Veteran’s Day weekend was the “first” for many participants of Sierra Club’s Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO). For some, it was their first time braving a hike. For others, it was their first time touching a kitchen stove. For many, it was their first time enjoying the beauty of Anza Borrego State Park. Yet, collectively, it was a peaceful weekend surrounded by the warmth of community, an escape from the hold of social media and technology.
Ann Salvador, fifth-grade teacher and ICO leader, prepared an expanse of activities for the students: from nature journals and wood painting to DIY gecko lanyards. The students even took their nature journals and embarked on a short excursion through Cactus Loop Trail, a 1-mile hike that offered views of the mountains and desert plant life. “I like to be outside. When Ms. Salvador had us draw at the top, it was pretty cool. I normally don’t draw scenery, but I like to draw,” shared sixth-grade student, Adriel.
Students sketching at the overlook of Cactus Loop Trail
Throughout the trip, students engaged in unstructured outdoor play and went on nature tours guided by California State Park Ranger Calder. A highlight for many was going “scorpion hunting” under the starry night sky, where no scorpions were found but many laughs were shared. During the final night, every student underwent initiation as a Junior Ranger and received a badge in honor of their achievement.
Some valuable lessons were gained as Violet, a sixth-grade student, reflected that she learned “Mostly about caring for others. You need to cook and clean and help around.” Another student, twelfth-grader Ruby, recounted the display of tenacity from her peers: “If you try, you can do whatever you want. Cause the kids didn’t know how to but they tried and succeeded.”
Students cooking for the first time. The food all weekend long was delicious!
By the end of the trip, there were plenty of stories for the children to bring home and share with their parents. “I would tell them we went hiking [for] the first time and saw a good view. We went hunting for scorpions. When we were outdoors, we had s’mores and had a great time doing that,” said eighth-grader Erick, “We got to experience the actual thing.”
A quick note of gratitude to ICO leaders Ann Salvador, Afrodita Fuentes, Jason Hashimoto, and Elizabeth Neat, as well as parent volunteers Edith and Rick. Your presence and commitment to the students have made this trip even more special. I’d like to extend additional appreciation to ICO grant writer Elizabeth Neat, for her unwavering dedication and trailblazing efforts to the program. A big thanks to the grant Parks California Route to Parks for helping with transportation funding for the trip and supporting local organizations.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Inspiring Connections Outdoors, the Sierra Club initiative was established in 1971 with the first ever ICO group. Its mission is to bring underserved and marginalized students outdoor trips and outings. In 2022, Los Angeles ICO led 93 outings for 2,241 youths with 551 parents and teachers. The Los Angeles ICO works with 47 different agencies, primarily Title I schools.
Interested in becoming a volunteer? The program is looking for passionate leaders to help create an equitable outdoor community and dismantle barriers to the outdoors. Please contact the Sierra Club ICO program volunteer coordinator (firstname.lastname@example.org) for any questions regarding the volunteer process.