Costa Rica = Pura Vida

By Amelie LeBlanc

#NatureGirl

Hi my name is Amelie I go to Greenwood Elementary in Seattle, Washington. I just went to Costa Rica so I’m writing a report of what happened to me on the trip. When we first got there, we drove to a hotel in San Jose. We saw a sword thrower, the swords were huge!  For example, they were bigger than a watermelon. After that, we drove to our first hotel. At out first hotel, we got some rest. In the morning, we had a buffet by the pool. My mom had some problems with the waffle maker. For breakfast, I had only waffles and fruit, nothing big. After that, I got to go in the pool. They had a swim up bar, it was funny. Next, we got the car it, was a white Suziki that we named Tundra. We drove to a hotel right next to a volcano that had hot springs, we got a good night sleep that night. In the morning, I went to the spa with my mom for a facial. It was like not even ten minutes, but was still relaxing. After that short spa, we went to the hot springs. it was a very fun time. We went from the top to the bottom of seven different hot springs until we found the best one, the sixth. It was pretty big so I could jump in it. But like most pools or in this case hot springs, you could not dive. After playing in the hot springs for a little while. we got a quick lunch. Next, we went back to our hotel to relax in our own hot tub. After relaxing, we went to bed. In the morning we had to leave. I was very let down. That day we went to the hanging bridges. There were six hanging bridges in all. We started going. The nature was amazing. We first saw this plant called ‘don’t touch me’ if you touch it will go down to sleep. We were moving again. For a while it was boring.  But then we saw a viper. The viper scared me, I was terrified. Then, we saw in its hole the most scary spider: the tarantula. After that death line, we saw the first bridge. I’m scared of heights, so it was not fun. Then it started going. Every ten minutes we would see a bridge. When we were at the maybe fourth bridge we saw a bat. My dad does not like bats. It was very fun seeing a bat. Then we started going again when I thought it was over, I saw a sloth. It was so cute. It was just lying there. We went on the last bridge when we saw a baby and it’s mom sloth! The baby was super cute. We started to go again we ended the tour looking at a live volcano. It was sunny that day.  We drove four hours to get to our next hotel. That hotel had two ponds. There was one with a koi in it (koi is a type of fish) when we got to the hotel it was Thanksgiving. That night we saw a scorpion. Here is the story: me and my dad were laying on the bed. I looked over and there was a scorpion. So I said ‘dad, there’s a scorpion’ he was like ‘Amelie stop joking around’ so worried I said ‘ NO DAD THERE’S A SCORPION! He took the book and slammed the book on it. The next day we took a quick hike. After that we went zip lining. And no not an every day zip line. I did 10. I did the longest one in Latin America. When we got back, we got dinner. Then went to bed. In the morning, we left we went to captain suizo  When we  got there, I dived in the pool. I must have done 10 back flips and front flips. We had great food that night. The next day, when I woke up, I boogie boarded all day. The next morning, I took a walk on the beach with my mom and dad. It was so hot. We boogie boarded again the rest of the day that day we saw raccoon, a huge iguana, and monkeys. The next day we went to peace lodge, it had two hot tubs in our room. They had placed our last night nicely on the door. We had a waterfall in our bathroom. That night, we got to go on a frog tour. We saw a see through frog, we saw many frogs. In the morning, we got to see toucans, hawks, humming birds, parrots, monkeys, wild cats, sloths, and butter flies. I got to feed the toucans, sloths, and hummingbirds. Then we had to leave. The plane was delayed we were going to get to LA at one o’clock in the morning. Thank you.

