Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Growing Green Kids

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Growing Green Kids

Article excerpt

"Green" programs and facilities delivered by public park and recreation agencies are influencing the next wave of environmentally conscious citizens.


When Club Chameleon took its first group of kids on an overnight wilderness adventure, in 2003, the intention was to impact as many young people as possible.

Today, the program, offered by the Newmarket Recreation agency in New Hampshire, reaches 215 children, ages 10-16, and has received designation by NRPA as one of 20 pilot agencies for the 2007 Teens Outside program, sponsored in partnership with the Outdoor Foundation.

Once a month, Club Chameleon runs a different outdoor weekend experience for 20 teens and 10 staff. What keeps these kids coming back for more? The friends they make and the sense that the club belongs to them-which it does.

One of the most successful things the organization did, says Anneliese Fisher, Club Chameleon director, is partner with the University of New Hampshire and its students to lead some of the wilderness adventure trips. The students receive college credits, and the children are richer for the experience.

"As the program has grown, 45 of the students have become mentors to the group's kids," says Fisher. "They've donated bikes and kayaks for the children, too. We are very tied to our university community."

Funding for the nonprofit Club Chameleon comes from grants and corporate donations, says Fisher, "so the parents don't have to pay a dime. That makes us a level playing field. The town is low-to-moderate income, and there are lots of kids who wouldn't have the opportunity to participate otherwise."

Although the town of Newmarket is located 20 minutes away from the coast, three-quarters of the children who attend Club Chameleon have never had the opportunity to stand at the ocean's shore. For some of these kids, going hiking in the White Mountains, 45 minutes away, was another first.

"When we stood on top of the mountain, the look on their faces was amazement," Fisher says. "They didn't even know what was in their own backyard. Through our program, they are being given a greater appreciation of their surroundings."

The perfect opportunity for teaching stewardship principles to young children is immersing them in nature. And these kids are card-carrying members of the "Leave No Trace" national program that seeks to minimize the individual impact on the natural environment. The kids don't trash the streams or break branches from the trees, and they easily police themselves and one another. The skills they learn can be used throughout their lives.

Fisher says the kids work hard together as a team and as they do, their self-esteem and self-confidence grow. The club is all about support to help them get through their teenage years. "At our community center, the kids constantly come in to see us," says Fisher. "Sometimes, I see their report cards before their parents do."

Club members, Fisher says, feel a family-like connection and take care of each other. One day at school, for instance, a bully confronted a club member. Immediately, three fellow club members stepped in to stop the bullying and walked the accosted member home.

The club kids call Fisher "Mama Bear" because they know she will protect them. A firm believer in the Richard Louv book Last Child in the Woods, which argues that children are becoming increasingly disconnected from nature, she agrees that children today don't play outside like kids used to and, consequently, their imaginations aren't being challenged.

Paying it forward, Club Chameleon involves a significant community service component. Club kids engage in projects such as mentoring younger children or providing community service at town festivals. They've even adopted a 175-acre farm in Maine, where they removed old, rusted farm equipment and built a chicken coop.

"Our teens don't test us," says Fisher. …

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