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Seeds of Change- the Outdoor Advanced Leadership Academy

It’s hard to fathom, but in San Francisco – a city draped in Silicon Valley wealth – there are children who have never seen a stretch of grass bigger than a city park nor crossed the Golden Gate Bridge to see what lies beyond.

Having lived my life with one foot in San Francisco and the other planted firmly in nature, this is beyond comprehension. Nature grounds me, and I hope you too share the value of what experiences nature can afford.  The thought that there are children who’ve yet to build a relationship with our natural environment is horrifying.

In response, I planted a seed of change by working with the YMCA of San Francisco and the California Waterfowl Association (CWA) to bring 45 middle school kids from some of the most impoverished San Francisco neighborhoods into nature through the Outdoor Advanced Leadership Academy (OALA).

Campers at OALA exploring nature.

Through OALA, Youth were immersed into natural sciences – geology, invertebrate biology, hydrology and food chain concepts – coupled with leadership training to teach them about their own potential to do great things, to care about the environment and protect it for themselves and future generations, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

For 11 year-old DeeDee, an OALA program participant, spending time in nature provided many unique first time experiences. Her favorite activity was wading through the marsh where they spotted Tule elk, mosquitofish, and a plethora of birds.  “I hope that I can come here next summer because it was a very special experience for me.”

My wife, Gerry, and I invested 100% of the funds to cover all the expenses for the Y and CWA to establish the Outdoor Advanced Leadership Academy pilot program in 2016. I am asking for your help to raise $300,000 to sustain and grow the capacity of the program for the next three years.

By investing in the Outdoor Advanced Leadership Academy, you are providing equitable access to environmental stewardship and leadership development programming for low-income youth across the Bay Area.

Starting in the summer of 2017, we are seeking to expand the program with three core goals:

  1. To provide two seven-day sessions, growing the programs capacity from 45 to 100 youth.
  2. Enhance instructor training, and deepening the curriculum development in concert with UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education Urban Teaching Program, with the purpose to maximize the impact of our education modules.
  3. To engage the youth’s parents by inviting them to final day of the OALA program, providing an opportunity for the children to showcase what they’ve learned.

Your investment will directly support the costs associated with food, lodging, field trips, transportation, program supplies and staffing to ensure OALA can deliver the outcomes of the program.

We will continue to evaluate the outcomes of the program and in year three, our goal will be to find permanent funding solutions to fund the program and moreover the scholarship funds, ensuring the program serves a diverse population of students. 

It’s important to substantiate why OALA is providing significant value in our community.  Beyond the anecdotal statements from youth, parents and staff, the OALA post-program survey grounded the impact of the program, highlighting two significant developments.

The first was having 84% of the youth reporting “they like being outdoors”, which pales in comparison to the 40% of the youth who initially responded in the pre-program surveys; and second, 93% of youth reported “they know at least one way they can protect the environment” in comparison to only 60% of youth responding positively in pre-program surveys.

For the first program session, 50 youth applied for a program capacity of 28 participants. Of those who were accepted, 71% of the students qualified for free and/or reduced lunch programming in the San Francisco Unified School District.

The feedback we got from the kids was inspirational – many had never slept outside before, or enjoyed a starlit night. Their worlds expanded dramatically, and their lives were altered in ways that may take years to play out, though other impacts were immediate. And for one student, the most important think they learned during OALA is “That you don’t need phones and electronics to have fun!”

I hope you’ll join me to provide disconnected and underserved youth in the Bay Area access to nature and moreover to discover their own potential in it.  I suspect you share my vision of the Bay Area as a place where poverty doesn’t compress children’s horizons because--all children make up our future, not just our own.

You can learn more about the Outdoor Advanced Leadership Academy here.

Please join me in supporting this program- donate now.


Lastly, I leave this from a fellow parent: “I could not have afforded to send Ruby to stay away camp in a million years. It is something I wanted to do desperately as a kid and never had an opportunity to do. It ranks up there with never getting to go to prom. So, thank you and to all the staff members at the Y for your dedication and commitment to providing children with great experiences that enrich and educate them.” – Marilyn H.