Having had the good fortune to grow up in family that put a premium on spending quality time in the outdoors, activities such as camping, hiking and fishing were common and felt as easy and natural as riding a bike does to most kids. Thinking about some of these great outdoor experiences I had as a kid increased my excitement and curiosity about the trip I was about to embark on: Traveling to the heart of south Los Angeles with my daughter Elise (5), to attend the REI and The North Face sponsored Role Models event, whose primary purpose is inspiring parents and kids to get outdoors.
Los Angeles greeted us with clear skies and warm temperatures and while the almost 100 degree weather felt a little stifling, I realized this is fairly typical summer weather in Los Angeles and one of the elements kids and parents face when getting outdoors in this region. Arriving at the destination of the event, Kenneth Hahn State Park, provided the first of several pleasant surprises. After entering the 401 acre park located just south of LA in Baldwin Hills, I was amazed how almost none of the city was visible and this definitely helped create an experience of being in the outdoors and away from civilization.
We received a very friendly and welcoming greeting as we entered the event and Elise quickly became excited as she saw all the tents, camping equipment, info stations and craft tables set up amongst the trees. As the primary purpose of this Role Model event is to encourage inner city kids to explore the outdoors, a wide range of activities were offered that would promote a fun experience while being outdoors. Activities ranged from making and decorating a visor, building a sun catcher to learning how to set up a tent and exploring all the cooking equipment and utensils normally used when camping.
Most of the kids started with an activity that was in their comfort zone, like decorating a visor or making a sun catcher, then as the kids felt more comfortable in their surroundings, more outdoor focused activities began. Talks by REI employee’s running the event ranged from wildlife you might see in the outdoors, to sun protection, to preserving and protecting the outdoors during outdoor adventures. Conveniently the event was right next to some of the great trails running thru the park, and it was great to see the kids excitement while exploring the trails and hearing shrieks when lizards darted out in front of them.
Then came what turned out to be the highlight of the day for Elise and I, along with many of the kids and parents. An REI expert gave everyone an introductory explanation of geocaching, provided us with a GPS , or as Elise later called it “a phone that helps you find stuff”, and turned us loose to search for treasures hidden throughout the park. Who would guess that finding a container of beads or a pouch filled with post cards could be so much fun. After finding all nine of the treasures, we took a break and feasted on some amazing tacos from a local caterer brought in for the event.
Elise and I also spent time talking with Juan Martinez, who represents The North Face as an ambassador for Outdoor Exploration and was the featured The North Face representative for this event. Juan shared his experiences growing up in South Central LA, where opportunities to explore and understand the wonder of the outdoors didn’t really exist. Juan was able to spend time as a young adult in the Grand Teton of Montana which fostered a deep appreciation for the outdoors and lead to embarking on his current journey. As The North Face Ambassador for Outdoor exploration and leader for the Children & Nature Networks Leaders Initiative, Juan now spends his time encouraging kids all over the country to explore and appreciate the outdoors.
Interacting with Juan, it’s clear how much passion he has for promoting the outdoors, and to be reaching inner city kids in the area where he grew up and still lives made this event that much more special. As Elise and I were traveling home after our Los Angeles adventure, it really struck me what a valuable resource people like Juan and companies like REI are in areas where getting outdoors doesn’t come naturally or easily, and what great adventures can be had even in the middle of a huge city.
GET OUTDOORS. Take Someone With You.
Role Models is about sharing your passion for the outdoors with others. Make a pledge to help inspire the next generation of explorers and you could win the latest gear from The North Face