Our Grants

2022 Trustee Grants

Current Year Grant Summary
In 2022, the National Recreation Foundation awarded 40 Trustee Grants totaling $745,365.

Aspen Institute

The Aspen Institute / Forum For Community Solutions

In communities across the United States, youth of color are some of the most severely and disproportionately impacted by systems like foster care and the justice system. They also face serious disparities in school discipline and suffer from extreme rates of violent victimization. These systems are some of the biggest drivers of the persistent inequities experienced by these youth, drastically increasing their barriers to opportunity, and are root causes that reduce community cohesion. The Aspen Institute’s Forum for Community Solution’s goal is to improve these systems and build community cohesion with leaders who can reach across these silos and draw on the strength of their diversity.

One way the Forum for Community Solution supports leadership development, builds community trust and incorporates the healing power of culture and the outdoors is through the outdoor recreation activity at the 2022 Native Youth Community Adaptation and Leadership Congress. This Congress (in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and U.S. Forest Service) convenes youth from federally recognized Tribes at the National Conservation Training Center. During the Congress, youth participate in an outdoor recreation outing, choosing from a white water rafting on the Shenandoah River, a challenging hike, or a fishing expedition on the river.


Atabey Outdoors

Atabey Outdoors

Atabey Outdoors specifically engages and serves Black and Brown girls (including Indigenous and Latinx), ages 8-12 years old, in the Metro Phoenix area to address the lack of access and representation outdoors; mental, physical, and behavioral health; life skills; outdoor education, sustainability and climate change; and community. While it is geared towards creating a safe space for girls to explore the great outdoors, Atabey Outdoors also serves as an enrichment program, gives girls a safe space to speak on topics relevant to their lives, and promotes fellowship between Black and Brown girls.

The girls are exposed to fun and engaging outdoor activities such as urban farming, plant/flower identification, astronomy, water sports, hiking, camping, rock climbing, and more. Atabey Outdoors helps with accessibility by providing gear, snacks, and transportation, which makes the girls feel supported and encouraged to try new outdoor activities. Each activity connects to a valuable skill, such as balance, organization, communication, mindfulness, and critical thinking.

Backyard Basecamp

Backyard Basecamp

Predominately Black and low-income neighborhoods historically have been denied access to parks and green spaces, high quality food, and education. With a dual focus on cultivating healthy food for the northeast Baltimore City community and developing programs to get neighbors outside, Backyard Basecamp is meeting the needs of its community in their own backyards at BLISS Meadows, a 10-acre land reclamation farm and forest project.

Backyard Basecamp developed the Fox and Heron Summer Camp—a drop-off program (which helps meet the need for summer child-care) at BLISS Meadows. Fox and Heron educates children on how to grow their own healthy food and cultivate an adventurous taste pallet that welcomes curiosity about foraging and food production. Backyard Basecamp participants study food production, build a close connection with, and understanding of, Earth’s natural cycle of growing seasons, and foster empathy by caring for farm animals. They will also connect to the local ecology by learning and playing in the forest exploring freshwater ponds. Children’s innate curiosity about the world around them will be guided and strengthened by Backyard Basecamp’s adult staff who have a strong sense of place attachment and natural history knowledge to share.

Bike Works

Bike Works Seattle

Bike Works is deeply rooted in the Columbia City neighborhood of Southeast Seattle. Despite gentrification, the city is home to the greatest racial and cultural diversity of people in Seattle—69% of residents are people of color and 43% speak a language other than English. Because of a history of redlining, car-oriented road design, and discriminatory practices in healthcare, education and bank loans, the neighborhood faces significant challenges. Despite these difficult circumstances, Bike Works participants show up to workshops, events, volunteer opportunities, and rides, and exemplify leadership, critical thinking, and collaboration.

Bike Work’s overarching goal is to empower young people to live healthy, engaged, and productive lives. It offers youth a suite of progressive hands-on enrichment classes, riding clubs, and camps, which take place after school, on weekends and during the summer. Youth build connections with friends while experiencing mountain biking, touring, cyclocross, BMX, and road riding, many for the first time. Outdoor learning opportunities include having the chance to guide bike routes, visit cultural sites, and engage in facilitated dialogue about cycling and social justice. As youth explore their community by bike, they learn the fundamentals of riding safely and the value and freedom of sustainable, environmentally-friendly transportation. Bike Work’s also offers job access programs that involve teaching both “hard” bicycle mechanics skills and “soft” job skills like resume writing and customer service.

Brown Girl Surg

Brown Girl Surf

People of color—particularly women of color—face inequitable access to California’s beaches, the ocean, and surfing. Persistent inequities across race, including housing discrimination, create barriers for people of color to reside near coastal areas and/or have ample resources to access these areas. Geographically-based, shelter-in-place beach restrictions (due to COVID-19) have further affected people of color and continue to impact equitable access. Brown Girl Surf (BGS) works to address barriers to ocean and surf access by creating opportunities for girls, women, and gender nonconforming individuals to develop a close relationship with themselves, each other, the ocean, and surfing. BGS believes that surfing and connecting to the ocean should be accessible to all girls and women of color, particularly those in the East Bay who experience varying barriers to accessible outdoor spaces.

