By Executive Director, Rachel Norton
Gratitude is especially on our minds around this time of year, but I’m grateful year-round for opportunities to get out in the parks and spend time with people who love our state’s open spaces as much as I do. Not only do I get to step away from my phone for a few hours, but these times outdoors spark tremendous gratitude and reinforce the work we are doing at California State Parks Foundation.
On the eve of the Thanksgiving holiday, we partnered with California State Parks staff and C5 Los Angeles to host a community service project at Los Angeles State Historic Park. C5LA is a nonprofit organization that mentors and supports youth who will be the first in their families to go to college. It was founded 30 years ago by a former CEO of Coca-Cola after he noticed how much calmer and happier his kids were when they returned from camp. Today, the organization provides a summer camp program as well as year-round youth-centered activities that offer opportunities like this service project to help teens build their self-confidence.
I am thankful to have been able to attend this special day of service with 110 teens and see firsthand the positive impact that outdoor experiences have on this inspiring group. The project started bright and early with some ice breaking activities, since many of the teens didn’t know each other. The kids had a blast working together and after a few hours we had completely cleared several areas of the park, generating almost 150 cubic feet of invasive plants!
Philip, our Southern California Field Consultant, took the time to educate the group on California native plants and why the work they were doing was so significant. It was wonderful to witness the satisfaction these kids felt after knowing they made a huge impact. These teens are the newest champions for our state parks and I hope this day of service helps to motivate them to continue to care for their parks, stand up for their parks, and most importantly, bring their friends and family back to the park to enjoy it.
That day, I saw yet again how critical it is to create pathways to parks for the next generation. Learning about what parks offer, and what is involved in caring for them, creates a sense of ownership in these open spaces. When we inspire this ownership, we build strong minds and bodies today, and stewards for tomorrow.