Johnny Morgan, Muse, Kyla
NEW ORLEANS – Getting back to nature and spending time in the great outdoors is an activity that some inner- city youth in New Orleans are making part of their childhood.
The Orleans Parish 4-H Youth and Families with Promise (YFP) mentor program kicked off its Urban Overnight series in the Audubon Zoo in Dec.
LSU AgCenter mentor program coordinator Kyla Muse said youth involved in the program do not currently have strong developmental influences in their lives.
“Our program is a youth development program that reaches all youth ages 8-15 in the Greater New Orleans area,” Muse said.
The program is offered in various forms through the Federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention throughout the country, Muse said. But Orleans Parish is the only parish in Louisiana awarded the grant for this year.
Youth in the program have expressed an interest in camping, but many do not have the resources and/or knowledge to participate in camping events.
The Urban Overnight series is designed to allow youth from urban areas to participate in camping at varied levels while they gain skills and experience.
Muse said 20 youth and eight adult mentoring volunteers participated in this event, but more than 60 youth are enrolled in the program.
Youth are currently chosen by their school, a teacher, parent or friend, she said.
“The ultimate goal for our youth is that they gain skills, confidence and knowledge that will help them to make positive life choices and instill in them a greater sense of who they are and what they are capable of accomplishing,” Muse said.
The program is supplemented by activities and lessons from the National 4-H Curriculum series that includes hiking, camping and backpacking expeditions.
“We will be replicating this event every 3-4 months, increasing the amount of involvement each time we camp,” she said. “We are planning to bring the youth to 4-H Camp in June, as well as creating a character education retreat and family camp.”
The events will continue until the youth reach a level where they are able to camp in a state park with minimal supervision.
The Audubon Zoo was deemed a suitable starting point for this series because it offered the opportunity to have dinner delivered and breakfast catered at a site that was closed to the public, supervision from experienced zoo staff, a prepared camp site and options for inclement weather, she said.
During this experience, the youth were able to participate in camp-site setup and breakdown, a bio-fact time and night and morning hikes through the Audubon Zoo. The campers discussed the concept of “keep it clean” – leaving a natural area as clean as it was before you arrived.
Bio-facts included information on chinchillas, lizards and other animals, as well as an opportunity to view them up close and touch them, Muse said.
“The night hike was a unique affair for all, where youth and their mentors were led by zoo professionals on an informative hike through the grounds in the dark,” she said.
Discussions and information included topics such as how to adjust your eyes for the dark and which animals are nocturnal.
Many of the participants were eager to get started on the next step of the process and expanding the opportunity to a larger scale.
“Going forward, we will be including a separate component of the program, which will target youth in the juvenile justice system,” Muse said. “But currently we only work with youth in their schools.”
The next event is tentatively scheduled for March.