The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat editions 107 & 108: Inner-City Outings

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

GABRIELLA: Like, it's like kind of fun coming up here, and seeing different animals and plants that you really don't see in the city.

STEVE: This edition of The WildeBeat; Inner-City Outings.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is a combined version of program numbers one oh seven and one oh eight.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

[Intro Music: 0:04.5 ends]

STEVE: Earlier this year, in our show number seventy three, we heard from Nina Roberts, Ph.D., an assistant professor at San Francisco State University.

NINA ROBERTS: A smaller proportion of the population of the US visiting wilderness and outdoor areas are ethnic minorities. ...but it's changing as more people become interested, educated and desire to travel and learn about and experience outdoor areas.

STEVE: This is the next in a series of follow-up stories on diversity in wilderness users. In these editions, we'll take a look at people who are making a difference in bringing a wilderness experience to under-served groups.

[SFX: Children approaching]

STEVE: It's late in the afternoon. I'm at the Arroyo Seco campground in California's Los Padres National Forest. I'm watching a group of about a dozen grade school children returning from a hike to their campsite.

[SFX: Children approaching]

STEVE: Larry Volpe is a fifth grade teacher in San Jose, and a volunteer outing leader for the Sierra Club's Inner-City Outings program.

LARRY VOLPE: This is my favorite place to come... And I bring kids, usually about a dozen, no more than that, and I usually get two or three adults to help me, and we just do a lot of hiking, lot of swimming, looking for bugs. We do a night hike here... We see a lot of amphibians, a lot of reptiles, and at nighttime we see bats, we've seen probably about a dozen deer just today. I've seen foxes here before, and it's just an incredible place because of it's uniqueness here on the river ecosystem that comes through here.

STEVE: Sergio is one of Larry Volpe's students.

SERGIO: And then we went hiking ...and we kept on going on this road, and then we saw, or Mr. Volpe spotted, an alligator, I think an alligator or a crocodile lizard, and he showed it to us, and he was helping it. He took out the ticks from it. And we came back, well, actually we kept on going, and we started to swim. We caught some crayfish. Oh and then we came back, came walking, ...that's all.

STEVE: Graciella is one of Sergio's classmates.

GRACIELLA: Today, when I woke up it was raining. It was kind of fun because we got to play games, ...And then we went hiking, and then we went in to the river, and then we found fishes, we found turtles, and that's all.

STEVE: What did you think about finding the fishes and the turtles?

GRACIELLA: Fun. Funny, and icky.

STEVE: Is this really different from what you do when you're at home?

GRACIELLA: Yeah. A lot of exercise and fun time.

GRACIELLA: When I'm home I sit down and do my homework and then later on I go use the computer, then take a shower, then go to sleep.

STEVE: What do you do on weekends when you're at home, if you don't go on a trip like this?

GRACIELLA: I go to parties, and that's all.

STEVE: Back at their camp site, the kids get cleaned-up and changed into warmer clothes, while the adults start preparing dinner.

[SFX: Fade out hiking]

STEVE: In the interest of full disclosure, I have an affiliation with the Sierra Club, as an outing leader for a separate section. A few days earier, I visited the Sierra Club's headquarters in San Francisco. There I talked with Debra Asher. Debra is the nationwide administrator of the Sierra Club's Inner-City Outings program, which she calls I-C-O.

DEBRA ASHER: The official mission statement of I-C-O is that it's a Sierra Club community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth and adults to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural world. It does that via bringing positive outdoor experiences, to primarily youth... who would otherwise never have a chance to do this kind of stuff. We have about forty-eight groups right now. They're each sponsored by their local Sierra Club chapter and or regional group.

STEVE: Except for Debra, and another part-time assistant, the entire program is run by volunteers.

DEBRA ASHER: The I-C-O volunteers hook up with social service agencies, for example, community centers, school groups, after school programs, church groups, anything that's got an organized population of youth who fit this criteria... but they have no outdoor component to their program. And they work out a relationship with the agency staff and the kids they work with to set up outings. Ninety percent or maybe eighty five percent of the outings are day hikes on the weekends, and then groups that have more volunteers are able to do car camping trips on the weekend, backpacking trips, some of them do canoeing trips, some of them do skiing, cross-country skiing, depending on the season, depending on the geography, depending on the wherewithal of the volunteers.

