We were treated to the Americaâs Great Outdoors initiative listening session with Assistant Secretary Jane Oates of the U.S. Department of Laborâs Employment and Training Administration; the U.S. Department of the Interiorâs Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh; and U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Harris Sherman. They conducted two âlistening sessionsâ at the event to hear our perspectives on the presidentâs Americaâs Great Outdoors Initiative and the challenges and opportunities for youth engaging in outdoor activities and pursuing employment in green jobs.
We were broken up into groups and we all discussed a different aspect. My group discussed the challenges and opportunities around engaging youth in the outdoors. Despite groups given specific topics, throughout the summit there seemed to be one recurring theme â education. There needed to be more education about the outdoors, in schools and elsewhere. We found out through this discussion that there is a current bill in congress that will pass legislation for environmental education.
Something that Assistant Secretary of the US Department of Laborâs Employment Jane Oates said has stuck with me since the summit, and it was this: âPeople like to think that the government is siloed and that we do not work together. Well that statement was true before the Obama administration came into office.â She went on to say that because of his leadership, he has encouraged various departments of the state to work together for a larger goal i.e. Americaâs Great Outdoors. I thought it was a great statement.
We also got to hear about Michelle Obamaâs healthy lifestyle initiative called Letâs Move. While brainstorming at our table, Ali Kelley, who works with the First Lady on the initiative, came to us and wanted to hear exactly what we were talking about. Very inspiring and eye opening to see all these movers and shakers legitimately interested in what we all thought.
We then went through all the discussion categories and voted on which ideas in each section we thought were the strongest. In my group, media and culture, the following ideas were pulled out as the strongest:
- Accessibility â people need to be guided to the outdoors at an early age, in K-12 school
- Promote safer parks with free events and youth programs; have schools partner with the youth programs to get kids outdoors
- Having the media promote healthy role models, athletes; have role models speak to youth about outdoors and being healthy
- Create natural play areas in structured environments, including schools, i.e. after school programs
Really stimulating conversations went on throughout the day and everyone I talked to felt overwhelmingly inspired. We all made commitments at the end of the day to how we would put some of our ideas into action. In my group was Christian Alvarado, a 19-year-old from Connecticut who leads hiking trips for the Sierra Club and Inner City Outings. I got information from him about leading a hiking trip for inner city children in Boston â something Iâm really excited about doing this summer, I hope.
At 3:30 p.m. the summit came to a close, we all said our goobyes and traded all necessary information (emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) but not before receiving backpacks from The North Face that had hats, magazines, a book on how to build trails and a compass inside. Melissa from W.L. Gore & Associates and I decided that weâd head back together to Penn because our trains were leaving at the same time. We went through the West Side of the park at 72nd street and I finally got to walk through Strawberry Fields and see the Imagine mosaic. Seemed like a very appropriate way to end the weekend.
Check out some photos below that I took throughout the weekend!
For more pictures from the Outdoor Nation Youth Summit come visit our Facebook album.