Behavior Change
REI Foundation Awards $410,000 to Groups Engaging Youth in Nature

The REI Foundation has awarded a total of $410,000 to nonprofits that work to engage younger and more diverse populations in the outdoors. Children & Nature Network (C&NN), Futuro Media Group, Outdoor Foundation and YMCA of the USA were the chosen recipients.

“The REI Foundation’s mission is to better connect the next generation of adventurers and environmental stewards with the outdoors by partnering with key organizations,” said Marc Berejka, president of the REI Foundation and REI's Director of Government and Community Affairs, in a release.

C&NN received nearly half of the grant to expand the reach of its Natural Leaders Network, a program that works with young leaders (18-29 years) who work locally to design and promote nature-based experiences. The $200,000 grant will support training and online engagement for Natural Leaders and enable a new “Green Play to Green Pay” initiative towards creating a pathway to outdoor jobs for diverse millennials.

“This program empowers young people to serve as change-makers in their local community in the fields of outdoor recreation and conservation, giving them the tools they need to become leaders not for tomorrow, but for today,” said Juan Martinez, Director of the Natural Leaders Network.

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Futuro Media Group distributes Radio Nature, a popular series on NPR's LatinoUSA that is executive-produced and hosted by journalist Maria Hinojosa. The show documents the emotional bonds that diverse communities have with nature and aims to inspire more outdoor enthusiasts and environmental stewards. The $110,000 grant will fund in-depth stories that highlight the space between outdoor activities and the environmental impacts of pursuing them, from the perspective of Latinos. It will also be used for targeted outreach and audience building to expand the segments' reach.

The Outdoor Foundation and the YMCA each received grants of $50,000. The Outdoor Foundation, co-founded by REI, said it will use the grant to help fund leadership development for high school and college-age people at the Outdoor Nation. According to the release, “the program ensures that America’s next generation of leaders have the skills, training and resources to connect their peers to the outdoors and drive participation.”

The YMCA of the USA’s Boys and Girls Outdoor Leadership Development (BOLD/GOLD) program received the grant to help it attract and expose a diverse youth group to outdoor programming.

“The Y is committed to nurturing the potential of every child and teen,” says John Duntley, senior camping specialist for YMCA of the USA. “Through programs like BOLD/GOLD, YMCAs provide many of the critical assets that kids need to become successful adults — a sense of belonging, supportive relationships and opportunities to enhance decision-making skills.”

The Nature Conservancy would likely approve of the REI Foundation’s philanthropic efforts in this area — the NGO released the results of a global survey earlier this month that found that kids are not spending enough time outdoors. The study found that in the US, preschoolers spend about 12 hours a week outside and by the time a US teen turns 16, he or she is spending less than seven hours a week in nature. The REI Foundation's grants should help woo children and youth away from screens and bring them closer to nature.

In other REI news, the company announced earlier this month that it is on track to powering all of its stores and distribution centers with renewable energy. With 26 solar electric systems generating energy and a strong program to invest in energy efficiency, REI now buys RECs as part of its energy strategy that powers more than 130 stores, two distribution centers and its headquarters. While the company grew nearly six percent in 2013, REI says it increased its energy consumption by just 0.1 percent and reduced its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 39.5 percent.

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