STEVE: So getting into the wilderness for a car camp, or a ski trip, or a backpacking trip, requires some specialized and expensive gear. Who funds this stuff? I don't imagine the parents do.

DEBRA ASHER: No. We're constantly fund raising... If I can procure a national grant that can be distributed out to the groups, I do that. Each group, however, is pretty much on their own for fund raising. Now, there's no overhead, there's no staff expenses, there's no office expenses, so any fund raising each group does goes directly into the outings. Transportation, food, permits, equipment. People like R-E-I have been very generous to I-C-O groups across the country now, and if local groups are able to get grants from them, they're able to purchase pretty nice equipment, which lasts awhile. There is a constant need for funds because we don't charge the participants money for these outings... But ICO really does provide the basic equipment, especially, like you said, if they're going on camping trips, most of the I-C-O groups have a stash of basic camping equipment and clothing. Again, the more extensive the outing, the more frequent the outing, the group needs more funds to provide this. So it's a constant struggle actually, but, the program continues to grow.

STEVE: Imagine I'm the parent of a child who is a candidate for the program. And perhaps my English isn't that great, or my own exposure to the outdoors is maybe none, how would I know that my child would be reasonably safe on one of these outings?

DEBRA ASHER: Well, that's a good question... that's a big part of my job, to make sure leaders are trained and in compliance with national Sierra Club outings leaders standards... Each trip must have at least one certified leader... Certified leaders must go through first aid training, hands-on training on an outing... We do a background checks and DMV checks if they're driving. Plus go on an outing with somebody who's already certified, they're checked off, they're screened very carefully... Now, ...the kids are already connected to some kind of social service agency, so the agency staff is really responsible for communicating with the parents, and saying we're putting our rubber stamp on this organization, we trust them, etc., etc... I think there are many cultural differences. There are issues with parents not feeling comfortable sending their kids on these trips... The I-C-O volunteer has to deal with a lot of things, and it's a big job and it's a real big volunteer commitment, and I'm always astounded that the program continues on a lot of good faith. They're really incredible people these ICO volunteers.

[SFX: Fade up mealtime]

STEVE: Back at the Arroyo Seco campground, Larry Volpe, and his co-leaders are just about ready to serve dinner.

LARRY VOLPE: My plan is usually to get kids just away from the amenities. To get out and see what it's like to experience the wilderness without shoe stores, without ice cream stores, and to enjoy the tranquility that these places bring and how important it is to have these places for these kids to see and enjoy when they have children, and grandchildren.

STEVE: Gabriella is an eighth grade student who started going on outings with Larry Volpe when she was in his fifth grade class.

GABRIELLA: I've been rafting, I've been in snow trips, camping here. I've been to Henry Coe... And I've been to about 20 trips.

STEVE: Wow! So you're like, an expert.


STEVE: Do you feel like it when you're with the other kids? Do you feel like you're the one that's helping to teach them?

GABRIELLA: Yeah, because when we were coming walking up the hill I was helping everyone come up so they wouldn't fall, because it was their first time.

STEVE: Tell me more how it makes you feel to go on these trips.

GABRIELLA: It makes me feel like to get away from home, and not watch T-V, not go on the computer, less fighting with my brothers and sisters, and it's a big exercise to come up here and walk on the mountains.

STEVE: And do you think this is good for the other kids? I mean, do you think that it does good things for them? It makes them better somehow?

GABRIELLA: Yeah, they can feel like if they're special, they can feel more encouraged to do things.

STEVE: Graciella is one of Larry Volpe's fifth-grade students.

STEVE: Can you think of any reason why a kid wouldn't have fun on a trip like this?

GRACIELLA: Because they don't like being in outdoors areas, like a baked potato on the couch watching T-V. And they don't like to do exercising.

STEVE: And you do?

GRACIELLA: Yeah. It's fun when you do it with other people.

STEVE: Graciella's mom, Francesca, is one of the assistant leaders on the trip.

FRANCESCA: Oh what a beautiful experience because she doesn't have the opportunity in San Jose. See, we're very crowded there, and then to just go out into the nature, look at animals close, insects, the water, the lake, the river, hiking, oh my God, ...well, too many things!

STEVE: Do you think what the Sierra Club is doing with the Inner City Outings is important?

