America’s Great Outdoors

By Emma Jornlin, SCA Staff

The room bubbled with energy just prior to the start of the America’s Great Outdoors Listening Session last Thursday. Nearly one hundred youth from around Seattle gathered at circular tables, playing with the place cards, eating granola bars, and talking excitedly. No one seemed to know what was going to happen, only that we had been invited here by important figures from various park and environmental agencies.

When Allie, our emcee, finally took the podium, you could tell that she sensed our curiosity. You are here because of the president’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative, Allie explained. The President wants to get the public’s perspective on issues of conservation and public land space. We’ll start with a game, then break out into smaller discussion groups, but remember: the last question is the most important, because those answers will be delivered to the president’s desk on November 15th.

After a quick game of Environmental Bingo, we got into groups to answer four big questions:

-Where do you go when you are not indoors?

-What do you do personally to protect the environment?

-Are there obstacles that prevent young people from using outdoor spaces?

-What can President Obama do to support and encourage young people’s involvement in nature and getting connected to the outdoors?

Looking around the room, it was clear that SCA possessed a dominating presence: at least a third of the youth were outfitted in blue shirts. But it was interesting to observe the interactions within our break-out groups. Members who had been with SCA for four years or more were eagerly offering up suggestions and helping to facilitate. But many of the youth who will have their first SCA experience this summer were also beginning to demonstrate leadership. Maya acted as her group’s recorder, Kelsey voiced her idea about requiring environmental science in schools, and when it came time to present our answers to the room, many SCA members served as their group’s spokesperson.

At the end of the day, we all speculated about whether the government would actually use our suggestions. Based on the speeches, the representatives already seemed to possess their own ideas about the content of future policy. However, the most important outcome of the listening session appears to be what the youth will carry away.

It’s not every day that you sit down with people from all different backgrounds to have a discussion—whether it is about the environment, politics, or simply what sports we like to play. Giving youth the opportunity to do this not only demonstrates the value in their individual voice, but also of conversation in general. Perhaps next time one of these teens decides to hang out with friends, they can talk about spending that time outdoors. After all, we all agreed video games are fun, but nothing beats swimming in a cool lake on a hot summer day.