BGS’ flagship outdoor education program, Surf Sister Program, connects participants to ocean-based recreation through progressive female-centered surf programs, opportunities for leadership development and community building. A unique intergenerational model fosters connections among younger and older surfers and creates space for mother/daughter participants. Being outdoors is not only linked to improved health and well-being, but also allows individuals to gain confidence and connection with their natural world. In addition to breaking down societal barriers, BGS also removes economic, physical, and operational barriers to accessing the ocean and surfing. No experience is necessary to participate, registration is on a sliding scale, and all surf equipment is provided for free and transportation needs are supported by BGS.

Catalina Island Conservancy

Catalina Island Conservancy

Avalon School’s (on Santa Catalina Island, California) student performance on the most recent California Science Test was below district, county, and state average in percentage of students who met or exceeded standards. Some 70% of Avalon School youth live in low-and-middle income, working poor families, and qualify as disadvantaged; 50% speak English as a second language. Most Avalon youth spend their lives in the one square mile town of Avalon. Many of these children live in homes with no yards and no easy access to outdoor/nature spaces, and their parents often work long hours, making outdoor experiences difficult to coordinate. Enrichment, and particularly science enrichment, is a core need for these students.

The Catalina Island Conservancy’s Island Explorers programming serves kindergarten through fifth grade students at Avalon School. It provides a structured and layered suite of field experiences that connect learners to the out-of-doors; provides bilingual support materials that reinforce continued independent nature exploration, hands-on resources for school and home learning; and, most importantly, sequential year-to-year incremental learning aligned with Next Generation Science Standards for California Public Schools. Support materials provided to teachers include a Journey Map of lesson topics and Journey Kits of hands-on materials for classroom use. To engage the family, all students receive bilingual curricula and have access to hands-on Explore Packs that they can check out for nature exploration at home. Island Explorers helps participating students engage with nature locally and provides a safe and supportive space where they can learn more about their island home.


Cheyenne River Youth Project

The Cheyenne River Youth Project (CRYP) is a Native, woman-led non-profit serving Lakota youth ages 4-18 on the Cheyenne River Lakota Sioux reservation in South Dakota. The purpose of CRYP’s youth centered programming is to build leadership skills; build strong life skills; strengthen the connection between Lakota youth and their culture, art, and traditions; increase the number of kids committed to wellness, exercise, and healthy eating; teach youth to garden to improve food security; and cultivate and train the next generation of culture bearers and community leaders. CRYP works to break the cycle of disease in Lakota youth through art, health and wellness education, and opportunities to participate in exercise and sports.

CRYP is improving its outdoor recreational areas to better serve more its youth by building an arbor under which the youth can learn and perform traditional dances and by making improvements to the walking/jogging path that winds through its Waniyetu Wowapi Art Park. Its teen participants are also working to complete CRYP’s 50-hour Native Wellness internship, which gives CRYP the opportunity to work one-on-one with these teens to build awareness, skills, healthy habits, and confidence in their abilities.

Chicago Training Center

Chicago Training Center 

Chicago Training Center has identified 11 Chicago Public Schools high schools that are within three miles of its boathouse and have less than 400 students. Because of the schools’ small size, those students have far fewer resources directed towards their out-of-school time, whether that time is for athletics or project-based learning experiences. A partnership with the Chicago Training Center provides needed resources to enhance the physical, emotional, nutritional, and educational aspects of the students’ lives through competitive rowing.

Chicago Training Center provides an in-school introduction to the sport, using the Center’s equipment, for freshman and sophmore students. Chicago Training Center student-athletes involved in its year-round programming receive physical training, both on and off the water, in a safe, nurturing environment free-of-charge. Those youth practice five day a week, during the most critical three-hour period after school.  Additionally, students are responsible for a group project learning activity defined by them and facilitated by the Center’s staff. Chicago Training Center’s programming supports leadership, teamwork, and pride.

Chicago Voyagers

Chicago Voyagers

Chicago Voyagers focuses exclusively on serving adolescents living in greater Chicago’s high-need communities such as Englewood, Belmont-Cragin, and North Lawndale. Most participants have numerous adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including lack of familial support, abuse, high rates of community violence, and poverty, which can negatively impact the brain’s development leading to emotional dysregulation and antisocial behavior. They also do not have access to nature and the outdoors. Chicago Voyagers’ programs use a multi-faceted, neuroscience-based approach to prevent or diminish the impact of ACEs.

Chicago Voyager’s efforts to provide middle school and high school youth with year-round adventures are carefully designed and therapeutically-informed to improve self-esteem, promote smart decision-making, and encourage responsible behavior. By incorporating a variety of outdoor activities, such as hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, overnight wilderness excursions, and sailing, Chicago Voyagers endeavors to cultivate in participants a sense of self-empowerment, personal responsibility, and a belief in their ability to overcome challenges. Programming is strengths-based and focused on four components: relationship, growth zone, mindfulness, and experiential learning.

Cincinnati Squash Academy

Cincinnati Squash Academy

According to the Cincinnati Health Disparity Reduction Plan, the top three solutions to Cincinnati’s imbalance of healthcare and community wellness practices are to add services in high-need areas, support positive social environments, and focus on health education. The Ohio Department of Education gave Cincinnati Public Schools’ (CPS) an overall grade of a D grade; for gap-closing, graduation rate, and preparedness for success, CPS scored Fs. The Cincinnati Squash Academy’s programming delivers on all fronts to address these crises. CSA is an urban squash program that has been serving youth in Over-the-Rhine since 2014. The purpose of CSA is to help these students leverage the power of sports to gain access to other opportunities—specifically creating a pathway to and through college.

