justice.” Jackson announced the reconvening of a Federal Interagency Task Force on environmental education which would include a dozen or so federal agencies, including the Department of Education – a key player if we are going to make environmental education systemic.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan joined the summit and announced that the Department of Education was “in it for the long haul.” He discussed the role environmental education could play in closing the achievement gap and reducing our high school dropout rates. Did you know that only 8% of low-income kids will get a bachelor’s degree by age twenty-four? Compare that with 80% of wealthy kids. Environmental education has been shown to inspire kids to learn and do better in school.

Richard Louv, one of my personal heroes, and best-selling author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder, gave the keynote speech at the end of the day. Louv called on us to imagine a world where children experience the joy of nature BEFORE they learn of its destruction.

I am pleased to see this Administration recognize the value that environmental education has in our society, across sectors. Environmental education is critical to preparing future generations with the foundation they need to be competitive in a green economy. It’s important for giving our kids a context for learning and the basic understanding they will need to tackle tomorrow’s environmental challenges.

Unfortunately, environmental education has seen better days – at least financially speaking. Approximately $35 million in funding for three environmental education programs was cut out of the White House’s budget recommendations to Congress just a few weeks ago. A good chunk of the funds would have been granted through programs at the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Science Foundation to fund schools, nature centers, zoos, aquariums and other community-serving organizations that are getting kids outdoors and educating them about the environment and climate science, at the local level. The funding for EPA also supports the National Environmental Education Foundation which runs National Public Lands Day, the largest volunteer-led day of service on our public lands.

During the summit, Administrator Jackson assured participants that EPA was still committed to environmental education and will integrate $5 million in funding for FY2013 (half of last year’s EPA environmental education budget) across programs to support environmental education. Sierra Club recognizes that the federal government is facing very tough budget times and that difficult decisions are being made across the board, but environmental education is too important to let slip through the cracks. We need to make a stronger commitment to funding these critical programs.

I am truly thankful to the Administration for hosting such an important summit and helping to raise the discourse about environmental education across sectors and segments of society. I look forward to seeing the reformation of the task force and how we translate this summit into action for our kids and our environment. Sierra Club will continue to work to get kids outdoors and be a national voice in support of environmental education.


Profile_EXTRASMALL      by Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative



Thanks, Martin!


Tuesday morning we woke up to a new era at the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors; an era without the leadership of Martin LeBlanc. It was a weird feeling for all of us coming into work on Tuesday knowing none of us would be calling out to Seattle for our various weekly check in call with Martin, no e-mails coming in over the weekend following up on our latest brain storm about how we could get more people outside or tell the story of one of our amazing volunteers to a larger national audience.

For the last ten years, Martin has spearheaded successful policy, advocacy, granting, and service provision programs at the Sierra Club. His contributions to the movement of getting all of America outside have been significant, as were his travel miles and hours away from home. At conferences and on trails throughout America, Martin not only talked the talk, but walked the walk.

He was responsible for the creation of the Building Bridges to the Outdoors and the Military Families Outdoors programs. Through his leadership, Martin has helped connected literally hundreds of thousands of underserved youth, military kids and their families and veterans with the great outdoors. In Martin’s final year at the Club he oversaw the formation of a new entity, Mission Outdoors, which aims to unite Sierra Club’s programming and advocacy work to get all of America outdoors. He has set the foundation for the rest of us to really build the program in the coming months and years.

MO team

We can look around the Mission Outdoors team, and the broader Sierra Club and see different imprints of Martin and how his time at the Sierra Club has left a positive impression and the foundation for a lasting legacy. The good thing is, we will not have to look far for outside the Sierra Club to find Martin. He is taking over as the Vice President at IslandWood; a beautiful place of respite and environmental education on Bainbridge Island, just west of Seattle.

IslandWood has been the host to a number of Sierra Club programs and retreats in the past, and no doubt will continue to be a place we can call home in the future. Martin, we congratulate you on your work with the Sierra Club and thank you for giving us a chance to do the work we love. We wish you all the best in the future and no doubt, we’ll see you out on the trail….after all, as we lose a director, we know we stand to gain a volunteer!

Grateful for all the women shaping herstory


Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson convened a group of amazing women from across the country yesterday for a White House briefing on women and the environment. I was fortunate to attend on behalf of the Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs and share our goals for connecting new and diverse audiences with the outdoors.

