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Inner City Outings Gets Kids Outdoors

Audio

Aired 1/25/10

Inner City Outings is an organization that helps urban youth discover the outdoors. We speak with a chairperson from the organization and a youth who has participated in the experience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. Packing up the kids and taking a trip into the great outdoors is a right of passage in many American families. It's a way for children and their parents to explore the wonders of the natural world. But some kids don't get the opportunity to go on a nature vacation. Their world is full of concrete and stucco and the nearest they get to nature is at a city park. That's where the organization Inner City Outings comes in. They've been working to take groups of San Diego kids on hiking and camping trips for years. And to tell us about the program, I’d like to welcome my guests. Bill Tayler is co-chair of Inner City Outings. Bill, welcome to These Days.

BILL TAYLER (Co-chair, Inner City Outings): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Griselda Cisneros-Limón, a student at Promise Charter School, has gone on an Inner City Outing. She’s here to tell us about it. Hi, Griselda.

GRISELDA CISNEROS-LIMÓN (Student, Promise Charter School): Hi.

CAVANAUGH: First, let me start with you, Bill. Tell us a little bit more about Inner City Outings. What is this organization connected to?

TAYLER: We are an outreach program of the Sierra Club and, nationally, there are Inner City Outing programs in, I’d say, over 20 cities across the U.S. In San Diego, we’ve been operating since the early 1990s, and what we do is, we take inner city kids that don’t have the opportunity with their families to go on day hikes, camping trips, backpacking trips. During the summer, we go snorkeling, kayaking, things like that.

CAVANAUGH: How long have you been involved, Bill?

TAYLER: About two years now.

CAVANAUGH: And why did you get involved?

TAYLER: I saw the program and I went on one trip in early 2008 and I’ve hiked most of my life and really enjoy it but just doing it with the kids, it added a whole new element of fun and it just hooked me right away.

CAVANAUGH: Now, when we talk about Inner City Outings and targeting inner city kids, exactly who is eligible to participate? How old do you have to be and that sort of thing.

TAYLER: We work with six agencies in San Diego County. And through them, we take kids on trips that are generally between 2nd grade all the way up through high school. Most of the kids are a little bit older, 4th or 5th grade up through high school but that’s the age range.

CAVANAUGH: And so the agencies contact you, is that right?

TAYLER: Well, we establish longterm relationships with the agencies. Sometimes they contact us, sometimes we contact them.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, I see.

TAYLER: And then we establish a longterm relationship where we can work, hopefully, for years and years with them with the children that they serve.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit more about the kinds of trips you go on. Give us some examples.

TAYLER: A lot of the trips are day hikes. We do day hikes out in the mountains and out in the desert, and also more locally, over to Point Loma and Torrey Pines. And then we also run a good number of car camps. And for those, again, sometimes it’s up in the Cuyamaca Mountains or up in the Lagunas. We had one in the Laguna Mountains this past summer. And sometimes we go a bit further. We go out to Joshua Tree sometimes. We go out in the Anza-Borrego Desert. We’re actually taking one this next weekend out to Anza-Borrego, out on 78 and the eastern part of the desert.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Bill, you’ve been involved in this, as you say, for about two years. Tell us what kind of reactions that you’ve seen coming from kids who haven’t had much exposure to, as I say, the great outdoors, nature in the wild, that kind of thing.

TAYLER: Oh, it’s really, I think, the most gratifying part and the most amazing part of the program to see kids that haven’t really ever been out of the city and to see them explore a very foreign environment and not only learn to enjoy it and love it but get a lot of self-confidence while they do it. And, you know, there are some children we took out this past summer, snorkeling, and a lot of them were very good swimmers but had never been in the ocean. And at the beginning of the day, they were very scared of the fish and really clung right to the adult who was with them and by the end of the day a lot of them were leading the adult, you know, far away from shore to kind of explore new areas, and they really gained a lot of self-confidence. And you see the same sort of thing with, you know, rock climbing in Joshua Tree where initially they’re unsure of how high they want to go and by the end of the trip, we have to kind of make sure they’re not going further than you want.

CAVANAUGH: So for a lot of these kids, therefore, it really is the first time they’ve been exposed to this kind of stuff.

TAYLER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. I mean, they’ve never really been out of a truly urban environment, for some of them, and to just get out and see pine cones and squirrels and, if we’re lucky, deer and rattlesnakes and coyotes, is just a great experience.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Griselda is here with us, Griselda Cisneros-Limón. And, Griselda, you were on one of these outings. I understand you went to Joshua Tree. What was that like?