Amelie feeding sloth
Martin LeBlanc
Costa Rica: Pura Vida

By Amelie LeBlanc

#NatureGirl

Hi my name is Amelie, I go to Greenwood Elementary in Seattle, Washington. I just went to Costa Rica so I’m writing a report of what happened to me on the trip. When we first got there, we drove to a hotel in San Jose. We saw a sword thrower, the swords were huge!  For example, they were bigger than a watermelon. After that, we drove to our first hotel. At out first hotel, we got some rest. In the morning, we had a buffet by the pool. My mom had some problems with the waffle maker. For breakfast, I had only waffles and fruit, nothing big. After that, I got to go in the pool. They had a swim up bar, it was funny. Next, we got the car it, was a white Suziki that we named Tundra. We drove to a hotel right next to a volcano that had hot springs, we got a good night sleep that night. In the morning, I went to the spa with my mom for a facial. It was like not even ten minutes, but was still relaxing. After that short spa, we went to the hot springs. it was a very fun time. We went from the top to the bottom of seven different hot springs until we found the best one, the sixth. It was pretty big so I could jump in it. But like most pools or in this case hot springs, you could not dive. After playing in the hot springs for a little while. we got a quick lunch. Next, we went back to our hotel to relax in our own hot tub. After relaxing, we went to bed. In the morning we had to leave. I was very let down. That day we went to the hanging bridges. There were six hanging bridges in all. We started going. The nature was amazing. We first saw this plant called ‘don’t touch me’ if you touch it will go down to sleep. We were moving again. For a while it was boring.  But then we saw a viper. The viper scared me, I was terrified. Then, we saw in its hole the most scary spider: the tarantula. After that death line, we saw the first bridge. I’m scared of heights, so it was not fun. Then it started going. Every ten minutes we would see a bridge. When we were at the maybe fourth bridge we saw a bat. My dad does not like bats. It was very fun seeing a bat. Then we started going again when I thought it was over, I saw a sloth. It was so cute. It was just lying there. We went on the last bridge when we saw a baby and it’s mom sloth! The baby was super cute. We started to go again we ended the tour looking at a live volcano. It was sunny that day.  We drove four hours to get to our next hotel. That hotel had two ponds. There was one with a koi in it (koi is a type of fish) when we got to the hotel it was Thanksgiving. That night we saw a scorpion. Here is the story: me and my dad were laying on the bed. I looked over and there was a scorpion. So I said ‘dad, there’s a scorpion’ he was like ‘Amelie stop joking around’ so worried I said ‘ NO DAD THERE’S A SCORPION! He took the book and slammed the book on it. The next day we took a quick hike. After that we went zip lining. And no not an every day zipline. I did 10. I did the longest one in Latin America. When we got back, we got dinner. Then went to bed. In the morning, we left we went to captain suizo  When we  got there, I dived in the pool. I must have done 10 backflips and front flips. We had great food that night. The next day, when I woke up, I boogie boarded all day. The next morning, I took a walk on the beach with my mom and dad. It was so hot. We boogie boarded again the rest of the day that day we saw raccoon, a huge iguana, and monkeys. The next day we went to peace lodge, it had two hot tubs in our room. They had placed our last night nicely on the door. We had a waterfall in our bathroom. That night, we got to go on a frog tour. We saw a see through frog, we saw many frogs. In the morning, we got to see toucans, hawks, humming birds, parrots, monkeys, wild cats, sloths, and butter flies. I got to feed the toucans, sloths, and hummingbirds. Then we had to leave. The plane was delayed we were going to get to LA at one o’clock in the morning. Thank you.

Martin LeBlanc
From New Mexico to Minnesota: Friends and Allies in a Movement that Matters
My hiking companions and allies in the movement to connect youth to the outdoors, Sarah Milligan-Toffler of the Children & Nature Network and Erik Stegman of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute.

My hiking companions and allies in the movement to connect youth to the outdoors, Sarah Milligan-Toffler of the Children & Nature Network and Erik Stegman of the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute.

Six months ago I founded LBC Action with a vision. I was determined to work with groups that wanted to make an impact, that looked to work collaboratively, and that could help me learn, personally and professionally.

At the time, I was concerned that I would miss being on a team. The happy truth is that I’m now working with more people than ever - and growing more than ever. The definition of team may have changed, but the spirit of teamwork has not. It doesn’t hurt that almost all of my teammates share a devotion to protecting and enjoying the outdoors.

That’s especially important today. We live in such a divided world, politically and culturally. What I’ve found is that the outdoors can be a powerful bridge between people who may feel they have little in common. It’s a tremendous honor to be part of this work. My good friend Marc Berejka calls it a revolution. I have to agree. What else could unite so many hearts and minds committed to change?

If the outdoors is the great stage for change, then who are the characters?

One of the things that has made LBC Action so much fun is the opportunity to work with so many people who make me think. Make me laugh. Maybe even make me cry.

These characters are with me in places like Chimney Rock, in Abiquiu New Mexico, where Erik Stegman, Executive Director of the Center for Native American Youth, and Sarah Milligan-Toffler, Executive Director at the Children & Nature Network, hiked beside me as the sun peeked over the sandstone cliffs.

They’re with me in Minnesota, where Greg Lais has helped tens of thousands of kids get outside through his work with Wilderness Inquiry.

They’re with me in the Rayburn Building and state houses, where they use their passion, energy, and smarts to make sure that the next generation of young people have a special place in nature to call their own.

I’m grateful to call all of these people and so many other partners who are my friends and allies in this critical cause that has become a movement.


Martin LeBlanc
Southwest and Intermountain Training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú: Final Report

The following blog was originally published on the Fresh Tracks website at www.freshtracksaction.org/blog and is being reposted with permission from Fresh Tracks. LBC Action is proud to be a part of the team helping Fresh Tracks empower diverse young leaders from urban, rural, and tribal communities across the country. 