Administrator Jackson reminded us that the environmental protections we take for granted today did not happen by accident. She encouraged us to think about the women throughout history “who have taken slings and arrows to speak out for the environment.” Throughout the morning, I had the opportunity to listen to dozens of strong women share their work and ideas around environmental protection.

Following formal remarks, I participated in a breakout session to discuss some of the more pressing environmental challenges we need to tackle over the next few years. I was pleased to hear an outpouring of support for engaging new and diverse audiences in the environmental movement and ensuring that we are providing environmental education to our kids. There seemed to be a growing consensus that in order to protect our air, land and water, we need to broaden the movement by being more inclusive and disseminating information to a wider audience. I couldn’t agree more.

On my bike ride back to the office following the event, I began reflecting on some of the women who have influenced my perspectives and shaped my character. Rachel Carson immediately came to mind. Better known for Silent Spring and her call to action to end the use of toxic chemicals, Rachel Carson was also a strong advocate for inspiring a “sense of wonder” in children. Carson grew up on a sixty-five acre farm exploring the forests and streams of Pennsylvania. She called on her generation to ensure that children were able to enjoy the same kinds of experiences that had helped to shape her: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” 

In thinking about my own childhood and my outdoor experiences that fostered in me a sense of compassion for the environment, I couldn’t help think about my most significant female influence, my mother. My mom wasn’t the outdoorsy type by any stretch of the imagination. She tells me about the one time she went camping with my dad when they were newlyweds – it rained, they hated it and that was that. My parents never took me camping, but my mother gave me the freedom to roam. As a child, I was encouraged to get outdoors to play with other kids in the neighborhood. We would explore the cornfield across the street, sled down the street (we lived on a hill), or run through the forest at the top of the hill – really it was just a few trees, but to a small kid, it seemed like a forest. I had plenty of time to be outdoors, pick flowers, breathe fresh air and just be a kid. I am not so naïve to think that all of our streets and neighborhoods are safe enough for parents to just shove their kids out the door and say “don’t come back until dinner time.” But for me, time outdoors helped develop within me a love of nature which I carry with me today.

Here’s to all the women out there, past and present that are making a difference in the world and in our lives. Happy Women’s History Month.




 Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative




Celebrating Unsung Heroes


Do you know a Champion of Change? Yesterday, I had the honor of celebrating thirteen Let’s Move Champions of Change at the White House. All of the champions are working to improve physical activity in kids; helping to solve childhood obesity one community at a time.

First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off the event by describing her childhood. Like many of us over the age of thirty, the First Lady spent much of her free time playing outside. She recalled how EVERY kid in her neighborhood knew how to play double dutch. Mrs. Obama shares many of our concerns:

  • Kids are sitting in front of a screen for 7.5 hours a day
  • Recess and Physical Education are being eliminated in schools across the country
  • Many neighborhoods just aren’t safe enough for kids to run around and play

The Champions of Change honored at the White House yesterday are all working hard in their communities to address these problems. For example, Dr. Richard Kozoll from Cuba, New Mexico, is building partnerships on the ground to establish sidewalks, trails and walkways that connect people to their public lands. Robert Castaneda is establishing safe play areas and using sports to change the lives of kids in a Chicago neighborhood that has lost far too many children and youth to gun violence in recent years. Melissa Stockwell, an injured Servicewoman, is showing disabled kids that they can “Dare to Try,” teaching them the skills they need to run, cycle and swim.

During the event, I was reflecting on some unsung heroes who weren’t at the White House, but are making real and lasting change in the health and wellbeing of kids in their communities.

  • Rucker Alex volunteers her time to take teenagers, primarily from Latino neighborhoods, on day and weekend trips into the outdoors in collaboration with the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center’s Let’s Get Movin’ program. Rucker is the chair of Sierra Club's Boston Inner City Outings group.
  • Andrew Jenkins take refugees of all ages – primarily from Bhutan, Iraq, and Africa – on outings to help them rebuild their lives in a new environment. Andrew works with the International Rescue Committee and is a leader with Sierra Club’s Tucson Inner City Outings group.
  • Gwen Miller takes Chicago area kids on nature-based outings. Gwen was abused as a child and found strength in nature. She is now working to ensure that more people can overcome life’s challenges by studying to be a wilderness therapist. Gwen is a leader with Sierra Club’s Chicago Inner City Outings group. 

