By Valerie Hura, 4-H Educator, Youth Outdoors
Happy birthday to Youth Outdoors! Since 1999, over 10,000 youth have participated in programs that connect underserved youth in Cleveland to outdoor programs.
Youth Outdoors provides leadership for over 500 programs annually, reaching approximately 700 youth who participate in adventure clubs, short-term groups and horseback riding activities. Five special events each year reach an estimated 3,000 people.
The partnership between Cleveland Metroparks, Ohio State University Extension 4-H and the City of Cleveland has been providing “Growth Through Adventure” for 20 years. Leaders of that era: Director Vern Hartenburg (Cleveland Metroparks), State 4-H Leader Jeff King (OSU Extension) and Mayor Michael White (City of Cleveland), explored possible ways of connecting city youth to the outdoor world using adventure recreation. Extension Educator Greg Yost and Recreation Specialist John Rode came together to lay the foundation of what would become Youth Outdoors.
Cleveland Metroparks had the outdoor program expertise, access to natural resources and funding. 4-H provided positive youth development and volunteer management expertise, while the city of Cleveland provided the connection to the youth and community through their recreation centers.
Through a series of pilot programs barriers were identified, solutions were created, and adaptations were made creating an adventure club model. A small group structure was initiated including 10 to 12 children, ages 8 to 18 along with at least two caring adults who went on monthly outings. Programming grew from basic hiking and fishing outings to include activities such as biking, kayaking, canoeing, cross-country skiing, camping and horseback riding.
Youth Outdoors programs addressed the needs of the inner-city youth and youth-serving organizations. Not all youth had equal access to the outdoors. Free resources were needed to alleviate the inequity of inner-city youth participating in adventure recreation. Equipment, weather appropriate clothing, transportation, food and expert-led programming were provided at no cost to overcome the challenges of underserved neighborhoods.
The results are impressive. More than 9,000 programs have taken place over the past two decades and Youth Outdoors has collaborated with over 100 community groups. These partnerships span several months-long pilot programs to 19 years of working together. Establishment of the Youth Outdoors horseback riding program in the summer of 2000 with the help and leadership of Valley Riding Inc. is an example of a successful collaboration that continues to serve inner-city youth of Cleveland today.
Seasonal positions are often filled by previous youth participants allowing them to give back to the community. The Youth Outdoors mission to enrich, inspire and connect City of Cleveland youth through outdoor adventure will continue with this next generation.