Is getting youth out into nature important? REI thinks so.
First, a little background: In 1938, Mary Anderson founded REI with her husband, Lloyd Anderson, and 21 of their mountaineering friends. Today, at 101 years young, Mary’s engaging stories about the early days of REI and her adventures into the outdoors continue to inspire REI employees. But Mary’s contributions to the outdoors go far beyond business implications.
The REI Foundation established the Mary Anderson Legacy Grant in 2009 to recognize Mary’s dedication to education as a teacher, in addition to her lifelong commitment to REI and love for the outdoors. The $50,000 annual grant supports organizations that actively engage youth in learning about nature through hands-on engagement and exploration of the outdoors.
Reflecting Mary’s passions, the mission of NatureBridge is to inspire personal connections to the natural world and responsible actions to sustain it. Since 1971, NatureBridge has introduced nearly one million students to national parks, including Yosemite and Olympic, through inquiry-based environmental education programs.
What is the impact of NatureBridge connecting youth to nature? Jason Morris, NatureBridge’s vice president of external affairs and former NatureBridge educator, shares this tale:
My best day in Yosemite
I do most of my work for NatureBridge in an office now. But in 1996 I was a NatureBridge field science educator living and working in Yosemite National Park, as full of wonder and enthusiasm as the students I was privileged to explore the park with each week.
My best day in Yosemite. That’s a tough one. Most of my best days are about the kids. Then, as now, many of our students have never been outside of their immediate community, let alone to a national park. The changes that occur to those students when they wake up to Half Dome, or see the Pacific Ocean for the first time, or experience the stars in a night sky is palpable. You can feel the changes in their moods, how they interact with each other, and in the way they view the world around them.
My best day in Yosemite was 24 hours filled with firsts: cross-country skiing to Taft Point with a group of students from Los Angeles, most of whom had never seen snow; snow camping with a group of students who had never before camped; and sharing an unimpeded view of Comet Hale-Bopp streaming across the sky with a group of students who rarely, if ever, had been outside of their six-block concrete-clad world back home.
This best day ended when the students were getting ready to leave Yosemite for home the next morning. One of the girls in the group handed me a letter that read:
“I came here as one person and now I’m leaving as someone else. You teach us something that we can never read in a textbook or learn in a classroom. It’s more than geology and science, it’s minds, souls and hearts. Keep changing the world, one student at a time.”
This was my best day in Yosemite, and this experience nearly 15 years ago helped shape who I am today. What was your best day in Yosemite?
We hope you are as inspired as we are to introduce a child in your life to the outdoors. If so, REI’s online Expert Advice serves as a great resource for families and adventurers of all ages.