A group of 3 children sit in the woods with marshmallows on sticks to make s’mores

National Park Foundation: Programs Help Get Young People Outside

Getting outside brings with it a multitude of health benefits for people of all ages, including lowering anxiety, improving sleep, boosting creativity and more. It also provides children with the opportunity to be physically active, develop social skills and increase attention spans. Studies have shown getting outside can even lower symptoms for young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
With the multitude of benefits that come from being outdoors, it is critical that access to green space and parks be made available and preserved for people across the country. For Robert F. Smith, creating and maintaining outdoor opportunities is a key focus of his philanthropy.
By working with organizations like Lincoln Hills Cares, the National Park Foundation and the Open Space Institute, Smith has aimed to further environmental conservation with a focus on improving the African American experience.
Lincoln Hills Cares, an organization Smith co-founded, provides young people who may otherwise not have the opportunity to have a safe outdoor space with meaningful experiences in Colorado’s vast natural environment. The National Park Foundation has a similar focus on providing children and families with access to parks and educational programs in addition to promoting an environment of diversity and inclusion.

How the National Park Foundation Impacts Young People

With strong values around diversity and inclusion, coupled with programs that support kids across the country, the National Park Foundation has established many ways to have a positive educational and social impact on people’s lives.
Part of the Foundation’s mission of building partnerships to preserve the nation’s national parks for present and future generations is to help establish a passion for outdoor recreation and environmental conservation among the country’s youth. To do this, the Foundation offers or supports the programs such as:

Open OutDoors for Kids

The National Park Foundation established the Open OutDoors for Kids initiative to ensure that children across the country are able to access national parks, regardless of their economic or social circumstances.

As field trips become a popular target for budget cuts, children increasingly find it difficult to get outside and have first-hand learning experiences in nature — especially children in underserved communities or urban areas. To address this, the initiative has three key areas of focus:
  • Access — provide free transportation and access to parks for children and teachers.
  • Relevancy — offer cultural programs and encourage healthy living through recreation.
  • Education — create opportunities within parks for children, families and teachers to learn more about biodiversity and the environment around them.

Every Kid Outdoors

Launched by Federal Land Management agencies, the Every Kids Outdoors program provides every fourth grade student in the U.S. with the opportunity to access national parks, historic structures, cultural artifacts and protected bodies of water across the nation for free. Sign up and receive a pass from Every Kid Outdoors.
It’s a reality, however, that while every child has access to a pass, they may not have the means to travel to one of these public areas. The National Park Foundation supports Every Kid Outdoors through the Open OutDoors for Kids program mentioned above, providing transportation grants to the communities that need them the most.

America’s Best Idea

The now concluded America’s Best Idea program was run through the National Park Foundation to connect diverse groups of young people with national parks all over the U.S. The program impacted children nationwide, and provided one-of-a-kind experiences. Some of the program’s highlights include:
  • Yosemite National Park — provided Native American children day and overnight camping trips to experience the park
  • Mount Rainier National Park — offered recreational activities, education and career planning to teenage children of active-duty military families and young people from the Seattle area
  • Yellowstone National Park — gave forty children and ten youth leaders the chance to spend a week at Yellowstone, receiving countless educational and recreational opportunities

Robert F. Smith’s Love of the Outdoors

A love of nature, including family trips to the National Parks and a lifelong affinity for fly fishing was instilled in Smith at a young age growing up in Denver, Colorado. Smith’s roots have shaped many of his philanthropic ventures and created a passion for uplifting communities across the country.
Learn more about Smith, his background and how it has shaped his philanthropy.