Blog: September 2018
How can I instill awe and love of the outdoors in others? This question has stuck with me since I was a kid growing up in a variety of environments: the desert in Phoenix, Arizona, the rolling hills and woodlands of San Antonio, Texas, and the Northeastern forest of Baltimore, Maryland. I grew up spending much of my time outdoors, and developed an appreciation for my surroundings early on. I also met and befriended many different types of people throughout my childhood, and became curious about cultures and ways of life different from my own.
As a young girl, I did not realize I could turn my love of both the outdoors and people into a career. It was not until college and graduate school that I had the opportunity to act on these passions. Since graduation, I have had the opportunity to coordinate a youth initiative at the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Public Engagement as an AmeriCorps VISTA, have worked as an environmental educator through Let’s Go Outdoors and Riverbend Environmental Education Center, and as an outdoor educator at the Philadelphia Outward Bound School. These experiences have allowed me to do what I love: stand alongside all kinds of people learning in and about the outdoors, and discovering more of themselves, and more of their communities.
This is what draws me to environmental education. The environment, in many ways, provides a clean slate for people. In this age, many people spend their lives indoors, removed from the outdoor environments that support their lifestyles. I enjoy helping people take literal breaths of fresh air, as they uncover how the environment serves them, and how they can be stewards of these life giving places. I enjoy helping youth, in particular, build skills, become leaders, and build confidence while challenging themselves in unfamiliar situations.
When I first happened upon the UrbanTrekkers website, I immediately thought this organization gets it. UrbanPromise’s Office of Experiential learning combines youth empowerment, challenge, environment, hands on projects, and compassion. I was struck by the holistic, but very intentional, view of youth development, and wanted to be a part of it. Since taking on the Environmental Education Program Director role in late August, I have seen an organization that is welcoming, compassionate, flexible, and is not afraid to push the envelope or fail. I enjoy working on a diverse, energetic, and mission minded team, and see the constant relationship building that happens with our students.
Yes, our team alternates days in the office with days outdoors, and yes, we aim to share the beauty of the outdoors with our students and Camden community members. But more than that, we aim to help our participants see the beauty in themselves, in others, and in our communities at large.
Rachel Abbott, Environmental Education Program Director
One of the first students that I met when I started with UrbanTrekkers was a rising senior named Johnani. The second I met him I could tell that he was a fireball of energy. Every day Johnani was off work, he was at UrbanPromise. Usually with someone from the Trekkers office. No matter the task, no matter what was going on, he was always there to lend a helping hand. He is a jokester too, even when his timing may not be the most appropriate.
I noticed several students like Johnani in my first few weeks here. There were handful of students that always seemed to be around; even if they had no real reason to be. It felt like there was some sort of magnet at Urban that kept people around.
Since Johnani was always hanging in the Trekker office, I was able to spend a lot of time with him throughout the summer. I had the chance to spend some more time with him when he decided to be a part of our Outdoor Leadership Training and New Student Orientation at Hickory Run State Park a few weeks ago.
During our five days camping in Hickory Run State Park with Johnani and the 7 other student leaders, we spent a lot of time discussing the meaning of community, the communities we are a part of, and the reasons those communities feel safe to us. We spent hours on the trail, on bikes, and around the campfire together. We made a little home in the woods for ourselves where we could crack jokes, laugh, and spend time in reflection. Our reflection times revolved around community, and they served as a time to prepare for New Student Orientation. Kris even took notes on what each student was saying about community and the community that exists at UrbanPromise. Later, when we were prepping for the new students, Kris would remind each student of what they had said so that they would have it down when they were later asked to share.
Throughout most of our rehearsals, Johnani did not seem like he was taking anything seriously. His responses always came off as joke-filled, but with a little bit of truth in them. When the new students showed up and it came time for our student leadership team to share their definition of community, they were having a hard time recalling their previous answers. “Can you tell everybody what you said the other day,” Kris kept saying as he tried to nudge students along. His nudges were helpful, but none of the responses seemed quite as genuine as I had hoped.
Then it came around to Johnani, and I must say that I was a little bit nervous. But when he started speaking, you could feel the authenticity in his voice. He carried on with the most beautiful and genuine sentiment, and he finished with “For me, Urban is a family.” I could feel the chills going up and down my arms, and for some reason the whole campfire seemed to go silent. “You’re about to make me cry over here!” Hope, one of our other student leaders, shouted from across the campfire.
That was the moment I realized exactly why Johnani is always hanging around Urban. It made me understand why the students were having such a hard time explaining the community that we have at UrbanPromise and in UrbanTrekkers. It can be hard to define something when the definition goes beyond words. UrbanPromise is more than just a community. It is a family. And when the new students started school last week, they weren’t joining just another community. They were becoming part of a family.
Professional Intern (July 2018-June 2019)