FRANCESCA: Oh yes, absolutely. Right now like I'm walking towards the camp I told my daughter I don't even feel sick. I feel like I just want to stay here. It's so calm. To see the nature, it's like why are we going back to the city? But you know you have to go back. But you know, it made me feel relaxing. It's like a daydreaming. I feel that way.

STEVE: If a parent of a friend of your daughter's is afraid to let their child go on a trip like this, what would you say to them?

FRANCESCA: No. Let them go. Let them go. Nothing is going to happen. There are a lot of responsible people who are taking them, plus it's going to be a beautiful experience, and sometimes the time doesn't come back. Just let them go. Especially to this place.

LARRY VOLPE: I like to bring these experiences to kids that I know they're not enjoying these things that I did when I was a kid. You know, when I was a kid, I was doing things that, when I was as young as eight, where I couldn't imagine these kids doing it in high school because they have no access to it. It was just me going out my door and walking a mile to the river and jumping off a cliff, or throwing a fishing pole in the water, or when it was safe to hitchhike a couple of miles when I grew up in New York, to go to my favorite swimhole or lake or river, or to trudge through the snow into the mountains and clear a pond off and do some ice skating, and I like to just bring those experiences to these kids because I know they're not getting it.

STEVE: Why does this whole effort matter to you?

LARRY VOLPE: You know, I grew up in places where I never saw a sign that said don't eat the fish because there mercury in the water, or don't swim here because there's toxic sludge of some kind of sewage effluent, and when I grew up I saw those things in places, and it just blew me away, and I know for a fact we need more people out there who, when they see something like that, they feel in their heart that it's so wrong, that those kinds of things need to stop no matter what the cost, no matter what the economic agenda is, you know there's ...animals out there, that just deserve to live... We need more people to feel like that, especially people of color. I've been to probably a hundred national parks in this country in the forty eight, Hawaii, and Alaska, and I've probably can count the number of people I've seen of color, African American descent or Latino descent... on each visit I can count on one hand, and we need those kinds of folks, if it's in the best interest of conservation, ...we need those people to have it in their best interest to be conservation minded and to just care because it's there, and it should be there.

STEVE: If you have someone who is thinking of being a volunteer... What might be the reward for them?

LARRY VOLPE: The reward would be something as simple as hearing a kid who has just climbed up a mountain, or ran through a class three shoot in a river, screaming with joy, and for the first time enjoying something, and being able to put into words what they got out of it, or just some of the responses you hear from kids of experiencing something for the first time, or just the smile on their face when you see them do something that no kid their age that they know has ever done in their community. And it's really hard to put into words how you feel when you see a kid doing something for the fist time, and then they express to you their joy in different ways, it could be a smile, it could be a squeal of laughter, it could be them being able to vocalize what it is that they're feeling.

STEVE: As the kids all line-up for dinner, they look engaged and enthusiastic. Being served a healthy, hearty dinner looks like a treat to them, not a disappointment. More impressively, they look completely at home here, just outside of the rugged Ventana Wilderness.

[SFX: Fade out mealtime.]

STEVE: Back at the Sierra Club headquarters in San Francisco, Debra Asher looks for more volunteers who want to make a difference in kids' lives.

DEBRA ASHER: If there's not a group nearby where you live, we can try to connect you with one close, or if you're interested in starting up a program, we're always looking for more groups... We figure whatever exposure, and whatever getting kids out, which has become this huge national issue with the obesity stuff, and kids spending so much time indoors on computers and people fearing their kids to be outside. This is a great way to kind of ease that problem. I see it, as much as we struggle in many ways, with funding and volunteerism, it keeps growing.... but the volunteers say it's really worthwhile if appreciate the outdoors, and to just share it with someone who would just be indoors otherwise. It's a great feeling.

STEVE: Do you have experience with the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings, or with groups that do similar work? We'd like to hear about it, or about anything else you think about our show. You can call our toll-free comment line at 866-590-7373. To find out more about helping the I-C-O program, or getting their support for your school or group, please follow the links on our web site.

STEVE: And our thanks to Wilderness Press. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get up to five books from Wilderness Press as a thank you gift.

[Closing Music: 0:10 and under]

Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. You can help us help more folks to appreciate our wild public lands, by clicking on our support link to become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, combined program numbers one oh seven and one oh eight. Thank you for listening.

[Closing Music: ends.]

Next time -- Creatures of the night.

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