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Inner City Outings Well Represented in This Year's Sierra Club Awards

St Peter's outing
Anne, crouching in the center, on a hike in the NH White Mountains.

Just for a moment, take your hands off the keyboard and give these two a hearty round of applause.

Anne Monnelly Carroll, a 13-year volunteer with Inner City Outings (ICO) in Boston, and Colin Tysoe, chair of Chicago's ICO program, have been named among this year’s recipients of the Sierra Club’s annual awards. Their remarkable and tireless work in bringing the outdoors to inner city youth has touched and inspired countless kids.

Colin Tysoe
Colin, in the cowboy hat, during a River Day Service trip with McCormick Boys and Girls Club.

Anne Monnelly Carroll has won this year's Madelyn Pyeatt Award, which recognizes a Club member's outstanding work with youth. Under Anne's tenure as chair, the Boston program has networked with several other youth and community groups, and has funded, organized, and led more than 75 trips, involving more than 1,300 kids.

Anne has come a long way since her first ICO experience, when she was working in an office and was invited by friends to partake in a canoe trip.

"I was instantly hooked," Anne recalls. "For most of the kids on the trip, this was their first time in a canoe. I remember worrying that the overcast weather and scattered showers would disappoint the kids, but they were jubilant."

The nationwide ICO program consists of 50 groups and coordinates more than 800 trips every year. In many cases, kids come from rough neighborhoods and find themselves surrounded by drugs and gangs. In many cases, these outdoor adventures turn things around for them. ICO leaders routinely see such transformations in the youth who participate and connect with nature. Anne is one of them.

Anne, in yellow, on top of the historic Blue Hill Weather Observatory, located south of Boston.

"I didn't know how important a role ICO trips play until I attended a recent conference on preventing youth violence," she says. "I was surprised to see youth and youth leaders that I had worked with over the years stand up and talk about losing a friend or relative or sibling to the violence. They emphasized how important it was to be able to get out of the city and go camping -- to see that there are places where you don't have to watch your back, where you can lie down in the grass and be at peace or splash with friends in a beautiful lake."

Colin Tysoe, Chicago's ICO program chairperson, won the 2011 One-Club Award, which is given to those who use outings to advocate conservation and the protection of public land.

Colin takes young people to awe-inspiring places they didn't know existed. Under Colin's leadership, volunteers have grown from 20 to more than 100. The number of ICO leaders has doubled to 10. Annual ICO trips have ballooned from 10 to 26 -- involving more than 600 kids. And he's aggressively partnered with Building Bridges to the Outdoors in bringing members of the Chicago Boys and Girls Club out to the state's wondrous parks. This particular adventure was profiled in a 2009 Sierra magazine article.

Between stories in the Chicago Tribune and segments broadcasted on local news stations, Colin has successfully garnered media coverage that has spotlighted the program’s positive community outreach. He also landed coverage with the Spanish newspaper LaRaza to reach Hispanic youth, and secured corporate relationships and support with REI and Yelp.


Colin at the Half Dome, Yosemite.

Colin grew up in Liverpool, England, where he would view and admire the Welsh Hills and the Lancashire Moors off in the distance.

"My earliest trips were with groups of friends," he says. "We would collect whatever ancient camping gear we could borrow and catch the train or hitchhike into North Wales and the Lake District to explore these hills. We were often cold and wet, like the time we realized our borrowed tent had rotted in storage, but good company and beautiful scenery carried us through."

These days, his favorite trips are to Starved Rock State Park -- 2,000-plus acres known for their deep, majestic canyons that run along the Illinois River. 

"Glacial run off has carved deep canyons in the sandstone, which are begging to be explored. In the winter eagles congregate at the park to fish in the unfrozen Illinois River at the dam, often with over 50 perched in the trees nearby. Getting to the canyons can be difficult on icy trails but youth rise to the challenge and have a great day that wraps up with lots of hot chocolate around the massive fireplace in the lodge," he says. "Starved Rock is an hour or so from Chicago, but has scenery unlike anything Chicago youth normally encounter."

Congratulations to this year's winners from the ICO program. Do you feel inspired? Get involved and visit Sierra Club's Inner City Outings to get started.

(Photos courtesy Anne Monnelly Carroll and Colin Tysoe.)

-- Brian Foley

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