CSA recruits kids from schools where 70% or more of the students qualify for free or reduced lunch and provide them with intensive academic support. Its expanded model, “community squash,” breaks down economic and racial barriers. All ages, races, and backgrounds come together for squash and family activities.

City Kids

City Kids Wilderness Project

America’s great outdoor spaces belong to all citizens, and yet a large majority of youth of color who grow up in urban communities never get to create in our country’s wild spaces. City Kids Wilderness Project works to bridge this participation gap by inviting middle and high school youth from some of Washington, DC’s most underserved communities to explore, recreate, and challenge themselves in wilderness settings on a long-term, sustained basis. By overcoming that initial barrier to entry, City Kids helps youth to grow as explorers in their own lives.

City Kids uses city, natural, and wilderness settings in DC and Jackson Hole, Wyoming (its home away from home) to achieve its mission to build resiliency, broaden horizons, and develop life skills. During the school year, youth participant in activities on the Billy Goat Trail; biking the C&O Canal; sea kayaking in the rivers, swamps, and oceans of South Carolina; and rock climbing as close as Sport Rock Indoor Climbing Gym and as far as the Shenandoah. During the summer, youth travel to Jackson Hole to participate in summer camp. The summer is filled with camping, horseback riding, backcountry hiking in the Sawtooth and Grand Tetons mountain ranges, kayaking in Yellowstone National Park, and so much more. In addition to these outdoor adventures, the program provides career exploration and job training for high school youth, as well as community service opportunities and social justice workshops.

Colorado Springs Youth Sports

Colorado Springs Youth Sports

Young people in the lower income areas of Colorado Springs have limited access to soccer fields and are in need of constructive activities. Nearly all local soccer fields, whether at schools or in parks, are either locked or restricted only to organizations with insurance that are renting the fields. The societal issues of concern include sedentary lifestyles, and lack of access to proper athletic fields and a safe, constructive activity during times when young people are often engaged in less-than-safe activities. Colorado Springs Youth Sports is addressing these issues through its Youth Soccer Outreach Program, which is designed to provide high-school aged participants supervised access to a high-quality soccer field for evening use. This access provides opportunities for character development through team-based athletic participation and physical fitness, and it gives high school youth a healthy alternative to other activities teenagers may engage in during out-of-school hours.

Participants in the outreach program are high-school aged from Harrison School District, Colorado Springs School District 11, and Widefield School District. All three of these school districts encompass portions of southeast Colorado Springs, are highly diverse, and include a significant number of low-income families.

Courage Ranch

Courage Ranch

The rural Texas communities in Atascosa, Karnes and Wilson counties are underserved for mental health services, especially for children. There are greater challenges to the provision of mental health services in rural communities, including the stigma that surrounds mental health as well as an overall distrust of unfamiliar individuals and practices. Rural residents often travel long distances to receive services and are less likely to be insured for mental health services and to recognize an illness. Courage Ranch is a trauma-focused, equine-assisted psychotherapy facility, located in Floresville, which was founded in response to the significant lack of mental health therapy services in rural South Texas. Courage Ranch provides a safe space for clients to find hope, belonging, and connection in order to build a foundation of lifelong well-being. Its unique program features are attractive to rural communities, which lessens the stigma and creates a greater sense of safety and comfort for its clients.

Sessions are conducted outside and every client establishes a greater sense of connection through their relationship with a horse or donkey—a foundation for healing. Clients who come to Courage Ranch face issues of grief, abuse, depression, suicidal ideation, isolation, fear, and anxiety. Through connection, however, clients find meaning in their trauma and can regulate responses to future trauma.

Detroit Hives

Detroit Hives

The health of those in inner cities, and more specifically people of color, is often the last to be considered. Detroit Hives, a honeybee education and conservation initiative, hopes to change this by building community and cultivating knowledge within the city and by beginning conversations about health and healing among young people. Detroit Hives' “Bee The Change” program educates children and families on the native plant species of their natural environment, the pollinators species/types that need these plants to cross-pollinate, and revitalizes vacant lots by removing blight and hazardous materials that potentially present a risk to families. 

Bee the Change is an out-of-school experience for young people and interested community members. Participants have the opportunity to do learning on their own, through collaborative experiences with an expert at the apiary, and within their community. Participants benefit from a 2-6 week educational partnership that is anticipated to lead into a longer-term project within the community and a lifetime of healthy lifestyle choices moving forward.

Detroit Horse Power

Detroit Horsepower

Modern horseback riding is an activity often unavailable in low-income, urban, and minority communities. Horseback riding builds transferable skills through riding and caring for horses, such as perseverance, empathy, responsible risk-taking, confidence, and self-control. Detroit Horse Power (DHP) has taken a leading role in making this programming available to urban, youth-of-color in Detroit. The organization’s riding programs are informed by research on equine-assisted learning and are designed using precedents set by urban riding programs that already serve similar populations in other United States cities.

Detroit Horse Power’s summer horseback riding camps provide students, between 8-18 years old, a free weeklong day camp experience. Students learn riding and horse care, interact with guest speakers from equine professions, and reflect on their experiences. DHP is also working toward constructing an unmatched urban equestrian destination on a 14-acre vacant land site in Detroit by 2023. This innovative development will make DHP’s unique program accessible in students’ communities.

