Our Grants

2019 Special Grants

Current Year Grant Summary

In 2019, the National Recreation Foundation awarded 12 Special Grants for a total of $995,000. 

Audubon TX

Audubon Texas

Audubon Conservation TREKs (ACT) is an outdoor education and leadership program designed to provide intense conservation field experiences to diverse and underserved students, ages 14-19. These are memorable outdoor experiences to which they may not otherwise have access that are focused on interpersonal growth opportunities, environmental science competency, and skill development. ACT experiences drive participants towards environmental stewardship, allowing them to make decisions that positively impact the environment. Programs are multi-day expeditions that expose students to incredible natural ecosystems and environments across Texas by utilizing national and state parks. During these excursions, students are challenged physically and intellectually in a safe way all the while establishing an environmental ethic that will last their entire lives. 

Image of kids on a bench

Camp Joy

Support from NRF allows Camp Joy to unlock outdoor spaces and better connect its campers to nature. Starting in 2019, Camp Joy will provide its campers with the opportunity to be more immersed in nature through over-night wilderness camping experiences in the hundreds of acres of forests that are part of camp but previously were not utilized. Camp Joy will offer its year-round customers, particularly its low-income youth clients, the opportunity to leave their cabins and venture out into the more remote areas of the property. Campers will pitch a tent in the woods, cook on a campfire, learn survival and leadership skills and gain respect for the environment. This will challenge them to perform outside their comfort zone while learning new skills and gaining a greater appreciation for nature. Additionally, the hiking trails are being renovated, expanded and mapped, and two remote spaces on Camp Joy’s property are being made accessible for overnight wilderness leadership experiences. 

image of basketball hoop on van

Chesapeake Arts Center

Public parks in underprivileged areas of Baltimore have sparse programming and support. NRF funding supports the expansion of the Parks First Mobile Rec program which targets small parks without existing park programming, thereby reaching an unmet portion of the population. The best way to make a park safe and clean is through repeated positive use by community. The best way to encourage and establish use is to create dynamic programming. Bringing recreation equipment and trained staff, Parks First Mobile Rec builds programs where none existed previously. Mobile Rec targets small parks for improvement and greater usage. This transforms small parks into wellsprings of hope, where outdoor physical activity can flourish, and the community can grow around it. These efforts build healthier, safer, more active communities. 

image of people river rafting

Colorado UpLift

As part of a strategy for dramatic growth, funding from NRF supports the expansion of Colorado UpLift's signature Adventure and After School Program. This will provide expanded opportunities for outdoor activity, improved physical and mental health, and increased social and life skills for the youth served by Colorado UpLift.

image of teens in a lab

Georgia FIRST Robotics

Georgia FIRST Robotics offers high quality STEM programs to youth from underserved communities in the state. Funding from NRF allows Georgia FIRST to expand its offerings to military youth of active and reserve armed forces. Partnering with three military installations in the state, Georgia FIRST offers year-round programs and serves multiple FIRST Robotics teams for military youth.

image of people in a circl

Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation

Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee created a youth development curriculum, JJK Winning in Life: Physically Active Youth Development Programs Based on Champion Principles. Developed for youth ages 4-17, these programs are flexible in their delivery and provide life-skill training through various recreation initiatives. NRF funding is increasing the program’s reach in the greater East St Louis, Illinois region and starting its expansion into other communities. 

image of children playing jump rope

Jubilee Consortium

Jubilee Jump! engages youth in competitive jump rope activities in a safe and healthy environment, with a curriculum and supportive programming to help them develop and apply life and leadership skills. In the low-income communities of color of Los Angeles that Jubilee serves, there is a disproportionate burden of adverse childhood experiences that are linked to chronic disease and other poor life outcomes. Physical exercise and positive relationships have been shown to positively contribute to children’s overall physical and emotional health, problem-solving skills, and self-esteem. Funded from NRF supports the expansion of Jubilee Jump!, the launch of a jump rope league in the greater Los Angeles area, and the development of a strong mentoring program. Participating youth learn how to set and achieve goals, face and overcome challenges, enhance their focus and determination, acquire self-regulation skills, form deeper bonds with teammates and mentors, and learn the value of sportsmanship and collaboration.

image of children playing in dirt

Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation

The Mannie Jackson Center for the Humanities Foundation (MJCHF) believes it has a moral obligation to foster positive interaction of youth of different cultures and races. Many of these youth live at or below the poverty level, with limited access to healthy recreational opportunities. Funding from NRF supports the expansion of the Outdoor Urban Gardening program to reach a greater number of participants. In addition, MJCHF is partnering with the National Great Rivers Research & Education Center to expand its Swarovski Waterschool USA program. Swarovski Waterschool introduces underrepresented students to the importance of water and the role they can play in improving and maintaining a healthy watershed. These programs serve K-12 participants and develop the next generation of change-agents through engagement in outdoor education.

Mercy soccer

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc.

Mercy Neighborhood Ministries of Philadelphia, Inc. has served the youth of the Tioga-Nicetown neighborhood of North Philadelphia for over 20 years with the highest quality in early education, afterschool, and summer camp programming. Mercy now is expanding its services to the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Funding from NRF enables Mercy to increase the scope of its work by introducing a year-round sports basics curriculum to its afterschool services and establishing an inner-city soccer program for Mercy's youth. In this way, Mercy provides access to healthier lifestyles for the children in the community. 

image of teens with kayaks


Funding supports the continuation of Rippleffect's High School ROLE (Rippleffect Outdoor Leadership Education) program for freshman and sophomores in Portland, Maine, and the expansion High School ROLE with a two-semester outdoor leadership course for high school junior and senior High School ROLE alumni. In the past year, studies from the CDC and Maine Behavioral Health (MBH) have shown rates of depression, anxiety, and societal disconnectedness sharply increasing in recent years. According to a MBH report, over 27% of students reported feeling chronically "hopeless and disconnected," and of this number, nearly 60% come from underserved/at-risk backgrounds. This empirical data has been reinforced by anecdotal accounts that Rippleffect hears from its school partners as it works with them to implement programs that build student social/emotional skills in a way that connects young people to themselves, each other and the world around them. High School ROLE uses the power of the outdoor experience to develop underserved students' social emotional skills of self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, social awareness and cultivating positive relationships. 

teens by the LA River

River LA

With some of California’s most disadvantaged, densely populated, and park poor communities located along the 51-mile long Los Angeles River (or LA River), the potential of the river to become an accessible open space resource to create healthy communities is transformational. Recreate the River engages low income, disadvantaged urban youth with the LA River through a series of programmed group “courses” of recreational activities such as running, walking, hiking, gardening, kayaking, yoga, and games, combined with river-oriented curricula and leadership development. A key objective is to introduce youth to the LA River as an accessible open space resource for recreation and physical activity (which leads to improved long-term health) within the urban environment, while building the capacity for civic leadership, community pride and social responsibility for the future of their river. Recreate the River builds upon the prototype previously funded by NRF, and begins the process of replicating and scaling the program to inspire more youth to embrace recreation and physical activity as an important part of their lives.

image of kids in the snow

SOS Outreach

SOS Outreach empowers underserved youth to access outdoor recreation and the resources to achieve their full potential - in education and in life - through equal parts leadership development, positive adult mentorship, and responsible outdoor adventure. SOS uses outdoor adventure as a vehicle to provide a values-based, leadership curriculum that promotes self-respect, positive relationships, social and life-skills development, contributing to the long-term success for over 4,000 underserved youth between the ages of 8-18 annually. Funding from NRF supports program expansion in Detroit, MI, Chicago, IL, Minneapolis, MN, Salt Lake City, UT and Stowe, VT.