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Umm, it was kind of scary at first because like you saw the rocks and like you had – there was mostly like climbing. There’s like you had to walk but climbing. And when you looked down like it was scary, like if you were going to fall. The – Bill was saying that there was going to be rattlesnakes so we were kind of scared about that but we actually got to see one so that was nice. It was a lot of work but it was worth it at the end of the day. Like when the trip was over, we all got to say what was our favorite part. My favorite part was when we saw the rattlesnake and when we were climbing.

CAVANAUGH: Now – So you really liked the climbing after awhile, even though it was like a little scary to begin with.

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Tell me, have – What’s the closest you’ve ever come to being really out in the wilderness like that in Joshua Tree before that.

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Umm, just really like going camping and just walking around, that’s the closest.

TAYLER: And she had been on some other trips with us before Joshua Tree.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, you’ve been on some other trips.

TAYLER: Yeah, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Do you like getting out of the city and exploring this natural world?

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: How different is it? I mean, you know, you go – you have your places where you want to go in the city and you like the city and so forth. What do you learn from being out in nature?

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: What you learn is not to be scared and even though it’s hard, you could do it because at the end of the day, you’re going to feel like, wow, like you did it. Like it’s going to feel amazing.

CAVANAUGH: So even when you – if you have to push yourself to do something new, it feels good afterwards.

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Ha, that’s interesting. Bill Tayler, co-chair of Inner City Outings, you know, we hear that kids, inner city kids, kids of all sorts, are consuming more media now. I mean, they’re sitting in front of the TV, they’re not getting out as much as they ever, you know, they did in the past, even play in a city park. So how important do you feel it is that kids get outdoors and explore nature?

TAYLER: You know, I think it’s important both for an appreciation of nature but also for their own development. And for me, being out in nature is a way to get away from all the stress and negativity that sometimes you get in the city and to really learn who you are and to learn who your friends are and also to bond with their teachers and some of the adults in their life out of the city environment. And with Promise Charter, we have teachers come on the trips, and it’s really a great chance for the kids to bond with each other and also with their teachers in a different sort of environment.

CAVANAUGH: I wonder, you know, playing at home, watching TV, playing video games, how is it different, Griselda, being out in the world and taking on these challenges like climbing rocks and seeing rattlesnakes, stuff you wouldn’t normally do.

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Well, if you’re at home just playing video games or watching TV, you see the same thing over and over every day. When you go to hikes, like you see different things. You discover things, and you get to do things that maybe you won’t do for the rest of your life.

CAVANAUGH: If you’re – you know, this is all fascinating and it’s such a good idea for everybody to get out more in nature. I’m wondering, where does any – Inner City Outings get its funds from?

TAYLER: We don’t get money from Sierra Club. We raise it either from private donors or from sponsors. We get some funding and some equipment from REI and Adventure 16…

CAVANAUGH: Oh.

TAYLER: …and we do get some grants from places like California Endowment and things like that. We have to apply for that. We’re all volunteers. We don’t have any paid fundraising staff and so all of us have regular day jobs and we do this basically on our free time and because we enjoy it. But we do rely on the generosity of a lot of individual donors to support the outings.

CAVANAUGH: And how big are the groups of kids you take out to these various locations like Joshua Tree and camping and snorkeling and stuff like that?

TAYLER: They typically are about 12 to 14, somewhere in that range.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And you say basically over 5th grade level?

TAYLER: Usually starting at about 4th grade is when the kids really start to…

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

TAYLER: …head out, yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Has your group, because it seems like even with your donations and with the volunteer time, have – has your group taken a hit because of the recession?

TAYLER: We have seen our donations and also grant opportunities go down this past year, absolutely. So we’re, as I think a lot of nonprofits are, struggling a little bit to raise money in this economy.

CAVANAUGH: Uh-huh. I know a lot of nonprofits have been saying the same thing. Are you – How are you keeping going?

TAYLER: You know, really, it’s just getting the word out. We have a column that we run each month in the local Sierra Club High Sierran magazine and we get a lot of publicity that way, and through things like this. So the more people hear about us, I think a lot of people see that it’s a very good program. They like that it’s all volunteer run, so they know that their donations are going straight to getting kids out on outings and not paying for overhead or staff. And we run pretty leanly, so that’s really part of it, too.

CAVANAUGH: I’m interested, Bill, and Griselda said something about this, too, you know, when – it seems like if you’re not used to going out into nature or snorkeling or going on a camping trip or hiking, the initial reaction for a lot of kids might be, you know, I don’t like this. This is – this is strange and crazy and I just want to, you know, go back to my familiar zone. I’m wondering if you get that reaction frequently and how you counter that.