First Tee North Florida

First Tee North Florida

The First Tee of North Florida serves a seven-county area, which contains several underserved communities. One of those is Jacksonville’s northside, a predominantly African American community that is home to First Tee’s Brentwood Golf Course program location. The City of Jacksonville’s crime rate is 52% above the national average, and the high schools that serve the Brentwood area (Raines and Ribault High) have historically been under the county’s average graduation rate. The children in the Brentwood area community risk being involved in crime and not finishing high school.

First Tee of North Florida’s Rising Leaders of Jacksonville program specifically targets middle-school aged children that have never played golf or engaged in First Tee curriculum. The program enables participants to build the strength of character that empowers them through a lifetime of new challenges. It includes all aspects of First Tee’s traditional curriculum in a condensed, fast-track way to get participants on par with the First Tee curriculum of Core Values, Healthy Habits, and Life Skills, all while introducing the game of golf. Rising Leaders also adds components of education, volunteerism, and advanced golf instruction. The program helps invest in the children’s character foundation and give them to resources to be a successful Rising Leader.



Since its founding in 2014, Gardeneers has partnered with schools in under-resourced communities to directly address issues related to food apartheid. Due to racial inequities and centuries of systemic racism, many BIPOC communities in Chicago face significant health issues. Our nation’s food system is unjust. Gardeneers seeks to connect communities to self-sustaining resources that will help create a more equitable food system. The skills and knowledge gained in Gardeneers’ program paves the way for healthier futures for all Chicagoans.

Gardeneers partners with a network of elementary through high schools, primarily on the West and South sides of Chicago, in low-income, under-resourced communities of color that face barriers to fresh, healthy food access. Its school farm and garden programs contribute positively to the larger food system by building students' awareness, knowledge, and skills to address food inequality and become leaders who care for themselves, their communities and their environment. Gardeneers’ full-service, customized school garden and farm programs engage K-12 students each year through spring, summer, and fall 10-week programs. Gardeneers’ curriculum is based on three pillars of learning: supporting student nutrition, experiencing natures, and connecting with communities.

Girls on the Run Triangle

The 2017 Status of Girls in North Carolina report provides the following data: 65% of high school females are not physically active and the percentage of young women in North Carolina making a serious suicide attempt has doubled since 2011. Girls on the Run Triangle (GOTR) is a physical activity-based, positive youth development program for girls in 3rd-8th grades designed to develop and enhance their social, psychological, and physical competencies to successfully navigate life experiences. Its mission is to support a world for girls to act on their values and opportunities.

The GOTR curriculum treats health as a holistic state of being and addresses the mental, emotional, social, and physical health of participants, which combine to create a positive influence that is greater than the sum of its parts. By investing intentional time, education, compassion, and mentorship in participating girls, GOTR strives to prevent unhealthy behaviors. GOTR has successfully forged alliances with several Parks and Recreation Departments, specifically in Durham and Chapel Hill, and has piloted neighborhood teams in local parks—introducing many resources to families who were unaware of the organization’s existence. GOTR is capitalizing on these efforts to identify parks and communities to host teams. In addition, it is reaching into Wake County and identify regional parks that are located near high-need schools and neighborhoods.

Glacier Peak Institute

Glacier Peak Institute

Over the last 20 years, Darrington, Washington, has experienced a significant rise in poverty, an increase in free and reduced meal rates, and increased special needs within the Darrington School District, all while funding has been cut by a third. These factors put Darrington youth at high risk of academic failure, crime, mental health disorders, and substance abuse. Rural communities, such as Darrington, have been told for years that outdoor recreation is the economic way forward. However, there are no local outdoor recreational employment opportunities in town. Glacier Peak Institute’s mission is to empower youth to build resilient and sustainable rural communities and healthy ecosystems across the Glacier Peak region of Western Washington through innovative, action-based education programs integrating science, technology, recreation, engineering, art, mathematics, and skill-building.

Glacier Peak Institute has launched a new rafting program, Rivers as Bridges, that will serve youth (ages 11-18) through paddle sports. The program is guided by rafters (ages 18-24) from similar communities who have attended guide training. Rivers as Bridges creates access through gear, land, and mentorship. Glacier Peak Institute will partner with local school districts, tribes, universities, nonprofits, and environmental groups to provide exposure to a conservation ethic, outdoor recreation, job training, skill building, and the resiliency of surrounding ecosystems.

Grand Canyon Youth

Grand Canyon Youth

Grand Canyon Youth (GCY) envisions a diverse, equitable world empowering all youth to live with purpose while caring for self, community, and the natural world. Youth are struggling with high rates of obesity, diabetes, anxiety, and depression with economic and social inequities, which is especially true for Indigenous youth. The rivers of the Southwest have been deeply important for Indigenous people since time immemorial. Through colonization, access to the river has been limited to mostly white, wealthy tourists. GCY seeks to open up this access through collaboratively designed experiences that connect Indigenous youth to these special places. These immersive experiences, when combined with intentional pre- and post-expedition support, can be transformative. Youth work alongside scientists, Tribal elders, educators, and guides to create connections and create future stewards of the rivers and canyons of the Southwest. Additionally, GCY strives to recruit, train, and support Indigenous youth to explore becoming guides and mentors.

GCY efforts promote opportunities for mentorship, participation in citizen science, exploration of potential careers and immersion in the outdoors through one-to-17 day projects that take place on several sections of river. GCY has working relationships with schools, nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The partners participating in the project help with recruitment of participants and the co-design and implementation of the expedition curriculum.

