A movement began June 19-20 in New York City’s Central Park when 500 enthusiastic youth from across the country gathered to talk about how to get their peers outdoors and more active.
Spawned by ongoing industry discussions and pushed into action by the board of the Outdoor Foundation, the first Outdoor Nation Youth Summit (www.outdoornation.org) went beyond adults telling young people to go outdoors or even how or where to go outdoors.
What began as just a brash idea nearly 18 months ago came to fruition when the youth delegates, packed under a tent in the park, divided into groups and brainstormed ideas in six topic areas: careers, diversity, media, recreation, activity and service. And, in the true spirit of democracy, each group came up with its top ideas, presented them to the entire gathering, which then voted on-the-spot for its favorites.
“I am so overwhelmed with the response from the young people here, and that they just keep coming back to work because they feel they are making a difference,” said Christine Fanning, executive director of the Outdoor Foundation, who brought the board’s concept to reality. “This is a great first step in the right direction.”
A diverse gathering representing teens to 20-somethings, from towns large and small, from all 50 states, the youth seemed to know something big was happening: “I like thinking of ways to get people outside and getting them away from their Xboxes and other technology,” Nicole Price, 17, from the Bronx borough of New York, told SNEWS®. “This is such a grand idea. It’s so diverse.
“We’re so different, but we’re so collectively thinking together,” she continued. “It’s surprising how kids my age all have the same ideas.”
An idea born
Getting 500 youth from all walks of life into one place wasn’t easy but happened quickly for such a large undertaking. About 18 months ago, the board of the Outdoor Foundation realized the way to get youth more involved was to create a peer-to-peer movement, said Jay Steere, chairman of the Outdoor Foundation and Timberland vice president of global product management for outdoor performance. And “convening,” as he described it, was a vital part to enable face-to-face discussion, not just online chat.
As executive director, Fanning was given the task to make it happen. It just so happened that tagging onto Backpacker’s annual event Adventures NYC was the perfect timing (photo - right), allowing both sponsors and brands as well as youth delegates and organizers to move from one event to the other. The North Face stepped up as presenting sponsor, and Larry Selzer, CEO of the Conservation Fund and a foundation board member, moved into a joint organizing role. Also partnering with them was the New York Parks and Recreation department, a partner on the Adventures NYC event, and Mobilize.org. A long list of brands, organizations and retailers came on board to help sponsor one or more youth delegates to get to New York City, as well as to nominate ones they knew. (Click here to see our story June 21 for a list of the sponsors as well as a video of the event and photos.)
“Our job was to put out the bread crumbs,” Steere told SNEWS of the foundation’s role. “Let the youth decide where they want to fly. This is the ultimate challenge old white guys in the outdoor industry face.
“The outdoor experience has to be redefined,” he added. And Central Park was the perfect setting for the redefinition, he pointed out -- a park setting in a huge urban city like New York where residents ran, biked, threw Frisbees or picnicked in the meadow across from the event’s tent.
Voting and tallying, including polling on the group’s demographics, were done on-the-spot using Chris Bui’s OptionFinder mobile technology with hand-held transmitters that look like the handset of a household portable phone. In terms of diversity, for example:
- Gender: 53 percent, female; 47 percent male
- Age: 53 percent were 20 or younger
- Race/Ethnicity: 22 percent were African-American, while 50 percent were white
- Area where live: 47 percent were from an urban environment, while 33 percent were from a suburban area and 20 percent from a rural area
In a final evaluation, 93 percent of youth delegates said they felt the summit should be an annual event. The foundation, the board and event sponsors will now look at what is possible, from an annual event to regional events. Grants announced by The North Face ($250,000) with partly matching funds from the Conservation Fund ($50,000) and a grant program from Camelbak ($5,000 and 1,000 reusable bottles) will help spur the next steps.
“When these young people commit to change,” Fanning said, “we are committing resources.”
Part of the next step also belongs to the youth who left feeling fired up about what they could do in their own cities. Said 87 percent of the attendees, “I am excited about bringing this work/these ideas back home to my community/ongoing work,” while 86 percent agreed with the statement, “We are on the right track.”
Even more potent perhaps was an 81-percent agreement with the statement, “I felt heard.”
“What made it work and what is going to make it work,” said Steere, "is this idea of it being a movement as opposed to being an initiative or a program.
“Hopefully," he said, "we’ll inspire the youth and give them confidence they can go back to their neighborhoods to get their peers outdoors.”
Dexter Lacke, 22, from New York's Brooklyn borough, doesn’t have far to go to get home from Central Park, but said he forsees participants going home and talking about what happened.
“It’ll snowball,” he said. “There are 500 people in this room, and if each person right here goes and talks to another person and those people talk to another person, it’ll just snowball.”
>> Look for additional reports, including from some of the youth attendees, in the coming days.