Making a Difference West Edition

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Outward Bound Adventures show children a new world

Kids, leave your phones and electronics at home; you’re going on an adventure.

For some, Outward Bound Adventures’ excursions are a time to unplug and be worry-free as participants experience the outdoors, often opposite of the concrete jungles they live in.

For nearly 60 years, urban youth and families in Pasadena and Los Angeles County have joined the nonprofit on trips that last from days to almost a month, visiting islands, mountains, beaches and deserts.

“It is absolutely critical for every child to have access to the outdoors and not just because of the stewardship value that it promotes, but for the emotional, social and physical health benefits of having children connected to nature,” Charles Thomas, program director, said.

Thomas knows this because he was once a child participating in Outward Bound’s programs.

“I got in a lot of trouble as a kid and I was one of those kids that needed a lot more attention,” he said. “The founder of Outward Bound Adventures, she always took the time to share with me the value I brought to the conversation even if I was 14 years old. I said I would always take the time to listen when a child speaks, to understand them.”

The commitment to providing access to the outdoors to families in urban cities began with Pasadena school teacher, Helen Mary Williams, and the after-school club of her creation, Junior Audubon Society.

Williams wasn’t alone in her mission to bring children to the outdoors. She worked with other teachers like Helen Criss and one of the original Tuskegee Airmen pilots, LeRoy Criss. The mountaineering aspect of Outward Bound Adventures comes from Eldridge “Bud” Ross Jr., one of the first African Americans to join the Sierra Club Los Angeles chapter.

According to the organization, about 80,000 youths and families have been impacted by Outward Bound Adventures. Currently, there are four main programs the organization uses to teach youth from marginalized communities.

Each program uses six areas of focus: eco- and cultural-literacy; community engagement; stewardship and Leave No Trace ethics; team building and leadership; physical challenge and outdoor careers in conservation.

The Environment Restoration Teams offer short- and long-term paid positions to dropouts, veterans and recent high school graduates.

Families are most involved in the Natural Resources and Stewardship Academy, a year-round series of trips and courses about environmental conservation and education. Teach Me to Camp also helps families get involved with a guided introduction to wilderness and camping basics.

Because much of the staff are volunteers, programs like the Youth Advisory Council and the Diverse Outdoor Leaders Institute help train youth and adults to lead wilderness trips that will inspire the next generation.

“What I care about is that we have a larger community of color serving communities of color,” Thomas said. “I want certified, qualified instructors of color throughout Los Angeles — whether they’re at another nonprofit or starting their own — I want people who look like the kids that we’re trying to serve.”

Other than volunteers, donations keep the business running at its best with people offering money, equipment, training and educational support. The donations from the community allow Outward Bound Adventures to leave worries about equipment, food and transportation on them and not the people who take part.

In the future, Thomas would like the organization to expand to San Bernardino, San Fernando, Oakland and other cities. He also plans to focus on foster children and starting satellite campuses in Compton, Watts and East L.A.

“We’re not just an outdoor camping organization, that’s what we do when we’re out there, but what we’re trying to do is introduce these kids to a lifetime of outdoor recreation and careers in conservation and the environmental field. And that starts with them being comfortable outdoors.”