A Partnership w/ Boys and Girls Club, Big Brothers Big Sisters, YMCAs of Virginia
Our partnerships with these outstanding youth organizations sparked the creation of our ” Step Up to the Great Outdoors Program, a three-part initiative that introduces under-served children to Shenandoah National Park–starting by bringing Park Rangers to their neighborhoods and culminating in an overnight camping trip in the national park.
Through a partnership with Boys and Girls Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters, we introduced underserved youth (elementary and middle school) to Shenandoah National Park in three steps–and begin building the connection to their natural world.
Step #1 involved Park Rangers traveling to the children’s schools and neighborhoods to bring park artifacts, like deer antlers and bear fur. Step #2 was a day trip to Shenandoah National Park. With their Park Rangers, the children hiked, played and ate a picnic lunch. For many, it was their first visit to a national park. Step #3 was an overnight camping trip in Shenandoah. The kids learned to pitch tents, cook on a camp stove, and hike to new summits. Each camper received their own sleeping bag as a memento of the experience and incentive to spend more time under the stars.
Help us fund more programs like Step Up to the Great Outdoors and provide access to all.
The camps are structured as a three-way partnership: Shenandoah National Park provides the venue and the Park Rangers to conduct the programming; organizations working with under-served youth recruit campers and serve as chaperones; and the Trust provides the funding. The Trust’s goals for these campers are to:
- Engage in new experiences that push them beyond their comfort zone, in a safe and supportive environment
- Learn teamwork
- Set goals and achieve success
- Foster a desire to serve/volunteer
- Get exercise
- Connect with nature
- Develop a sense of ownership/stewardship of Shenandoah National Park
The camps achieve these goals handily. One camper from a disadvantaged neighborhood in Washington, DC recorded in her journal, “I never thought I would enjoy sleeping outside or working outside in the summer. It was hot and sweaty, but it was the best time I ever had.” Another camper shared, “Being in the woods lightened my spirit and made me happy. It increased my confidence. I did things I didn’t think I could do before. I won’t say I CAN’T anymore!”
Based on the success of these camps, the Trust is now building the park’s capacity to partner with additional organizations, especially those who serve disadvantaged youth in the park’s gateway communities. Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS) and Boys and Girls Club (BGC) have strong reputations and the children they serve live less than 30 minutes from Shenandoah National Park.