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The Planet

Inner City Outings: A Tale Beyond Two Cities

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. cities.

"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 patch. "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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