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On Sunday September 16th, Fresh Tracks completed its fourth regional training of 2018. Over three days in the sun-drenched sacred spaces of Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú, we used cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor exploration to see ourselves and each other - and the future - with new perspective, new hope, and new ideas for action.  

We are grateful to our supporters and partners whose investment in Fresh Tracks is enabling us to build a platform for positive social change driven by - and for - young leaders in communities across the country.

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The Southwest and Intermountain training at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico brought together young leaders from urban, rural, and tribal communities in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. The Native participants represented a diverse range of tribes, including the Cherokee, Crow, Colville, Coeur D’Alene, Muscogee Creek, Navajo, Nez Perce, Northern Cheyenne, Salt River Pima Maricopa, and White Mountain Apache nations.

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Together, as staff, trainers, and participants, we used interactive workshops and the natural environment to work across cultures toward three core Fresh Tracks outcomes that have become part of the program DNA: cultural excellence, interpersonal leadership, and civic engagement - all tools to empower young leaders to transform hopes and dreams for a better world into concrete plans for community action.

You’re using the outdoors to reflect on who you are as people, develop your leadership, and create change. And that’s powerful.
— Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI

On Friday, Fresh Tracks staff, participants, and trainers gathered in Albuquerque before driving north to Abiquiu. There, we took time to recognize the Indigenous people who lived on the land long before Ghost Ranch was built and began forming the community that would become a family over the weekend.

Kristen Ragain of REI signs the Fresh Tracks Community Contract on the first day of the regional training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

Kristen Ragain of REI signs the Fresh Tracks Community Contract on the first day of the regional training in Abiquiú, New Mexico.

The heart of the regional training took place on Saturday. At Ghost Ranch, we were honored to welcome Kristen Ragain, Philanthropy & Community Partnerships Manager at REI, who affirmed the critical need for a youth movement fueled by a desire to drive positive social change and shared how finding the outdoors on her own terms propelled her to a career that resonated with her values. She also highlighted REI’s Force of Nature initiative, which empowers women  to explore experiences and careers in the outdoors. For the participants, Kristen’s message reinforced a Fresh Tracks tenet: the outdoors is a platform where people of all cultures and backgrounds can unite around common goals.

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During the three-day training, Fresh Tracks participants explored several essential components of leadership including personal narrative, leadership styles,  civic engagement, and community organizing. One word packed with power became a rally point for Fresh Tracks: disruption. Fresh Tracks Evaluator Dr. Sharoni Little of the Strategist Company and the USC Marshall School of Business  began her implicit bias training session with a discussion of what it means to disrupt systems of inequity in our work and communities.

Dr. Little then asked participants to share how they would work to disrupt bias back in their communities. The answers were varied, but all inspiring:

Create more unity. Be an ally. Speak up when I hear something wrong. Hold people accountable for their words. Stand up to racism. Support other people’s causes. Remind myself that I’m only seeing 10% of someone. Don’t assume privilege. Be a local advocate. Have hard conversations with people. Raise strong children.

These responses point to the action behind the Fresh Tracks outcomes. By challenging the status quo and pushing back against bias, the participants have the power to collectively disrupt not just bias, but entire systems of inequity.


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The Fresh Tracks participants left Ghost Ranch with plans to do much more than disrupt implicit bias. On the final day of the training, they unveiled action plans for programs, campaigns, and coalitions that could become vehicles for true change in their communities. Here are several of the community action plans presented to a mock panel of philanthropists and policymakers:

 Environmental Science Summer Program

This summer program would provide high school students with classes, labs, and excursions to help them connect to and prepare for college. Tribal leaders and other mentors would lead workshops focused on building relationships with the land and developing life skills, including study skills and financial budgeting.

 High School Mentor Program

By partnering  with universities, banks, transportation services, and local businesses, the High School Mentor Program would address a need for tools to help high school students learn about higher education. Volunteers would gain leadership experience by helping high school seniors transition to college, giving mentees opportunities to develop important skills (e.g. resume writing and interviewing) while working with local governments to improve access to transportation (a barrier to education for many young people).  

 Affordable Regalia for Native Women

Wearing traditional clothing and regalia often helps Native women feel more connected to their cultures. However, traditional regalia can be prohibitively expensive. This cause-driven enterprise would engage Native artists to design apparel that would allow Native women to express themselves through culturally-meaningful clothing.

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#Don’tDefineUs

The concept for this powerful social media campaign was rooted in pervasive misconceptions about people from communities of color: that Native people still live in tipis, or that youth on Chicago’s southside are apathetic about addressing violence and substance abuse. Coordinated social media outreach would confront these stereotypes and start a broader conversation about the importance of cultural awareness.