Grow Dat Youth Farm

Grow Dat Youth Farm

In New Orleans, parents warn their children not to venture outside of securely locked doors into a neighborhood full of unknown and danger. These youth don't get a chance to enjoy nature, sunlight, or feel the soil between their fingers. Unfortunately, students who don't have the opportunity to learn about nature or to "love the land" may be missing out on opportunities to excel both academically and socially. In outdoor settings, students are more motivated to work together in groups, which can improve their social skills. And outdoor learning allows students to put their focus back on nature. Grow Dat intentionally serves youth throughout New Orleans, a city known for both its culinary creativity and prevalence of food deserts. According to the 2019 report “Map the Meal,” 26% of the children in Orleans Parish were food insecure. In 2020, the same report, indicated how the pandemic exacerbated already high food insecurity rates, as young children were faced with missing breakfast and lunch due to school closures.

Grow Dat is uniquely situated to provide opportunities to develop leadership skills, initiate change in communities alongside a diverse group of residents and increase fresh food access for local residents. It responds by working with young adults to increase food access with fresh harvest to be taken home and to their communities. Its participants are a diverse group of young leaders, ages 15-24, who work alongside adult staff and volunteers to grow over 30,000 pounds of food each year. These young adults thrive on the farm as they cement their purposes in life via engagement with natural environments and food production.

Ironwood Tree Experience

Ironwood Tree Experience

Communities are experiencing societal and environmental challenges that affect the happiness, health, and wellbeing of people, places, and the planet. To forge a future that is restorative, hopeful, and healthful, youth need opportunities to safely access public lands and gain a sense of belonging in the natural world; gain skills and confidence through enriching outdoor activities; and inspire environmental justice in their community. To create these healthy and resilient communities, Ironwood Tree Experience (ITE) makes it possible for young to engage with the natural world and be stewards of the environment.

ITE’s Youth Action Corps (YAC) is an outdoor recreation and environmental education leadership program for youth ages 14-18, from southern Arizona high schools that have a majority population of Hispanic, Native American, and Black students. Members work together with community leaders, scientists, nature enthusiasts, and ITE staff to gain awareness, skills, and confidence in hiking, camping, backpacking, wildlife observations, stewardship and conservation practices, and natural and cultural history lessons of the Sonoran Desert and its people.

Kids in Focus

Kids in Focus

In 2019, over 377,811 Arizona children were living in poverty and 87,862 experienced abuse, neglect, or homelessness. When kids experience these traumas, it affects every aspect of their life, creating many barriers to success, including impaired brain development, trouble focusing, increased stress and anxiety, chronic diseases, and a disconnect from the world and themselves. For this population of kids, the social isolation, financial insecurity, family losses, and other stressors caused by the pandemic are particularly devastating. Preliminary research indicates an increased risk of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal ideation in kids ages 6-18. Identifying and responding to these mental health needs is more important than ever. Kids in Focus (KIF) is dedicated to empowering and equipping kids to shift from surviving to thriving. Through the healing power of photography, KIF inspires kids to reconnect with their world and build resilience, trust, and hope.

KIF’s True North Photography Day Camps provide kids from Maricopa County an opportunity to get out of their neighborhoods, and often stressful lives, for a full day of exciting adventure. The camps provide four fun-filled day excursions throughout the year for kids and mentors to take the classroom on the road. They travel on buses equipped with state-of-the-art screens allowing them to partake in fun interactive photography lessons as they ride safely to their destination. Once there, they engage in physical outdoor activities that connect them to nature and themselves. Each child receives a camera to use, a backpack to keep, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The trip home includes a celebratory slide show of the kids' best photos.

Living Classrooms

Living Classrooms Foundation

Many Baltimore communities are experiencing the effects of generational poverty driven by decades of racially inequitable policy, limited access to quality education and living wage job opportunities. These inequities also include a lack of safe outdoor recreation spaces for children and youth who are, therefore, unable to reap the physical and mental benefits offered by nature and outside activity. In addition, these communities have historically high rates of adverse childhood experiences, such as neglect, abuse, having incarcerated parents, exposure to drug activity, and high rates of teen pregnancy, which create barriers for youth desiring to achieve educational and career aspirations. To address these issues, Living Classrooms has developed a Girls’ Empowerment Mission (GEM).

GEM teens go on a week-long outdoor adventure trip to Torrey, Utah—home of Capitol Reef National Park and Fishlake National Forest. They likely have never traveled far from their urban surroundings in Baltimore nor experienced character-building outdoor adventures in the western canyon country. This trip of a lifetime challenges the girls to take healthy risks and try new outdoor activities. They will be introduced to career and higher education exploration in an array of sciences, natural resources management, and historical/cultural resources. This opportunity will take the students outside of their comfort zone, where they will learn and master new life skills that may not be presented to them in their daily lives in Baltimore.

MN Zoo

Minnesota Zoo Foundation

Many youth lack access to nature and nature-based experiences due to geography (overly developed urban landscapes), socioeconomic status, and/or physical or cultural barriers (lack of representation, accessibility accommodations, etc.). Evidence indicates that spending time in nature leads to increased physical activity, improved mental wellness and emotional balance, and enhanced academic performance. The Minnesota Zoo’s mission is to connect people, animals, and the natural world to save wildlife. Research shows that meaningful experiences in nature lead to empathy for nature. Providing opportunities for youth to develop a positive relationship with nature within their own cultural, social, and personal context improves their own wellness and builds the foundation for a conservation ethic that supports a healthy future for wildlife.

