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Youth wilderness programs build skills, self-esteem

 

Youth wilderness programs
(Photo Credit: USDAgov)

Outdoor outreach programs have become some of the most effective means of teaching youths and young adults how to help wildlife — and how to help themselves.

In recent years, wilderness education and experience programs have multiplied. Built on the belief that the traditional way of learning does not always resonate with some individuals, but a hands-on experience with the great outdoors can bring a new wave of enlightenment, these programs are proving to bring tangible results. They challenge their participants to step outside their comfort zone. They urge them to navigate a landscape of self-awareness, breaking down barriers and building up their self-esteem.

The City Kids Wilderness Project, for example, is a non-profit organization that provides low-income DC youth with new opportunities to help them learn, grow and build the confidence and skills they need to set and achieve goals. 

Participants in City Kids are taken to Broken Arrow Ranch in Wyoming, where the kids are encouraged to take risks and engage in self-exploration. They are challenged to step outside their comfort zone, as they are exposed to everything from kayaking, camping and rock climbing to spotting wildlife, swimming, and just soaking in the raw beauty of the wilderness. 

These wilderness outreach programs have also been proven to help with a number of mental and behavioral disorders. By empowering the participants with a sense of self-worth, they are more likely to become productive members of the society. 

The University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Bootstraps Program is a youth engagement partnership that equips at-risk young adults with the skills to succeed by involving them in natural resource project work.

Now in its 10th year, the award-winning program combines pays men and women ages 18-25 to work for six months removing pinyon pine and juniper trees to make a better habitat for mule deer, as well as sage grouse and other wildlife. 

“They get paid $12 to $13 an hour for a 40-hour week, plus room and board,” Rod Davis, a University of Nevada Cooperative Extension educator in Lander County, told the Reno Gazette-Journal

“The room is a tent and the board is a package of hamburgers and noodles,” he added.

The applicants who are accepted into the Bootstraps program are first required to partake in a two-week classroom intensive that teaches the youths about searching for a job, including how to build a resume and how to interview. 

The participants who have not yet earned their high school degrees are given time to study so that they may earn a high school general equivalency degree. 

Participants are also taught the importance of basic work ethics, like being punctual, reliable and diplomatic. 

Yet for most of the Bootstraps crew, the real lessons come from the work they put in outside the classroom. 

Jose Sarrano, who participated in the program last year, is back this year as a crew leader, mentoring others.

Sorrano said that he not only found his self-confidence through the Bootstraps program, but learned the importance of treating others with respect and helping those in need. 

Before participating in this program, Sarrono said his outlook on life was dismal.

“I hated myself. Now I know I can do something. I can be something,” he told Claudene Wharton, a communication specialist with UNR’s Extension Service. 

Sarrano is even considering enrolling at Great Basin College to become a welder or an engineer.

“After this, boosting my confidence, I think, ‘What’s four years of my life?’ I might as well,” he said.

More than 130 at-risk young adults have participated in the program since its inception in 2005. 

Bootstraps was one of just 20 programs across the nation to receive the 2013 Partners in Conservation Award from the U.S. Department of the Interior for achievements in conservation of natural resources.

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