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Giving Children the Chance to Get Outdoors!
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by Mike Christensen (Pass It On – Outdoor Mentors, Inc.) and Paul Wilson (WV Sierra Club) | 2007

Without new outdoor enthusiasts, where will our future conservation leaders come from?

We are hearing more and more everyday that today’s children aren’t spending enough time outdoors. What will our world look like when no one has a concern for the environment and the wildlife that we all enjoy  today?

There is a building concern for what has been called “nature-deficit disorder” with our children today. In his book, “Last Child in the Woods”, Richard Louv stated that children today spend less than one half as much time outdoors as their parents did. If you look at the children served by Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS), at-risk children, many of whom come from single-parent homes and live at or below the poverty level, have few opportunities to experience the outdoors we all know and love.

In Kansas, it is estimated that there are approximately 58,000 children who fit that description. You can extrapolate those numbers for your state, and when you do, you will see that we have too many children that won’t have a positive outdoor experience without a mentor stepping up and making it happen. These children will grow up and vote…and when they go to the polls, they probably won’t feel the same way we do or view the issues from the same perspective that we do when it comes to the political issues facing our environment.

The Pass It On — Outdoor Mentors program began as a partnership between the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks (KDWP) and BBBS of Sedgwick County in Wichita, KS. Kansas Wildlife and Parks felt that mentoring was key to giving children an opportunity to experience the great outdoors. To make that happen, KDWP felt it was imperative that they partner with an organization with experience in mentoring children.

The partnership has grown and expanded over the years since that first fishing outing in 1999 and in November of 2006, Pass It On — Outdoor Mentors, Inc. was launched to carry the mission on a nationwide scale. Pass It On — Outdoor Mentors partners with BBBS agencies and other youth mentoring organizations to give at-risk children an opportunity to spend time outdoors with mentors who will share their love for the outdoors.

BBBS has an exemplary record for its mentoring program. It has research that shows that children who have a mentor are more likely to stay in school, less likely to skip school, less likely to use drugs or alcohol, less likely to resort to violence. When you augment that mentoring with quality outdoor experiences, where the mentor can pass along the values and ethics that sportsmen and women adhere to, such as respect for the nvironment, respect for other outdoorsmen/women, and respect for wildlife, the children have all that much more to gain from the experience.

To make it happen, outdoorsmen and women across the country need to step up and become mentors. We need to invest time in getting to know a child and spend time with that child doing the things outdoors that we know and love. Mentoring a child isn’t a time consuming task…it’s simply sharing time with a child. If you are going fishing, take a child with you. If you are going hiking, take a child with you. If you are going to the range, take a child with you. Give that child the opportunity to experience the thrill of a fish hitting the lure, of a big tom turkey strutting in the early morning spring light, of hiking in forests and mountains, of seeing nature at it’s finest.

To find out more about the Pass It On — Outdoor Mentors program, please visit the website at http://www.outdoormentors.org. To contact a BBBS agency in your area, you can visit the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America website at http://www.bbbsa.org.

Any Certified Outings Leader in the Club can permit unaccompanied minors to participate on a Chapter or Group outing if the parent or guardian completes the Minor Medical Treatment Authorization form in addition to the Club’s liability waiver. If every Sierra Club chapter made a point of giving at-risk children the opportunity to experience the outdoors we all love, we could make a huge difference in addressing “nature-deficit disorder.”

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