How can I describe my experience from our first event as The Nature Project? The radiant smiles spread across the faces of 160 boys and girls spending their first days in the outdoors gave me an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for getting to share those moments with them. Sometimes it seems as though I forget how magical our natural world can be until you see those wonders through a kid’s eyes experiencing the natural world for the first time. I spoke with one little 4th Grader named Isabel; as I heard her describe the moment she saw her first owl in the wild was enough to make all the work, time and energy we poured into The Nature Project worth it one hundred times over.
The vision of The Nature Project (TNP) is simple: create opportunities for kids to get outside of their comfort zone and often very industrial, urban, concrete communities and venture into the great outdoors in the company of professional athletes and TNP mentors to learn and see how lucky we are to live on this planet. The greater education and medical community has identified the decline in younger generations spending time outside, under the sun, amongst the trees as one of the more pressing societal and health care issues of our time. We were able to give these kids the chance to simply experience nature – what a gift. Hopefully this time will give them a lasting impression of how great it is to experience their local park or green space, swim in a lake, or even just watch the sunset. Furthermore, facilitating experiences that might foster the cultivation of a love for natural environments enjoyed with friends and family is a dream we hope will be realized in each child that experiences The Nature Project.
While tirelessly working alongside TNP co-founder, Charles Post, and The Nature Project Team to accomplish our goal to create transformative experiences in nature for underserved youth, I found myself brimming with joy as I watched 160 kids planted in nature as they climbed trees, ate stinging nettle, saw owls and bald eagles for the first time – all within a few hours of their home communities. Being in the presence of these transformative moments impacted me and the other athletes deeply. Reflecting on the week has revealed that the athletes likely grew from this experience just as much as the kids. Seahwaks player, Deshawn Shead, pulled me aside before he left the event and mentioned how bummed he was that he wasn't able to experience an event like this when he was growing up. Artist and professional mountain athlete, Rachel Pohl, recently shot me a text saying she couldn't stop smiling from witnessing some of those moments on our trip, and that she can't wait to come back next year.
The group activities that we developed alongside Islandwood’s award winning education team were rooted in self-worth, teamwork, perseverance, and communication, which are aspects that the athletes could build on as from their experiences being part of a team. It’s these qualities that will help these kids excel as they continue walking the path of life. It was evident they were using these tools as we watched groups of kids from different schools and backgrounds work together to accomplish their immediate tasks and reach the goals they had written down beforehand. We were lucky to have the time to work with smaller groups in which the different athletes really had the ability to talk to most of kids individually and therefore stimulate real, meaningful interactions with the students that hopefully they will remember for a lifetime.
Overall; I feel so blessed to have been able to see our mission come to fruition for the first time and realize that what we have set out to accomplish is critical, enjoyable, and very much attainable. I am so thankful for all the help from the great people at Islandwood who were an invaluable key to our success.
Thanks for tuning in and can't wait to share more about some of our events coming up this summer with the YMCA BOLD / GOLD outdoor education clubs.
Cheers and Get Outside,
Raiders Tight End