Volunteers in the Great Lakes are spreading the conservation
message within the region's bleakest neighborhoods. The
Club's national Inner City Outings program acquaints low-
income urban youth with the outdoors, and engenders self-
confidence through guided excursions and skills training.
Now in its 25th year, ICO has programs in Detroit,
Cleveland, Grand Rapids and Chicago as well as 38 other U.S.
"Initial reactions are always the most fun," said Southeast
Michigan Group ICO Chair Bob Day, a Detroit resident and
longtime ICO leader. "Some trails have wild berries, and
many teenagers have never picked raspberries before and
refuse to eat anything that's not in a can or box. Thirty
minutes later they find I haven't died from eating the
berries and then I have a rough time keeping them out of the
"These kids live in public housing projects and have tough
lives, but are bright and great to work with," Day
emphasized. "Many of them have horrendous stories and self-
confidence problems, but leave saying, 'Hey, I got through
this - when are we going again?'"
Although most ICO Detroit trips are restricted to day
excursions to local metropolitan parks, program leaders are
pursuing broader approaches such as gardening projects in
kids' own neighborhoods and coordinating outings with an
inner-city high school science club. "A couple of the older
kids want to be biologists," Day noted. "In fact, we're
starting to see their questions stumping park naturalists."
ICO national chairperson and volunteer Nancy Green said that
her Cleveland group works with a variety of community
agencies to lead canoeing, horseback riding, backpacking and
swimming trips, and tries to complete one service project
per year - such as creek restoration or picking up trash. "I
feel there's almost as much impact on the adults," continued
Green. "When we go overnight the kids' biggest fear is being
in the dark, while for me, the idea of growing up in an
atmosphere of gun violence is much more intimidating. Once
we get over the cultural barrier, we find we have a lot more
in common than we realized."
For more information about Inner City Outings in your
community, contact ICO National Coordinator Debra Asher at
the Sierra Club's San Francisco office, (415) 977-5628.
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