TAYLER: We get it sometimes initially, and I think the way to counter it is just to start slow and let the kids, you know, get into their comfort zone at their own pace. But I’ll tell you, by the end of every outing, the only question is, you know, when’s the next one, when can I come back, can we stay another day? So there’s never really any of that at the end of it, it’s only for a short time at the beginning. And, you know, I think once the kids get out there and they see what they’re capable of doing and they see that this very different environment isn’t really dangerous, it isn’t really scary, then it – the growth that they have in that relatively short period of time and the confidence they get is really just amazing.

CAVANAUGH: Griselda, can I – the idea can I stay another day, have you ever felt that way on one of these trips?

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: And what is it, I wonder, that is – that would want – make you want to stay another day? What would you learn from getting out and doing these things more often?

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Well, like I was saying, like you could discover things, like you get to see things. And it’s just like usually at school you talk to people but like not really and when you go to hikings, there’s different people that go so you get to know them more. And that’s one of the things that you – that I like about – that you don’t see all the people every day. I mean, you see them but you don’t get to talk to them but when they’re there, you get to like talk to them.

CAVANAUGH: That’s the whole idea of getting new friends and building trust, like you were saying. Let’s take a call. Kimberly is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Kimberly, welcome to These Days.

KIMBERLY (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

KIMBERLY: You mentioned that – Your guest mentioned that his organization works with other organizations which serve children and I’m wondering what those organizations are and how a kid could get involved with this.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Kim.

TAYLER: Right now, we work with six different agencies in San Diego. One of them is Promise Charter School. We also work with Sherman Heights Community Center, which is on Island Street just east of downtown. We work with a YMCA Community Center on Balboa Avenue. We work with two community centers that are run by San Diego Youth and Community Services, one in Golden Hill and one in Fairmont. And we work with San Diego High School School of the Arts. So if your child is affiliated with one of those or is able to attend one of those, then he or she could go on trips with us. But if you also have an agency in mind and you’d like us to work with them, then you can contact us through our website. I think you have our website link posted on the KPBS…

CAVANAUGH: Yes…

TAYLER: …website.

CAVANAUGH: …we will, indeed. Yes, indeed. And what if just a parent is listening and would like to get their child involved. How do they go about doing that?

TAYLER: We don’t work with individual children on a stand alone basis.

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TAYLER: We only work with agencies and groups of children through the agencies. And so they’d really have to have their child go through one of these agencies and go through it that way.

CAVANAUGH: How about if somebody listening would like to actually volunteer and take kids on various, you know, outings and camping trips and stuff like that. Do you have to go through some sort of a process in order to make sure that not only you’re a good person but, you know, that you know something about the out of doors.

TAYLER: We do have a short volunteer orientation once a month…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TAYLER: …at the Sierra Club office. It’s at 6:30 on the third Thursday of each month. And that gives you an overview of the program. Then, of course, there’s a volunteer application and a background check that we run because we are working with kids. And beyond that, the best way to do it is to come on a trip and see how you like it and that’s how I did it and…

CAVANAUGH: So you don’t really have to have much of a background in the out of doors.

TAYLER: No, it’s good to have a good level of physical fitness…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

TAYLER: …and a tolerance for being out of doors and, if you want to go camping, sleeping on the ground and things like that. But as far as having a lot of experience, the volunteers don’t really need that. We do have leaders that have probably more experience in some cases with being out of doors and leading trips but to come on a hike and volunteer, you don’t need a lot of prior experience. Really, just enthusiasm for being out of doors and, more importantly, a real enthusiasm for working with kids…

CAVANAUGH: Is…

TAYLER: …because that’s more important.

CAVANAUGH: Is there any cost to the children?

TAYLER: There is not.

CAVANAUGH: Okay.

TAYLER: No.

CAVANAUGH: We have Katy in San Diego on the line. Katy, we’re going to have to make this very, very short.

KATY (Caller, San Diego): Okay. I’m just – I’m a volunteer for ICO. Hi, Bill.

TAYLER: Hey, Katy.

KATY: And I just wanted to add to Bill’s comments. If you want to volunteer with us, you can always come on a trip as a guest and also if you’re thinking about donating, you can always come on a trip as a guest. But I think once you see these kids’ faces light up when they hike, you’ll be, you know, very happy to either spend some time with us or we – you know, we take vol – volunteers and donations. Any amount will help.

CAVANAUGH: Katy, thank you so much. And how do you donate, Bill?

TAYLER: Again, you can go through our website. There’s a way to donate online or if you’d prefer to do it through a check, the address for doing that is also on the website.

CAVANAUGH: Terrific. Well, I want to thank you both so much for being here. Thanks for telling me about your trip and the rattlesnake, Griselda. I appreciate it.

CISNEROS-LIMÓN: Umm-hmm. You’re welcome.

CAVANAUGH: And I’ve been speaking also with Bill Tayler, co-chair of Inner City Outings. If you’d like more information about that program or you’d like to comment, you can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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