OPRA Connection

Many challenges confront youth-serving organizations. Limited budgets have required many to reduce program offerings. Staff may struggle to balance developing creative programs with staffing of facilities and managing administrative responsibilities. Cultural or financial barriers may prevent successful access to programs or activities by groups not normally served.

Meanwhile, parents and communities are increasingly reliant on services provided by these organizations, seeking safe places and positive learning experiences for their children in the out-of-school hours.

Many youth, particularly in urban areas, do not have the opportunity to participate in outdoor activities. By experiencing nature and developing interests in outdoor pursuits, youth gain an appreciation of natural resources and wild places. They learn the skills to enjoy nature in all its seasons.

From the hobbies and experiences gained as a child, adults will be more likely to utilize and support the resources and programs provided by park districts and recreation agencies.

Forming Connections

One creative solution to meet these needs is the formation of a partnership that brings together the resources and expertise of collaborating organizations.

Two Ohio park districts and Ohio 4-H Youth Development have formed separate and unique partnerships in which young people connect with the natural environment.

Youth Outdoors, a partnership between Cleveland Metroparks and Ohio 4-H, offers urban youth ages 8-18 years the opportunity to participate in outdoor adventure recreation programs. Activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, camping, rock climbing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, horseback riding, nature exploration, teambuilding and community service provide youth the opportunity to gain valuable life skills and an appreciation of the natural world.

Children become involved in Youth Outdoors through the City of Cleveland Division of Recreation, faith-based organizations and other nonprofit agencies. Youth Outdoors provided 438 programs in 2003, reaching 2,618 youth. Total attendance for 2003 was 7,273 youth and adults.

Serving youth in west Dayton, Adventure Central is a partnership between Five Rivers MetroParks and Ohio 4-H. Youth ages 5-18 utilize the Adventure Central education center as a hub for out-of-school time activities.

Their programming models focus on environmental education and include an after-school program, summer day camps, open computer labs, subject matter clubs, a youth board and an overnight camp.

Youth at Adventure Central spend time with volunteers reading, getting help with homework and working on hands-on projects while forming positive relationships with caring adults. Sixty youth each attended over 100 days at Adventure Central in 2003. Total attendance was 16,862 youth and adults.

In these cooperative efforts, the resources and expertise of each partner provide the basis for the type and depth of the established programs.

Both park districts have experience in delivering quality nature education and outdoor recreation programs. Their park reservations and facilities are designed for youth to explore their connection with the natural world.

For Youth Outdoors and Adventure Central, the park districts provide the operating support necessary for permanent staff and consistent programming.

Within Youth Outdoors, Cleveland Metroparks and Ohio 4-H share the leadership for long-range planning, program evaluation, risk management and youth group development.

Cleveland Metroparks administers the department's program schedule and delivery, budget, purchasing, human resources, office and storage facilities, and equipment maintenance.

4-H facilitates the volunteer involvement (recruitment, screening, training, utilization and recognition) and programming that increases the potential for positive youth development, such as self-responsibility, interpersonal relationship skills, and commitment to community.

In both partnerships, the development of 4-H clubs provides small groups of youth the opportunity to progressively gain greater knowledge and commitment toward specific areas of interest.

Clubs encourage youth to engage in community service and gain the skills necessary to become involved in their community in meaningful ways.

To ensure activities are safe, educational and fun, volunteers are involved in a variety of roles. At Adventure Central, volunteers assist in the leadership of afterschool and evening programs, summer day camps, computer lab instruction and other activities.

Youth Outdoors volunteers assist program staff with the delivery of outdoor programs and special events. Based on their skill in and passion for outdoor adventure and working with youth, they may take a more active leadership role in the planning and facilitation of educational activities and club programs.

Volunteers can expand their outdoor skills and comfort level by attending outdoor skill trainings, assisting regularly on outings and interacting with program staff.

Aiming for the Future

Other partnerships between park districts, recreation departments and Ohio 4-H do not need the same level of commitment and intensive programming as offered by Youth Outdoors and Adventure Central.

Time-limited and activity-specific programs are very effective in creating the basis upon which future successes can grow.

A quick survey of 4-H Extension Educators in Ohio provided an additional six examples of partnerships with local parks. Ranging in length from two hours to eight weeks, day camps with an environmental theme are held at Dillion State Park, Tuttle and Thompson Parks in Franklin County, Lorain County MetroParks and Butler County Metro Parks and Recreation.

Lorain County 4-H has also assisted with Halloween walk decorations and adopt-a-trail litter pick-ups. The Morrow County Environmental Education Committee has provided Earth Day programs, free environmental movie days, educational backpacks for library checkout and teacher workshops.

Five counties in southeastern Ohio hold their 4-H resident camping programs at Tar Hollow State Park for six weeks annually. Organized by 30 paid staff and 225 volunteers, the activities provided by these partnerships reach more than 2,100 children and youth annually.

These partnerships are but a few of the many ways resources and expertise can be pooled to support children and youth in their exploration of nature. We encourage all organizations to take the time to discuss with others what common goals can become the basis for collaboration.

To learn more about Youth Outdoors, please call Greg Yost at (216) 206-1010 or email gmy@clevelandmetroparks.com. For more information about Adventure Central, contact Graham Cochran at (937) 268-1037 or email gcochran@adventurecentral.org.

Since 1983, Greg Yost -- 4-H Extension Educator, Youth Outdoors Assistant Professor, The Ohio State University -- has been developing positive opportunities for youth involvement, including work with Peace Corps, VISTA alcohol and other drug prevention programs, Free Clinic youth crisis shelter management, and various volunteer roles. He has developed and implemented programs in peer conflict mediation, youth service, teen mentoring, and group camping. His areas of specialization are partnership development and teen leadership.

John Rode, manager of Youth Outdoors, Cleveland Metroparks, has over 20 years of outdoor leadership experience. His areas of expertise include backpacking, canoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. He developed and facilitated a therapeutic outdoor recreation program for eight years at a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed adolescents. John developed the original program design for Youth Outdoors in 1999.