I could go on. Since last year, when Sierra Club established Mission Outdoors, which brings together a variety of unique programs working to reconnect people with the outdoors, I have been humbled and inspired by the passion and commitment of our volunteers across the country working to ensure that all people have opportunities to get outdoors and get healthy. Sierra Club volunteers – you are all Champions of Change!




 Jacqueline Ostfeld; Sierra Club's National Youth Representative



Healthy Kids and Communities


Yesterday, I had the honor of joining new and old colleagues working to support the health and wellbeing of communities across the country at the YMCA Healthy Communities Roundtable in Washington, DC. This was the second time I had the chance to participate in the roundtable, which has grown over the years to include sectors beyond traditional public health groups, such as conservation and recreation groups, including Sierra Club.

Through forums like the one provided by the YMCA yesterday and others, we are learning that getting kids outdoors is a win-win for the environment and for public health, providing that kids can breathe clean air when they go outside (another issue Sierra Club is aggressively tackling). Studies show that kids who experience the outdoors (especially before they reach their teenage years) are more likely to develop positive attitudes towards the environment in adulthood – something our planet desperately needs if we plan to tackle air quality issues, climate change and other ecological challenges that lie ahead.


Research also demonstrates that kids who live in greener areas are more likely to play outdoors and even have lower body mass indices. Time in nature has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, attention deficit disorders, myopia (near-sightedness) and improve cognitive function, physical fitness and social behaviors. Groups like Sierra ClubOutdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK) and the National Wildlife Federationparticipated in the roundtable and shared some of the research and work being done to reconnect all kids (no matter how green their neighborhoods are) with nature.

During the roundtable, I learned about other nationwide efforts to improve public health. For example, did you know that 60% of hospitals across America are non-profit and provide “Community Benefits” like supporting biking or walking trails in order to maintain their 501(c)3 tax-exempt status? This means that groups working to get kids outdoors or otherwise improving the health of a community may find willing partners in their local hospitals. Also, Community Commons, a new web-based tool to map public health efforts on the ground, promises to be the clearing house for local efforts working to reverse childhood obesity and improve community health.

Getting kids outdoors is good for the health of kids, the health of communities and the health of our planet. Learn more about Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors programs that are reconnecting America with the outdoors, and take a kid outdoors this weekend – you’ll both be healthier for it!


---by Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club's National Youth Representative


Shaking the President’s Hand at the White House Conf. on Conservation


IMG_4648_head shot

 By Tiffany Saleh, Mission Outdoors Outreach Representative

 “Connecting people to our lands is personally important to me,” said President Obama at the White House Conference on Conservation, held last Friday at the Department of the Interior.  The conference, convened by the President and his cabinet, was titled Growing America’s Outdoor Heritage and Economy, and involved leaders in the conservation community in a discussion about progress made by the America’s Great Outdoors (AGO) initiative and strategies for growing that success. 

I was honored to receive an invitation to speak during a conference breakout panel on youth and outdoor education.  In attending the conference, I was glad to see a continued focus on connecting people to the outdoors, the prime focus of Sierra Club’s Mission Outdoors.  Since the inception of the AGO initiative two years ago, Mission Outdoors has taken this opportunity to not only educate leaders about the growing divide between people and nature, but to encourage this issue’s inclusion as a major pillar of the Administration’s conservation platform.  We organized youth leaders to attend the listening sessions, developed for Sierra Club’s vision document recommendations about reconnecting youth with the outdoors, worked with our partners at OAK- the Outdoors Alliance for Kids to support the First Lady’s Lets Move Outside initiative, and much more. 

That’s why I was so happy to hear the Administration emphasizing over and over the importance of getting outdoors, not only for individuals, but for the conservation movement and the American economy.  I was joined in this by my colleagues who also attended the conference: Jackie Ostfeld, Fran Hunt, Athan Manuel, and Matt Kirby.  During the conference, Secretary Salazar emphasized the economic power of conservation, preservation and outdoor tourism, calling these collective points a huge cornerstone of the American economy.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and CEQ Chair Nancy Sutley led a panel on Renewing Communities: Connecting People to Nearby Open Space.  Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy highlighted their program to retrain returning veterans in outdoor education and interpretation skills. Check out some highlights in the video below (see if you can spot me at 2:15!).


