Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Matching Teens, Outdoors & Service

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Matching Teens, Outdoors & Service

Article excerpt

In this time of shopping malls, video arcades and domed stadiums with Astroturf, many teenagers recognize that they are environmentally deprived. They also want to belong, to be challenged and to take part in activities that help others. By meeting these basic needs of youth, the "Barn Owls" program at central New Hampshire's recreational community of Eastman has been gratifyingly successful for all concerned.

The program began five years ago when it became apparent that teenagers at Eastman were often at loose ends. Not that there weren't plenty of things to do: Eastman is a four-season recreational community whose 3,600 acres have been developed around its own gem of a New England lake and whose recreational amenities include six beaches, an 18-hole golf course, 13 tennis courts, miles of hiking trails and, in winter,30 kilometers of cross-country ski trails as well as its own small downhill ski area served by a double chairlift.

Nevertheless, for many teens--a high percentage of whom came from affluent families living in urban or suburban settings--time hung heavy. With interest waning in the typical arts and crafts, field sports and other recreational activities, the community's young people would hang out at the Recreation Barn and, through boredom, inevitably hatch trouble. Not that they would destroy the place, but they did often make life difficult for their elders. Besides, there was all that youthful energy going to waste--in the face of so much that needed to be done.

The thought occurred to those of us on Eastman's recreation staff that if these youngsters, spirits could be engaged by some useful group activity, and if the group had some such catchy title as the Barn Owls, who knows? They might respond.

Our decision to base our program on growth and development through the outdoors certainly does not apply a new concept. Many organizations and clubs have long endorsed the virtues of coupling natural experiences in the outdoors with healthy living and growth. Early proponents of the "Outward Bound" concept, for example, used the philosophy of education through challenging experiences in a wilderness setting to achieve their goals.

These were the thoughts that guided us in setting up Eastman's Barn Owl program, We started with ten teens, enlisted for volunteer service. To be a Barn Owl, the teenager had to report to the South Cove Activity Center each day of the week for an early-morning litter pickup. After that they were available for whatever I, as Eastman's recreation director, would think up for them to do. And I can assure you that in this community of 1,050 single-family homes and garden-style condominiums, enjoying as wide a range of recreational amenities as we offer, my list never ran out.

As an example, we needed to put up new signs identifying the South Cove Activity Center, The Golf and Ski Center and the Eastman Community Association Main Office. Within the recreation department we made beautiful sand-blasted signs. But when it came to the job of mixing the cement to hold the signs in place and hauling rocks to build stone walls for their bases, we turned those tasks over to the Barn Owls. They got the pleasure of seeing their handiwork end up as handsome additions to the community.

Whether the activity consisted of helping with outdoor concerts, cross-country trail work, seeding the downhill ski slope or tennis-court repair projects, we enlisted the Barn Owls, services.

The response of Eastman's teens was, quite frankly, a surprise. Those early-morning clean-up assignments, they admitted, gave them a new appreciation for the beauty of the outdoors. They came in touch with the dew, with wet sand on their sneakers, the chill of a morning breeze as it danced across the lake, the calls of our resident pair of loons--and, at the same time, were able to gain better self-images. Additionally, they were witnessing first hand the evils that our careless industrialized society imparts so callously on nature. …

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