The Minnesota Zoo’s new Nature Survival Camp program provides week-long summer camp experiences for youth at the Zoo. The week-long summer day camp is based on its popular Survival Training camp, which culminates in an overnight tent-camping experience at the Zoo. Participating youth gain life skills for nature recreation and exploration that empower them to transcend barriers, both real and perceived. These small group camps are offered to different groups of middle school-aged children each week for 3-4 weeks during the summer. These nature-based “classroom-less” camps allow campers to explore how animals survive in the wild, spend time observing animals around the Zoo, and practice survival skills on nature trails in the Zoo’s undeveloped North Woods.

MN Landscape Arboretum

Minnesota Landscape Arboretum

Growing research connects nature-based programs with improved health and well-being of young people. Although the benefits of nature-based programs are clear, access is often limited by geography, economics, and age. Urban teenagers are especially in need of positive, nature-based, community-integrated experiences where they can learn, explore, develop ideas and make valuable contributions. Gardening is one of the most hands-on, experiential ways to interact with nature. The Minnesota Landscape Arboretum’s partnership with Hennepin County’s Parents in Community Action (PICA) Head Start expands access to quality, hands-on, nature-based programming for children while at the same time creating a unique paid summer internship for Growing Good Urban Garden Teenagers.

The Arboretum’s Growing Good PICA Partnership Program creates opportunities for urban teens to deepen their own engagement with nature while contributing to their younger peers connecting with nature through hands-on garden experiences. Working with the Arboretum, paid interns design a summer garden project for PICA Head Start summer classrooms, which include the planning and installing of raised bed gardens, planting plans and activities for three garden sessions. Interns learn and collaborate with Early Childhood educators and Arboretum staff as they develop and prepare the experiences for the early childhood classes.



Montezuma Lane Conservancy / Montezuma Inspire Coalition 

Youth in Montezuma County, Colorado, do not have access to high-quality education and struggle to easily access public lands on which to recreate. A high percent of students live below the poverty line and its teachers are underpaid, leading to high teacher turnover and contributing to the county's low ranking in performance and attendance. Geographic and population nodes within the county are widespread, which can cause youth and families to struggle with transportation, access to the internet, completing education, and participation in supporting programs. As a result, 10 diverse nonprofit organizations, agencies and municipalities came together to form the Montezuma Inspire Coalition (MIC), which aims to empower the next generation to respect, care for, and steward themselves, their community, and the natural world around them by offering life-long skills that will be passed from generation to generation.

MIC partner Dolores River Boating Advocates offers summer programming for youth to gain an understanding of their local watershed, ecological and conservation issues related to the Dolores River, enrich their classroom learning, and explore the river first-hand. San Juan Mountains Association (SJMA), also a MIC partner, provides outdoor science enrichment programs that takes place during the regular school day. Throughout the school year, students explore their local environment, examine environmental issues through the lens of a scientist, learn principles of leave no trace, and acquire basic outdoor skills.

Muddy Sneakers

Muddy Sneakers

For too many children, access to nature is determined by race, income and zip code. Current data shows that the average American spends 93% of their time inside, with kids spending 44 hours per week in front of a screen and less than 10 minutes playing outdoors. Muddy Sneakers was created to awaken in children a deeply felt connection with the natural world.

Muddy Sneakers partners with public schools throughout North Carolina, including Rowan-Salisbury and Henderson County Schools, providing interdisciplinary, science-focused outdoor experiences for 5th-grade students that the schools would not be able to replicate on their own. These partnerships allow schools to expose students to content experts who can light a passion for science education through authentic outdoor experiences that connect students to nature. Students have real-world, experiential learning opportunities outside, six times a year, all supplementing the state’s Essential Science Standards. Educators find deep value in these partnerships as they too learn from content experts on how to craft a curriculum-aligned outdoor lesson for their students.

National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy

Many New York City youth do not have the resources to help them develop the life skills of examining, interpreting, and processing the barrage of information they receive, be it historical or current events. The National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy’s mission at Federal Hall is to create a unique forum for civic and civil engagement, where multi-disciplinary talents will interpret the ideas, ideals, flaws, and contradictions of American democracy through the arts, humanities, and cultural experiences. The Conservancy is using its play—The Democracy Project—as a centerpiece for a workshop which uses history as a prompt for critical examination of history and creative expression.

The Democracy Project is a 45-minute perspective-shifting odyssey through the 531 days when New York City was the nation’s first capital; when the presidency was new; the slave trade was in debate; and the U.S. Constitution—and the rights of all of America’s inhabitants—hung in the balance. The Democracy Projects’ Youth Storytelling Workshop uses American history as a prompt for critical exploration and creative expression. During this workshop, high school-aged youth from NYC public schools and other groups, are engaged through a specially devised curriculum, attend a play performance and a skills session and will be asked to submit creative projects in response to these activities. The goal for youth after the workshop is that they’re able to examine history, current events, their own lived experience, and weave creative narratives.



