Working to Connect Youth with Nature

from Wildlife Promise

Guest post by Ruby Lyon

Paw Print participants enjoys a day at the National Museum of Natural History learning about and interacting with butterflys.

Paw Print participants enjoys a day at the National Museum of Natural History learning about and interacting with butterflys.

I joined National Wildlife Federation’s Emerging Leaders Initiative, with a goal of both addressing urban “green” development while also fostering an appreciation for this development within youth. I envisioned urban areas with an array of wildlife, green spaces and people who both helped foster and appreciate these natural wonders. This past spring, I started working with children from one of our nation’s most under served areas in Anacostia, Southeast, D.C. I realized that social well being was intricately entwined in the environmental justice movement.

The kids I work with, as a part of my NWF Fellowship project, have a curious fascination with nature. They demand that I hold their hands when we venture into the woods. They jump when a large butterfly comes too close to them at the live butterfly exhibit. They complain of bugs and other scary nature things. However, they still keep coming to our environmental meetings. I never saw myself as a nature educator and I have to admit, it’s both daunting and wonderful.

I set out with a lofty and ideal sense of how I wanted to see urban areas developed. I believed that more trees, rain gardens, and Certified Wildlife Habitats would create a pleasant place both for humans and wildlife alike to thrive. My project would bring the local community together as we hauled away the abundant trash littering the neighborhood streets, created gardens, and nailed in NWF’s iconic backyard certification sign.

Paw Print participants learn about birds and butterflys on a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History

Paw Print participants learn about birds and butterflys on a field trip to the National Museum of Natural History

As a complete newbie to creating and implementing a community project, it’s been a victory every time another positive action is taken. So far I have engaged about 20 – 30 youth, varying from elementary through middle school age. In partnership with the non-profit Horton’s Kids, I have created of an environmental outdoor club, dubbed “Paw Print”. Paw Print provides children with opportunities to learn about an array of local environmental issues and to get outdoors. Earlier this fall we took a trip to the National Museum of Natural History, learning about local birds and butterflies. We spent a day with high school students from the non-profit Groundwork Anacostia, discovering the importance of keeping the neighborhood trash free and being keepers of our watershed. The next weekend we all headed out and picked up over 15 bags of trash from the neighborhood streets. The most enthusiastic members of the cleanup were a group of four boys, no older than 8. I hope these momentary experiences with Paw Print both create positive memories and inspire them to enjoy nature as much as I do.

Paw Print participants take part in a trash clean up.

Paw Print participants take part in a trash clean up.

The work laid out through my fellowship is not done though. This coming spring shovels will come out and paws will get dirty. The fellowship aims to create a certified Backyard Habitat at a local school. Within walking distance from the community I work with, the kids will be able to both help in the gardening process and continue learning about local wildlife species. When the project is complete, the garden will provide food, shelter, a place to raise young and water for the neighboring wildlife. Although this is just one small project in our world’s many cities, it is a crucial step that must be taken to change the forecast for wildlife and people alike.

About the author

ruby lyonRuby Lyon, 2013 NWF Emerging Leader Fellow
A recent undergraduate of George Mason University, Ruby Lyon works at National Wildlife Federation on the Philanthropy team. A double major in Psychology and Global Affairs: Environment has lead her to investigate how nature, conservation and human ecosystems interact in both social and environment lenses. Inspiration for her drive to creatively address environmental and social issues is widely attributed to her experiences studying abroad in Australia and her rainforest conservation studies in Belize. Unsurprisingly a perfect day in her life only requires a bit of adventure and being outdoors with good company.