Overcoming this disconnect from nature is vital to the future of conservation in America, a point which I emphasized while speaking on the Youth and Outdoor Education breakout panel.  Sierra Club is bringing over a century of experience to bear in overcoming the barriers to getting outdoors today.  I highlighted how we are supporting the AGO Initiative- we get 250,000 people outdoors every year!- but also called on the Administration and the conservation community to work together to find solutions to the barriers that are keeping people indoors.  As moderator Jon Carson, Director of the Office of Public Engagement, recognized, Sierra Club continues to be a critical partner in implementing the AGO initiative.  I was proud to represent that body of work on the panel and to call for greater commitments to get America outdoors. 

To my surprise and excitement, President Obama joined the conference to give the closing remarks.  As a speaker, I was again honored with a seat in the front of the house, and an opportunity to shake the President’s hand after his speech.  I assure you, that was an unforgettable moment (I just wish I had a picture of it!).  WH Conf Conservation_President Obama_CROP_3-2-12

During his remarks, the President again emphasized the economic power of getting outdoors: “[We need] the kind of ideas that preserve our environment, protect our bottom line, and connect more Americans to the great outdoors.”  But it was his comments about the personal effect the outdoors has had on him that stayed with me.  The President spoke movingly of his first trip to Yellowstone National Park, and how inspired he was when he later repeated that experience with his own children.  That inspiration drives his current commitment to preserving those experiences for future Americans. 

“And that is what we have to fight for.  That’s what’s critical, is making sure that we’re always there to bequeath that gift to the next generation…I’ll do everything I can to help protect our economy but also protect this amazing planet that we love and this great county that we’ve been blessed with.”

Mr. President, I couldn’t agree more.  


Growing Up Green - Meet Sally, Mission Outdoors Intern


Nearly every summer when I was growing up, my family and I traveled to a small town in Colorado, just across the geological border where Rockies begin to emerge. We considered this two-week trip our recovery/getaway from the intense, Texas summers. It was during those annual two weeks when I rode my first horse, learned how to fish, found a love for climbng mountains, saw stars like I’d never seen before, and explored the woods, waiting silently to catch a glimpse of a wild animal that wasn’t a squirrel. It was during this time that my respect for serene places grew enormously. 

In the Colorado town, my parents didn’t have to propose ideas for going outside.  We were constantly outside – my parents, sisters, and I – always going hiking or biking or on some adventure. Our cabin had awful phone service and no TV, but we never seemed to notice. Once we reached a certain age, my sisters and I were allowed to explore surrounding mountains by ourselves (walkie-talkies included). This liberating change allowed for even more time spent outdoors, and there was no delay in fully embracing the opportunity. I remained outside for hours every day, running around in the woods and letting my imagination take over. I’m sure the amount of dirt I carried into the cabin at the end of each day could have supported a small garden. On days when it rained, escaping to our tepee of downed logs was the first course of action. Inhaling the fresh scent of rain was the next. That sense of freedom that the outdoors provides has remained with me ever since.


It was always a sad occasion, making the drive back home. I couldn’t comprehend the emotion I felt when we got out of the car along the way to stretch, feeling the hot wind and watching trash blowing around. But I understand it now: disappointment. As a child, I wanted every place to be just as beautiful and soothing and pristine as my home-away-from home in Colorado, and I could not comprehend why people didn’t feel the same way. The outdoors provided for me an outlet for exploration, peace of mind, and much more. Returning the favor to take a stand for the protection of the outdoors is a logical move in my mind. I am thrilled to be working within the Sierra Club with a program whose mission it is to get people outside.

At home, it was easier to go outside after these trips because I knew of all the fun things that could happen in the great outdoors. If I hadn’t had the opportunity to go to Colorado, visit national parks, or go on camping trips during the year, perhaps I wouldn’t be as passionate about the outdoors as I am now.

I am very grateful for the fact that I was born into a family who happened to love being outdoors, and have them to thank for the many chances to travel and experience it. When I catch up with my parents about my time in D.C., they never hesitate to remind me that they deserve credit for my interest in the green world. And I don’t hesitate to give it to them.  

---by Sally McGuire, Mission Outdoors Intern

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