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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 12th, 2012, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 12, Issue 44 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 12, Issue 44

The great outdoors

Wilderness Youth Project encourages children and teens to experience the power of nature


When you were a kid, did you spend lots of time outside climbing trees or exploring a nearby field or creek?

If you answered yes, you’re officially old.

A young Wilderness Youth Project member (right) showed his mentor, Laurel Podsen, a snake he found during a program field trip. The Wilderness Youth Project offers outdoor learning activities to local children.

Countless health and childhood education advocacy groups—including the Outdoor Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—are reporting that children are spending considerably less time outdoors these days.

Instead, they’re doing more sedentary activities, like watching TV or playing video games. The lack of physical exertion, experts say, is contributing to the rising rates of obesity and other health problems among young people. According to the CDC, obesity prevalence among children and adolescents has almost tripled since 1980.

One Santa Barbara-based nonprofit is doing its part to connect children to nature. Staff members and volunteers at the Wilderness Youth Project are dedicated to helping children become healthier and more independent through outdoor activities and mentoring programs. The vision of the Wilderness Youth Project is to teach the next generation to be peaceful, respectful, and confident stewards of the Earth.

The organization offers several programs for children of all ages, including after-school programs, summer camps, and summer backpacking trips.

The after-school programs meet once a week at a specific school in Santa Barbara or at Tucker’s Grove Park in Goleta. From there, mentors and mentees embark on an outdoor adventure to a local beach, creek, or canyon.

Volunteer Coordinator and wilderness mentor Jessica Sieber said the organization’s low child-to-mentor ratio of 4 to 1 allows staff members to create an atmosphere of self-discovery while keeping everyone safe.

“We usually have two staff members and two volunteers for every four kids,” Sieber said. “Volunteers are critical for us to connect with the children and develop relationships with them.

“The goal is to help the child create an awareness of self and the natural environment, and to develop critical life skills,” she said.

The after-school field trips typically last from 3 to 6 p.m. and are open to whoever would like to participate.


Get outside!
For more information about the Wilderness Youth Project, including dates and program fees, visit or call 964-8096.

Wilderness mentor Keely Roth is a third-year graduate student studying geography at UC Santa Barbara.

When asked why she decided to volunteer, Roth said, “Honestly, when you’re a grad student, you feel a little out of touch with the real world.

“I love the environment and I love the outdoors; they’re what led me to study [geography],” said Roth, who grew up on a farm in Illinois. “I wanted a more tangible way to experience that love, and to share it with kids.”

She said the Wilderness Youth Project’s goal of “getting today’s kids to not be afraid of being outside” really resonated with her. She also likes that the children are able to direct their own learning, while taking responsibility for their actions at the same time.

“Everywhere else in their lives they’re being told what to do,” she said. “No one really stops and asks a 7-year-old, ‘Hey, what do you think?’”

 If meeting once a week at Tucker’s Grove is too much, Sieber suggested adults and children get involved with the summer camps and excursions.

The summer camps typically last for two weeks, and participants get to go on fieldtrips all over the county, including the Santa Ynez River. The backpacking trips are for children ages 11 and older, and range all over the state. There are scholarships available to help pay for all of the programs, and Sieber said the organization is open to helping North County participants find Santa Barbara-based housing if necessary.

Volunteer Roth said people should get involved with the Wilderness Youth Project “because you’re going to have fun, and it’s not going to feel like work. ... It’s an opportunity to get in touch with all the things that make you love the outdoors.”

Contact Managing Editor Amy Asman at

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