Deepening Commitments: Working Toward Equity and Inclusion When Connecting Youth to the Outdoors


Cultural Relevancy WheelSpending time outdoors provides many physical and mental benefits, and time in nature is especially important for the development and well-being of youth. While there are efforts to increase the time youth spend outdoors, there are systemic barriers preventing access to these programs. These barriers range from lack of information and awareness of opportunities, to lack of transportation and cost to participate, to safety and parental permission/support, to feelings of not belonging or lack of relevant programs for the intended audience. On the broader environmental field, there are signs that these barriers are recognized and are being addressed. At a national level these signs include scholarships for students from under-resourced communities, mentoring programs, and cultural competency training. However, similar support for local groups and place-based organizations is limited.

This case study is a collaboration with David and Lucile Pachard Foundation and the Morgan Family Foundation to offer the Cultural Relevancy Series to build their grantees' capacity in cultural relevancy, equity, and inclusion orver a 7-month course. It also examines how Youth Outside opperates in northern and central California by supporting programs in these areas be responsive to the previously mentioned challenges. The support given by Youth Outside includes consulting, coaching, and training that addresses systemic and cultural barriers.

Methods, Tools, and Data

This case study examines the Cultural Relevancy Series which has three main components:

  1. Seminars covering the foundation of cultural relevancy concepts and applications for program content, delivery, organizational culture, and operations.
  2. Coaching sessions tailored to the needs of participating organizations, with the goal of steering systems-level change for long term cultural relevancy impact.
  3. Provide an opportunity for direct practice through developing and implementing an action plan.

A total of 18 grantee organizations were invited to participate in the series with seven of them self-identifying as having the readiness to take on the rigorous training. Of these, six organizations completed the full series. There were seven monthly seminars that cover defining cultural relevancy, changing organizational culture, examining our unconscious biases, recruiting with intention for board development, develeoping programs with a cultural relevancy lens, exploring power and privilege, and culmination. The seminars took place March through October 2016, and grounded participants in a basic understanding of the key concepts of cultural relevancy, and presented best practices for developing programs and outdoor education courses to benefit the communities being served.

Coaching: Each participating organization received four hours of coaching with an expert advisor in nonprofit organizational development. The coaching was designed to examine their organizations, identify deficiences and barriers preventing inclusive practices and community engagement.

Projects: Each organization chose a specific project to develop a prosposal for advancing cultural relevancy, and apply for microgrants up to $3,000 ot support its implementation.