ICO leaders bring urban youth to nature

  • Posted on 28 February 2005
  • By Chapter Reports

For Laura McCutcheon, the most recent Inner City Outings 'moment' came a month or two back. The group of third graders she was leading had just read a story about a deer that wandered from the woods to eat from backyard gardens, stirring a neighborhood debate whether to kill the animal or let it live.

'A week later, we hiked and saw deer in the Santa Monica Mountains,' McCutcheon said. 'You couldn't measure my kids' excitement.'

McCutcheon is an Inner City Outings (ICO) leader, one of several dozen such leaders in the Angeles Chapter. But many more are needed, said Angeles ICO chair Doug Altshuler, to ensure that as many urban youth as possible are given the chance to leave behind the concrete, strip malls, and traffic for a day, two days, even a week.

The Chapter's ICO has money for the outings, thanks to a doubling of one foundation's underwriting-what's in short supply are leaders. 'We're taking advantage by offering greater opportunities beyond the Santa Monica Mountains,' said Altshuler. 'But we simply want to offer more to more young people. Without bringing in more outings leaders, it could be a struggle.'

Organizations and schools are calling Altshuler and his volunteer ICO leadership every week, he said. But some groups must wait until available leaders are found to participate outdoors with their young people. 'We desperately need those members looking for new chances to volunteer outdoors. And especially we need tested leaders looking to branch out with great kids,' he said.

Certified leader McCutcheon remembers one student who barely said a word at school suddenly becoming quite verbal while hiking a spacious dirt road in Topanga Canyon on the way Eagle Rock. He insisted the small group should turn back. 'He looked down at the expanse of valleys, and he was afraid he'd fall off the wide road,' she said.

'You see, many of these kids rarely get the chance to spend time outside of their neighborhood, let alone experience nature and wilderness. Many come from blue collar or immigrant working families, and are confined to an often hostile urban area,' said McCutcheon.

The opportunity is there to make a difference immediately, said chair Altshuler. 'And it's not always a hike through the mountains.' Volunteers have recently taken youth to play in the ocean and stare at tide pools, to wade in streams and at the bottom of waterfalls. Spring trips include whale watching, flings in the snow of the San Gabriel Mountains, overnight car camping, and at least one longer backpacking trip further afield. 'I remember how amazed kids were when one volunteer heated water with a propane burner for hot chocolate in the snow,' said McCutcheon.

Altshuler asks volunteers to contact the group by e-mail at ico-at-angeles.sierraclub.org, or by calling Jayne Rosenthal (818-509-1224) for details. For those interested in taking on greater responsibility, a semi-annual, one-day leadership certification class is slated for April. Leaders for other groups within the Sierra Club are especially urged to consider Inner City Outings. Its mission statement: 'Sierra Club Inner City Outings is a community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth and adults to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural world.'

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