Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center Helps Connect Kids to the Great Outdoors

Did you know that children today spend only about half as much time outdoors as they did just 20 years ago?

In an effort to reverse that troubling trend, the Harvard Street Neighborhood Health Center (HSNHC) recently teamed up with other local organizations to send Boston youth and their families on a trip to Vermont to visit its scenic mountains and lakes regions.

Explaining why his organization got involved the nationwide “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative, Charley Murphy, HSNHC President and CEO, said, “Our health center is more than just a place to get a check-up. We give back to the community and help people live a healthy lifestyle.” HSNHC served as the excursion’s the fiscal agent.

A consortium of US parks and environmental agencies have combined to support the “Every Kid in a Park,” providing access to National Parks, Forests and other federal lands to eligible participants free of charge.

Taking advantage of the unique outdoors program was a group of 48 students and family members from the Mather School in Dorchester, Hawthorne Youth Community Center in Roxbury and other families. Led by the Franklin Field/Franklin Hill Dorchester Healthy Boston Coalition, the kids and their families spent an invigorating, inspiring weekend in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Jamiese Martin, Coalition Coordinator of Franklin Field/Franklin Hill, Dorchester Healthy, initially identified the opportunity and coordinated the trip. After the successful Vermont experience, she now has visions of turning the event into annual excursion. “We’re going into the woods again!” Jamiese also aims to introduce more urban youth to science and technology, as well, planning future trips the Boston Museum of Science.

For some visitors, it was their first time in a national forest—and a rare opportunity to get away from the inner city. According to Jessie L. Scott III, Boston Urban Connections Coordinator for the US Forest Service, the White House-sponsored youth initiative aims to engage 4th graders and their families in the nation’s public lands system. Speaking of the program, President Obama has said, “Because no matter who you are, no matter where you live, our parks, our monuments, our lands, our waters; these places are your birthright as Americans.”

Defying the Elements
A cloudy, rainy weekend did little to dampen the first-time visitors’ enthusiasm. Kids and families headed right for the hiking trails, soaked in the surrounding natural treasures, and even learned about environmental careers.

Hajji Glover, father of two children, was thrilled to expose his children to a new, unknown environment. “This trip served as an opportune time for family bonding, so much so that families learned how to fish together,” Hajji recalls. “We also got a chance to appreciate the splendor of our national parks. All the kids and adults enjoyed themselves tremendously.” After learning how to hook and cast a line to land a prize trout, some youngsters competed in a fishing derby at Hapgood Pond. It was a thrilling experience for the novice fishing wranglers. Boston’s Parks and Recreation Department offered fishing poles to take along for the trip.

Visit www.everykidinapark.gov for more information and to learn how you can enjoy nature.