Children & Nature Network Boosts Capacity for Outdoor Programs

a group of people stand and sit together smiling
Photo courtesy of Children & Nature Network

The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) received an Impact Grant from NRF in 2021 that wrapped up at the end of 2022. The grant focused on expanding the ongoing work of C&NN to increase capacity across the youth development field. In this case, the work was particularly aimed at demonstrating the added value of nature-based programming to youth development organizations and helping boost the use of outdoor spaces for youth-based programs across the country. Monica Lopez Magee, Senior Vice President of Programs, Research, and Policy at C&NN, reflects on the experience of implementing the grant and partnering with community organizations in the guest blog post below:

"On reflection, participation in this cohort has been absolutely tremendous for Eagle Eye — even just meeting with the different people around the country engaged in this work,” Chris Cato, Board President of Eagle Eye Institute said. “But also in getting tidbits of how you’re finding success and what your challenges are has been really helpful for us. All the information that the Children & Nature Network has provided and has available, has really helped to enhance and accelerate the work that we’re doing to promote time in nature for young people."


This is all we, my Children & Nature Network colleagues and I, could have hoped for when we assembled ten community-based organizations to participate in a year-long cohort focused on youth development and nature. The cohort was an opportunity for shared learning, building community and problem-solving among dedicated individuals experiencing similar challenges.

several people sit around a picnic table with masks on
Photo courtesy of Children & Nature Network

Although the organizations are based in different geographic regions across the U.S., all share the common trait of placing a high priority on amplifying Black, Indigenous and People of Color staff and youth voices. Programming at these organizations ranges greatly, with focuses on immersive time in nature, integration of the arts and fitness in outdoor settings, providing basic services, and tapping into cultural and Indigenous ways of being — highlighting the many unique ways that youth experience the outdoors.


Within the cohort there was a wide diversity of interests and needs. Eagle Eye Institute in Western Massachusetts sought help to diversify its board, strengthen its volunteer base, and build its staff capacity to be more sustainable. The Cincinnati Nature Center in Ohio had recently found funding to pilot some new ideas for youth but needed assistance with authentic recruitment and engagement of more diverse youth in, and evaluation of, its Teen Leadership program.

Our role at the Children & Nature Network was one of convener, facilitator, listener and resource guide. We hosted cohort calls to build community and one-on-one technical assistance calls for site-specific strategy development, conducted in-person technical assistance visits to their respective communities, and convened the cohort at the 2022 Inside-Out International Conference. All the while, we highlighted good practices, shared new resources, pointed to relevant research and asked questions based on what percolated for them.


Community Nature Connection team member, Celeste Gasperik, reflected on a technical assistance visit from two of our staff with the following message: “Thank you for taking the time to visit us! I really value the depth we were able to achieve by having you visit in person. You are both a wealth of knowledge and I look forward to continuing the conversation through our technical assistance calls, and of course, to the next opportunity to connect in person at the conference.”

several young people work together on a ropes course
Photo courtesy of CJ Goulding

The shared knowledge was put into action. Participating organizations incorporated new practices to support positive youth development outcomes and social emotional learning into their programming; introduced new methods and tools for program evaluation; diversified youth representation in their programs; expanded partnerships; and deepened understanding and practice of centering youth voices and different cultural experiences of nature.


● Community Nature Connection is now helping to create equitable access to nature by raising awareness among marginalized communities that outdoor access in Los Angeles is a public right. It also is creating space and providing meaningful programming around agency and belongingness in the outdoors for youth and community in collaboration with other organizations and agencies such as Northeast Trees and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA).

● Eagle Eye Institute is a BIPOC-founded organization working in the predominantly Latino communities of Holyoke, Massachusetts. The organization is partnering with an urban-based vocational high school to incorporate horticulture and time-in-nature programming, in addition to conducting Learn About Forest experiences for BIPOC youth and accomplices at the MountainStar Forest in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts.

● Hip Hop for Change's Agents of Change  summer camp brings youth from urban landscapes to spend a week in the woods exploring the artistic elements of hip hop such as poetry, beat making, and breakdancing. It is now further incorporating the natural surroundings as inspiration and integrating more evidence-based youth development practices into its nature-based programming.

Read the Children & Nature Network’s Finding Nature News The Perfect Pairing story to learn more about the importance of coupling youth development with nature-based programs, and for more inspirational stories on the topic.