By understanding more about birds, including how they survive and contribute to the urban environment, students forge a critical connection with nature as it exists in their own communities. Birds in my Neighborhood (BIMN) is a volunteer-driven, environmental education program offered free-of-charge to schools in Northeastern Illinois. Managed by Openlands with assistance from the Chicago Audubon Society and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) at Volo Bog, the program introduces students in grades two through five to the common birds of the region through in-class lessons and field trips. It connects students to nature where they live, develops and empowers future stewards of the natural world, creates a culture of conservation within the communities, and strengthens the region’s ability to conserve land.

BIMN promotes children spending time outdoors as a safe way to socialize, exercise, support mental health, and to become more familiar with the natural world. Currently there are seven schools with in Lake and McHenry Counties in the BIMN network. Openlands is expanding the program to include as additional schools in communities like Round Lake, North Chicago, and Waukegan.

Radical Monarchs

Radical Monarchs

California-based Radical Monarchs’ work is rooted in the belief that early adolescent girls of color need dedicated spaces that sharpen their socio-political critical thinking skill set in order to understand and address inequities that impact their lives. In general, 3rd-5th grade girls of color are often overlooked and deemed “too young” to engage in the civic engagement and the political decision-making process. The girls that Radical Monarchs serves (and their families) belong to many of the communities under attack, which include immigrants, formerly incarcerated residents, people with disabilities, low-income residents, and LGBTQ community members.

Radical Monarchs saw the need for self-determined solutions to the barriers girls of color overwhelmingly experience and knew the tactics used to slay these barriers must be rooted in girls being able to name and shape what they need to thrive in a world that rarely centers their brilliance, their voice, and their power. This need is addressed through its Radical Badge Curriculum. Learning about and engaging with nature is a foundational part of its programming, with a deep connection to nature through its Radical Badges like PachaMama Justice and Radical Healing. Indigenous healing and resilience practices are also foundational pieces of the Radical Monarch Movement, and it has been engaging with these practices since its inception. In addition to the organizing toolkit, Radical Monarchs also teaches the girls how to advocate for themselves and their communities.



SailMaine addresses the lack of access to outdoor recreation for youth in the greater Portland area. The primary goal of SailMaine’s City Sailors Program is to use sailing as a tool to build confidence, leadership skills, and a connection to nature. The organization also aims to provide kids from different socio-economic backgrounds a space to interact, play, and learn from each other.

SailMaine’s City Sailors Program covers the cost of instructors, transportation, gear, food, and mentorship to families and kids that might not be familiar with sailing. City Sailors have access to sailboats, instructors, the SailMaine facility, transportation to and from the program, food during the program, sailing gear, and potential access to additional programming through scholarships. The participants also benefit because they learn a new skill, challenge themselves, meet new people, and interact with the ocean in a unique way.

Saved By Nature

Saved by Nature

Saved by Nature takes youth from marginalized communities hiking and camping and creates partnerships with Youth Alliance, Santa Clara County Parks, California State Parks, Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority and REI to make an impact. The organization hopes to address the social barriers to nature that underrepresented communities face such as language, transportation, lack of knowledge of local parks, financial constraints to purchase footwear, backpacks, and tents as well as low confidence being in the outdoors.

Saved by Nature calls Spanish speaking parents individually to ensure participation, and provides transportation and access to its Saved By Nature REI Gear Library, all at no cost. This library has all the camping gear necessary, so kids have a positive, engaging, first-time, life changing hike and camp outing. Saved by Nature’s Alive Outside Adventure Series involves taking Hispanic at-promise-youth, ages 14-18, on an orientation hike among the redwoods at Mt. Madonna County Park, a preparation hike at Coyote Valley Open Space Preserve, and a one-night backpacking adventure at Henry Coe State Park. These youth experience rare, free access to professional guided hikes and backpacking trip and outdoor leadership through hands-on activities. They foster an understanding of nature as a vehicle to healing and a guide to manage stress and anxiety.

SHAPE Community Center

SHAPE Community Center

Children in Houston’s Third Ward are in continual need of positive activities during their out-of-school time.  SHAPE (Self Help for African (All) People through Education) Community Center helps provide youth with a safe space and motivation to help themselves, their families and community. Its Youth Enrichment Program serves youth ages 5-15 and provides activities that help increase academic performance, provide alternatives to online activity, decrease risky behavior, provide cultural safety, promote family involvement, and form community partnerships. SHAPE's curriculum includes meditation, Spanish, Swahili, photography, physical relays, storytelling, African dance, gardening, life-skills, field trips and more. The children benefit from increased self-esteem, connecting to nature, and decreased learning loss during their breaks.

By connecting with mentors from its Elders’ Institute of Wisdom and local community and business leaders, the children are embraced by a well-formed Circle of Interdependence where they develop life skills, tools, and connections that help them overcome many of the challenges of their “at-risk” environments. Many of its former students still live and work within the community and provide mentoring for the youth program.

Solar Youth

Solar Youth

Solar Youth targets two New Haven, Connecticut neighborhoods, with high percentages of children living in poverty, where few resources promoting positive youth development exist despite the tremendous need. These urban youth face enormous daily challenges such as high family unemployment, substance abuse, crime, and violence. Parents/guardians, while loving, may lack the skills and/or time and energy (e.g., single mothers who work multiple jobs) to provide the support and attention their children need. Too often, youth have an abundance of unsupervised time and find a sense of value and identity through negative behaviors, beginning at an early age. Solar Youth addresses these issues by being a consistent presence in its target neighborhoods. It has built trust as a provider of high-quality youth development programs that promote physical and emotional health. Families rely on Solar Youth to help build community, connect youth to the environment, and foster the social cohesion they need.

