Yesterday, California State Parks Foundation hosted a first ever policy forum, on the importance of connecting youth to critical health and wellness benefits state parks and the outdoors provide.
The event brought together a cross-section of state leaders and advocates to discuss the status of children’s health in California today and develop solutions to leverage California’s state parks as a tool to improve youth health, especially for those in underserved communities.
New research has shown that the majority of California’s impoverished youth live within close range of a state park, making these open spaces tremendous, and potentially underutilized, opportunities to improve youth health.
First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a fierce advocate for California’s youth, provided the Forum’s opening remarks and officially announced her partnership with the Foundation on the Pathways to Parks initiative. In announcing her partnership with the Foundation, the First Partner highlighted the need to increase access to open spaces, especially for the state’s underserved youth – a sentiment that was echoed throughout the day in statements from marquee speakers, like Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, and during panel discussions with leaders from the outdoor, youth and health communities.
“We have the opportunity right now to build pathways to healthier lives for all Californians – and it starts in our state parks with our kids. Time spent outdoors provides clear mental and physical health benefits at every stage of life, but for youth in underserved communities this opportunity is harder to come by,” said First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. “That is why I am proud to be working with the California State Parks Foundation on the Pathways to Parks initiative to increase access to our state’s many green and open spaces so that everyone can experience, learn, grow and connect with the outdoors.”
The first panel included leading advocates for children and families discussing the status of kids in California, provide insights to their challenges, and ways to outreach and engage vulnerable populations. Panelists included Anthony Wright, Executive Director, Health Access, Ted Lempert, President, Children Now, Linda Tenerowicz, Policy Advocate, CA Pan-Ethnic Health Network, and Sammy Caiola, Healthcare Reporter, Capital Public Radio.
“Our children are our future and it is incumbent upon all of us to explore every avenue, break down every barrier and forge every path to ensure our youth can reach their full potential,” said Ted Lempert, President of Children Now. “California’s state parks represent an avenue — right at our fingertips — to improving children's health, education, and connection to community that must be explored.”
Next was an exciting speech from Angela Barranco, the Undersecretary of Natural Resources at the California Natural Resources Agency. She talked about the priorities of the Department of Natural Resources, one being access for all communities. She spoke to Natural Resources making an intentional effort to collaborate with other Departments, like Transportation, to come up with create solutions to the issues we are facing.
The second panel included leading voices address the benefits of connecting children to parks, nature, and green space, based on research and from program perspectives. Panelists included Jon Christensen, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, Emily Teitsworth, Executive Director, GirlVentures, Lesford Duncan, Director of Programs, Outdoor Outreach, Rachel Norton, California State Parks Foundation.
“We now know definitely that parks have the power to be a cost-effective, preventative prescription for the more than 1 million impoverished youth living within the visitorshed of a state park,” said Jon Christensen, Adjunct Assistant Professor at UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.
Next was a visionary speech from Mark Rossow, Office of Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia on creating a new legislative bond bill focused on climate resiliency. While still in development, the concept of this bill will work to protect our public lands by making them more resilient. Climate change can be addressed by turning concrete pavements into green spaces and preserving all parks through stewardship. He did talk about the charge we all have to find sustainable funding for parks and new funds to support more programming which cannot be supported by bonds.
The third panel included visionary voices and experts discuss programs and opportunities to increase access to parks, specifically relating to the “Every Kid Outdoors” program. Panelists included Jennifer Fischer, Manager of Interpretation, California State Parks - Angeles District, Jayni Rasmussen, Senior Campaign Representative, Outdoor Alliance for Kids, Jorge Savala, Director of Community Outreach, Friends of Santa Cruz – Kids2Parks, Holly Martinez, Director of Programs and Advocacy, California State Parks Foundation.
“Our parks are only as strong as the people who use and advocate for them, which is why we are working to bring advocates and leaders from different communities together to develop solutions to increase access to green space for those who need it most, while identifying opportunities to leverage our state’s outdoor treasures as public health solutions,” said Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation. “Today’s forum and the launch of the Pathways to Parks initiative is just the beginning – the ideas, solutions and partnerships built here will fuel our work to bring communities together and open up new roads to parks because a California for All must include Parks for All.”
More information on the forum, speakers and panelists can be found at: www.calparks.org/policyforum.