Families and Memories – Shawnee Volunteers from Shawnee Outdoors on Vimeo.
We are Americorps VISTA’s (Volunteers in Service to America) working for the Shawnee National Forest. Our mission is to build capacity within the Forest to better serve the surrounding community, especially underserved populations. The natural areas of the Shawnee, and other public lands, provide many free opportunities for everyone to connect with nature as well as each other. The studies are pretty clear that people who spend more time outside lead happier, healthier lives. There is a direct, positive correlation between time spent outdoors and physical activity. So why do kids spend so much time indoors? Well for one, inside is easier. Being outside takes planning and work. Also, inside is where all the toys are! Gadget manufacturers and software designers have spent billions of dollars on psychologists and marketing researchers to figure out how to get people more addicted to their devices. Like the tobacco companies, they have found that the best way to get people addicted to their product for life, is to start them young.
The same is true with an appreciation for the outdoors: kids who are consistently exposed to nature are more likely to be nature lovers as adults. The reason that they aren’t getting outside more is because in the busy, technology saturated world in which we find ourselves, we aren’t able to find the time to create a family environment that fosters outdoor values. We Shawnee VISTA’s think that if parents are shown the benefits of bringing their kids outdoors and are given the tools and skills to exist there comfortably, they will continue to spend more time outside with their kids, strengthening both their connection with each other and with nature. Hopefully this cycle will continue as these families share the benefits they gained with other families in their community and with future generations. The goal of our project therefore is to foster an outdoor culture within families and communities. With this mission as our guiding principle, we have joined with several community and student volunteers as well as partner organizations such as the US Forest Service and Friends of the Shawnee to formulate an event that will address all the barriers to getting kids outside.
With our event, Shawnee Family Outdoors Day, we want to address the following three important barriers: lack of awareness, lack of access, and fear. Lack of awareness is simply not knowing that these amazing areas exist so close by, and not knowing the activities in which families can engage. Lack of access can mean a physical constraint such as distance from natural areas or lack of equipment like tents and hiking boots, but it can also be a lack of skill to exist in natural areas comfortably. Fear of the unknown is a huge factor. Social pressure from peers and other members of the community may discourage a child from being interested in the outdoors. This pathos, cultivated by fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the woods, reinforces misconceptions about the dangers present in natural and wilderness areas.
We will use every tool at our disposal to raise awareness about this event and nature in general: social media, radio campaigns, newspaper announcements, fliers, and plain old word of mouth. Our marketing strategy is to appeal to all parents, emphasizing family bonding, health benefits, and that our event, like many outdoor activities, is scalable to any comfort or skill level. We will address lack of access by providing transportation to and from the venue, giving away free gear, and by facilitating a number of programs and activities designed to give new outdoor users the skills to confidently embark on their own adventures. Finally, the fear factor will be addressed with a lesson in common outdoor myths and misconceptions. We’ll let families know what they shouldn’t be afraid of, as well as what precautions they should take to have a safe and fun outdoor experience. As expected, we are going to reinforce land stewardship by providing information about responsible and sustainable usage of natural resources.
We believe giving parents an opportunity to connect with their kids in a safe, fun environment tailored to their comfort level is the first step in fostering an outdoor culture within communities in Southern Illinois.
Check the following links for more information about our partners or contact us to get involved.
Friends of the Shawnee National Forest