Outsiders Ball success stories: 100 projects getting kids outdoors

A highlight at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was the enlightening and entertaining Outsiders Ball. See what projects it funded and plans for 2014.
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One of last year’s highlights from Outdoor Retailer Summer Market was a re-imagination of how an event can spur excitement around an important endeavor.

The inaugural Outsiders Ball threw out the typical tired and stodgy, sit-down affair and created an interactive event that was both entertaining and enlightening. It served as another wake-up call for a cause vital to the longevity of our careers — getting kids outside and boosting their interest in outdoor sports and activities.

Sponsored by the Outdoor Foundation, the charitable arm of the Outdoor Industry Association, the Outsiders Ball “was really envisioned as a way for industry leaders to come together and address this growing divide between young people and the outdoors—and have fun doing it,” said Christine Fanning, executive director for the foundation.

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Equal parts dance party and information session, what Fanning describes as “SXSW meets TED,” the Outsiders Ball aims to gather the collective outdoor industry to raise money for the Foundation, which gives grants to organizations designed to help kids experience — and fall in love with—the outdoors. Last summer’s inaugural event brought together 1,000 people, who helped raise $375,000, far surpassing the $300,000 goal.

Following the event, the Foundation dished out 100 grants to deserving non-profits nominated by specialty outdoor retailers nationwide and put money into its signature initiative, Outdoor Nation, a series of conferences called Signature Summits aimed at gathering millennials together to brainstorm ways to get their generation outside.

This summer, the Foundation has set the stakes even higher, aiming to raise $400,000 at the second annual Outsiders Ball, scheduled for Aug. 5, 2014 (the evening of Demo Day at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market) at the Gallivan Center in Salt Lake City.

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The party will feature interactive experiences like those offered last year, as well as music and food, adding on a new success story component, where grant winners funded by the 2013 Ball will recount the life-changing impact they made. The main goal however, is not just to raise money, but to get the outdoor industry committed to the cause all year, not just at this single event.

“Engaging young people in the outdoors has become a business imperative,” Fanning said. “Money is super important, but it’s equally important for this industry to start a creative brainstorm about how we can collectively address this issue [of getting kids outside] in new and exciting ways.”

SNEWS caught up with three organizations and their outdoor retail partners that earned Foundation funding, either directly through an Outsiders Ball grant or an Outdoor Nation Summit:

>>The Conservation Trust for North Carolina
With considerable help from specialty outdoor retailer Great Outdoor Provision Co., the Conservation Trust for North Carolina is working to teach millennials that preserving the state’s natural areas is as cool as anything Facebook has to offer.

In 2013, the inaugural year of the NC Youth Conservation Corps, 16- to 24-year-olds spent seven weeks over the summer building trails, removing invasive species, fighting off hornets and itching furiously with poison ivy — all for minimum wage. The two groups of 10 participants slept outside and endured rainy, humid weather. And they loved it.

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“They were the happiest kids I’d ever seen!” said youth corps project director Jan Pender, declaring North Carolina’s first youth conservation corps a success.

Chuck Millsaps, president of Great Outdoor Provision Co, which has partnered with the Conservation Trust for more than 20 years and donated more than $500,000, was instrumental in getting the youth corps concept off the ground. It was his application that won the corps a $1,000 Outsiders Ball grant.

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Millsaps noted the importance of not only bringing youth into the outdoors, but also inspiring them to pay their experience forward. One girl, who admitted to smoking and drinking too much before her corps experience, now works with troubled youth, taking them into the outdoors. Corps members also earned a chance to spend a weekend off attending an Outdoor Nation Signature Summit. There, they won a $1,500 grant for their idea to sponsor two weekend-long conservation opportunities for 14- to 19-year-olds, basically their own seven-week commitment condensed down into two days.

Pender is hopeful that youth corps experiences, no matter the length, will lead participants to “consider a future in conservation, or become an advocate in whatever career they’re in.”

>>River Sports / Ijams Campouts
Knoxville-based retailer River Sports Outfitters and the Ijams Nature Center are out to show underprivileged families in their area that camping isn’t scary. And they’re doing it with the help of a $1,000 Outsiders Ball grant.

“We just want to say ‘Hey, you can do this.’ Give you confidence that you’ll be ok, that camping isn’t going to hurt you,” said Laura Jones, general manager and buyer for River Sports.

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During the summer of 2013, the two groups relayed that message by partnering to offer free, single-night camping experiences to kids and their families from the local Boys and Girls Club. The campers went on night hikes, owl prowls and roasted marshmallows on the campfire, learning about the joys of the outdoors even though they were just 10 minutes outside of town.

“We want to make the outdoors accessible for everybody, no matter what their financial, mental or physical ability,” Jones said, noting that River Sports provided all the gear, and Ijams led the programming. “We want people to get outside. Campouts are one way that we can give people the ability and confidence.”

After a week spent hiking, paddling, learning about trees and how to catch frogs, the campers and their families are invited to spend the night in tents at the nature center. The goal is to show kids that there are many opportunities to be active besides those they learn in gym class. If basketball isn’t their cup of tea, maybe hiking or birding or stand up paddleboarding will be.

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It sometimes can be more difficult to excite the parents about the outdoors, versus the kids, Jones noted. It’s a matter of “how do we engage the parents to come and see what the kids have done and share their experience with them to hopefully carry it on in the future with more outdoor activities,” she said.

This summer, River Sports and Ijams are working to put on a series of week-long summer day camps with the goal of getting underprivileged kids outside for a collective total of 500 days.

North Texas Kids Outside
Everyone deserves a chance to experience sleeping out under the stars. That’s the message North Texas Kids Outside (NTKO) sent by providing the funds for families to try out a weekend of camping in the state’s wilderness areas. Over the course of a year, the group gave scholarships to 16 families to attend camping workshops through Texas Outdoor Family, changing the lives of 83 underserved individuals.

“They learned that they have these awesome areas within an hour’s drive … and that there are other ways to spend time as a family instead of just being at home or going to a restaurant or to the movies,” said NTKO leader Victoria (Faubion) Serna. “I’m hoping that they start considering going outside and doing things as a family as a form of entertainment and a way to get closer and bond.”

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After attending her first Outdoor Nation Summit in 2011, Serna was determined to return “with a mission” to the next year’s gathering. She wasn’t disappointed. At the Austin Outdoor Nation Summit in July 2012, Serna won the $2,500 first place price for her NTKO brainchild.

Serna admits that recruiting families to participate proved challenging.

“A lot of the families wondered what was the catch,” she said, noting that much of her phone call, email and social media efforts got no response. “The most interest we had came from good-old face-to-face contact.”

NTKO is currently on hold while Serna finishes up a PhD in environmental education —her advisor has banned her from large service projects saying she needs to focus on her dissertation — but she remains an active ambassador for Outdoor Nation. Her story was among those highlighted at last summer’s Outsiders Ball.

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Working under the radar from her advisor, Serna and her husband are still encouraging families to experience the outdoors. Most recently, the pair hosted roughly 50 of their neighbors for a backyard marshmallow and weenie roast. After earning that PhD title, she hopes to start a free “gear library,” where she will lend out all the items acquired through NTKO to families planning a trip in the outdoors.

Want to help promote your local outdoor youth efforts with some extra funding and recognition, and a chance to attend this year’s Outsiders Ball? Email Outdoor Foundation Executive Director Chris Fanning at: cfanning@outdoorfoundation.org

--Courtney Holden

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