Solar Youth’s “Cycle of Stewardship" is designed to help youth ages 5-18+ connect to their environment, community, and each other in a variety of ways. By engaging in the programs, especially over time, youth gain important skills and developmental assets needed for overall physical and mental health, which helps set them up for long-term success. Spending time outdoors—enjoying open spaces, learning in “nature’s classroom,” and stewarding the environment—has always been a significant aspect of the Solar Youth experience.

Soul River

Soul River, Inc

Soul River Inc. interrupts the separation between historically disenfranchised communities (BIPOC, LGBTQ and marginalized communities) in the outdoors by connecting Portland, Oregon, inner-city youth and veteran mentors to public lands, wild rivers, and beyond. SRI’s Environmental Deployment Program is cost-free to veterans and youth, which allows the organization to address the financial barriers that exist for many outdoor activities. SRI believes that access to green spaces is of the utmost importance to all people and through its work, the organization breaks down the geographic, financial, and social barriers to the outdoors.

SRI’s Environmental Deployment Program, identifies environmental issues centered around wildlife and rivers. Then the organization creates a curriculum where U.S veterans teach urban youth in natural spaces. Living and learning by our rivers in untouched places will teach students responsibility, bring healing to veterans, and give them a purpose through mentorship. The goal is to learn, uplift and strengthen communities by connecting youth and veterans to the outdoors, harnessing incredible opportunities and powerful experiences that forge strong connections between them, their communities, and the natural world. Veterans serve urban youth and become life coaches, and in turn the youth give purpose to the veterans. SRI expects offers environmental deployments five to six times per season.

Together We Rise

Together We Rise

Wake County, North Carolina, currently has 500 foster youth. Within this foster youth population, Black children are consistently overrepresented, making up 23% of the total population, but hold an estimated 44% of the spaces in foster care; 100% of youth have experienced childhood trauma or abuse; 100% are economically-disadvantaged; 25% show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder; and 2/3 lack access to transportation. Foster youth are significantly more likely to have barriers to the outdoors, less likely to own personal items, and lack adequate transportation. A bicycle will provide a safe way to play outdoors, pride in ownership, and a reliable way to go to and from school or work.

Together We Rise’s Bike Build addresses the lack of physically active recreation and transportation opportunities for youth in the foster care system by providing access and ownership of bicycles. Bicycle ownership for foster youth will also provide a platform for healthy emotional, physical, and social development. With access to regular recreation, foster youth become more active and gain life skills, contributing to an overall healthier community. This program also improves community awareness of the foster care system, recreational barriers, and impacts on local youth. Together We Rise works with existing partners to source bicycle materials, assemble through a team-building event, and distribute bicycles directly to local agencies.

Walltown Children's Theatre

Walltown Children’s Theatre

Walltown Children’s Theatre (WCT) inspires positive social change by empowering and reconnecting young people from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, creating a new expression of community, and enriching their lives and those of their families and communities, through exemplary performing arts instruction and youth development programming. WCT’s Peer Leadership through the Arts for Youth (PLAY) program is focused on equipping students with the tools that are needed to be agents of change for themselves and their peers.

PLAY emphasizes youth development as an integral part of the arts instruction process. The Walltown PLAYers uses practice labs and performance to engage each other and their peers in constructive conversations about issues challenging today’s youth. PLAYers directly involves high school students and summer campers and engages countless other youth and their families through interactive presentations and artistically facilitated constructive conversations.

West End Neighborhood Association

West End Neighborhood Association

  • Grant amount: $25,365

Arkansas has the ninth highest rate of youth obesity in the United States, with nearly 34% of 10-17 year-olds considered obese. The state also has the most obese high school students in the country, with nearly 22% considered obese. The West End Neighborhood Association aims to address the ongoing battle against childhood obesity for youth in its Jonesboro community by offering them exposure to physical activity, which educates and addresses their well-being. Exercise can break down barriers, increase empathy, and give youth the building blocks for important life and social skills.

The West End Neighborhood Association is enhancing the neighborhood park experience by providing an exercise program geared towards the families and youth living in the neighborhood. The Association installed exercise equipment on its walking trail and it offers educational youth fitness camp programs during the summer, ongoing family weekend programs on the walking trail, and yoga classes under the pavilion.

We've Got Friends

We’ve Got Friends

Due to the social challenges teens with special needs experience, they frequently have feelings of disconnection and isolation, which impacts their social and emotional health. Montclair, New Jersey-based We’ve Got Friends (WGF) provides an engaging and social environment where teens with special needs can develop connections through mutual interests. Being outside and active with peers is beneficial for their physical and emotional health, particularly after this last year of limited social interaction and connection. WGF’s Project Play provides more opportunities for teens with special needs to experience age-appropriate outdoor or indoor recreational activities with their peers, developing connections and a sense of belonging.

Through exposure to a variety of structured outdoor activities, teens with special needs are exposed to new opportunities, learn new skills, and develop new interests the same way as their typically developing peers. The sense of inclusion and belonging to a community of their peers doing activities they are interested improves their social and emotional health. WGF social hangouts helps these teens develop their own social group through music, meals, movement, crafts, and dance. WGF hangouts also incorporate outdoor activities, such as dog therapy, sports, art, parachute play, ice cream sundae socials, gardening, and drumming activities.