Safe City Kid’s Go “Wild” with Rotary Club of Conifer
By Bruce Ward with Choose Outdoors
The questions, spoken by the tall, thoughtful supervisor were simple enough; “What did you enjoy most about the day and how has this experience effected you?” They were questions I later realized we should ask ourselves every day.
As I listened to the 15 inner city kids, many who had never traveled west of Federal street from their homes in Denver, I was amazed at how this one day had effected all of us.
The young adults, from 15 to 18 years old, had demonstrated leadership ability and had been interviewed by their peers for the Safe City leadership program, started by the Mayor of Denver’s office after the particularly violent summer of 1993. They are paid to work on inner city initiatives, in libraries, recreation centers and the like. They have rigid criteria relating to community service, attendance, grades and behavior that they must abide by or face loss of their position on the team.
“This day has made me feel closer to all of you, my real family in many ways,” said one.
“It’s been an amazing day and has helped me realize I can do things I never before thought possible,” said another.
“It helped me escape from the stress and I feel in the city and really appreciate the natural beauty,” was another’s perspective.
Each member, in turn, reflected on our day rafting the Arkansas River and camping at Jellystone Park in Castle Rock. In doing so they revealed a bit of their soul and emotions that had until now not been explored. The blazing campfire added a touch of drama to the thoughtful comments and the group began to bond as never before.
For most of these diverse youth; black, Hispanic, native American, even Iraqi the day had begun at 5 am as they scrambled to catch buses, cajoled rides from friends and family, somehow making their way to the downtown office building where they would be met by volunteers with SUVs stuffed with tents, sleeping bags (donated by Coleman), marshmallows, chocolate bars and graham crackers (for s’mores of course).
The three hour drive to Salida gave them all time to think (and sleep) as the day they had dreamed of began to unfold.
This first adventure for the Safe City program, into the wild, was organized by Choose Outdoors, a Pine, Colorado based national nonprofit working with the US Forest Service, numerous outdoor companies and trade associations, nonprofits and elected officials to increase support for all forms of outdoor recreation in America.
The trip was done with the help of Rotary Club of Conifer, SOS Outreach, CityWild, Big City Mountaineers and Wonderful Outdoor World in a unique collaboration focused on making the most of their unique resources. A full day of rafting was followed by a night under the stars at Jellystone Park/The Outdoor Experience in Castle Rock that included a native American drumming ceremony and mountain man story telling by the campfire for the ultimate “social networking” day.
This was one aspect of Choose Outdoors effort to bring the recreation community together and create a national initiative involving a spectrum of partners focused on the importance of outdoor recreation.
Why is this type of engagement of our youth so important? Young people are spending on average six hours a day looking at a screen of some sort-tv, internet, video games etc and as a result there are ever increasing health issues like obesity, diabetes, and attention deficit disorder that we are seeing across the country.
So this model program, designed to be replicated across the country, has begun the task of getting more kids to experience the great outdoors and more importantly to love it-because if they won’t who will?