 Campus Coalition to Restore Connection to the Land

The vision for this project is a coalition of students devoted to building stronger connections to the land. Tactics include beautifying campuses and creating space for native plants and herbs to grow; bringing back oral traditions; and giving campus communities opportunities to learn about native plants and the history of the land on which campuses were built.


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The Fresh Tracks regional training at Ghost Ranch concluded with a closing ceremony that underscored another Fresh Tracks tenet: we are all in this together. Every participant and trainer is now part of a national network of like-minded leaders with real plans to bring real change to their communities. While the training may be over, their Fresh Tracks journeys have just begun.

Martin LeBlanc
Fresh Tracks Leaders Unite in Long Beach

The following blog was originally published on the Fresh Tracks website at www.freshtracksaction.org/blog and is being reposted with permission from Fresh Tracks. LBC Action is proud to be a part of the team helping Fresh Tracks empower diverse young leaders from urban, rural, and tribal communities across the country. 

Fresh Tracks participants representing Pacific Coast communities from Los Angeles to Seattle gather on the final day of the West Coast Training in Long Beach.

Fresh Tracks participants representing Pacific Coast communities from Los Angeles to Seattle gather on the final day of the West Coast Training in Long Beach.

Over the weekend of July 13-15, a diverse cohort of young adults from urban, rural, and tribal communities located all over the Pacific Coast came together on the campus of California State University, Long Beach for three days of cultural sharing, leadership development, and outdoor exploration.

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This was the second Fresh Tracks experience of the summer, following the Northeast training outside of Boston in early June. Already this year, Fresh Tracks has given more than 70 young adults a platform to expand their leadership skills. And we’re recruiting more young leaders for upcoming programs in the Midwest and Southwest (September)!

None of this would be possible without the generosity of our sponsors - Walmart Foundation, REI, Casey Family Programs, and the Newman’s Own Foundation - who are investing in the next generation of leaders.

We are also grateful to our partners  - the Children & Nature Network’s Natural Leaders, the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance at the Obama Foundation, and Opportunity Youth United - who collectively provide essential support on programming, recruiting, and strategy.

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Fresh Tracks would also like to thank our guest speakers: Jean Lim Flores from REI, Judge Deborah Sanchez, Tribal Councilman Vincent Holguin, and Dr. Sharoni Little, Fresh Tracks Evaluator, CEO of The Strategist Company, and Professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. Thank you also to Carl Carranza of the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium for welcoming Fresh Tracks to Cabrillo Beach.

Look to the person to your left. Look to the person to your right. You all belong here. This was not a mistake. And when you leave these doors tomorrow, do not let that be the end. Let it be a stepping stone to support the work that you are going to continue to do.
— Nikki Pitre, Program Manager, the Center for Native American Youth at The Aspen Institute

CULTURAL SHARING, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT, AND OUTDOOR ENGAGEMENT

Fresh Tracks participants bonding outdoors at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California. 

Fresh Tracks participants bonding outdoors at Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California. 

After two years of programming, Fresh Tracks remains committed to its core outcomes of cultural competency, civic engagement, and leadership development. Each training brings together young leaders from diverse cultural communities, creating a powerful forum for an exchange of ideas and solutions to drive positive social change in communities across  the United States.

 We also continue to use the outdoors as a platform to forge bonds, build trust, and empower leaders, from the Atlantic Coast of Massachusetts to Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro, California, where the most recent cohort of Fresh Tracks participants explored the local natural surroundings with educators from the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium.  

And, we stay true to our promise to be there for participants beyond the training. As long as Fresh Tracks leaders want to move forward with their dreams of community action, we will be there to support them.

From Participant to Trainer 

Cameron (Cam) Williamson-Martin, from Los Angeles, is living proof of the Fresh Tracks promise. Cam was a participant on the Fresh Tracks pilot expedition in 2016. The opportunities and challenges he experienced during that two-week trip were transformative. Less than a year later, Cam completed a training to become a Fresh Tracks leader. This weekend, he was a core member of the leadership team for the West Coast training in Long Beach, mentoring other young adults just beginning their own Fresh Tracks journeys, leading workshops on Leadership IQ and Community Engagement, and helping to identify the next corps of Fresh Tracks leaders.

Fresh Tracks has changed my life greatly. It helped me see things in myself that I may have felt were there but had not been able to bring out. It made me accept that I am a leader and I do have an impact.
— Cameron Williamson-Martin, Fresh Tracks Trainer
Fresh Tracks Trainer Cameron Williamson Martin of Los Angeles prepares to lead a workshop on developing Leadership IQ and discovering personal leadership styles.

Fresh Tracks Trainer Cameron Williamson Martin of Los Angeles prepares to lead a workshop on developing Leadership IQ and discovering personal leadership styles.

For a Fresh Tracks leader, preparing for a lifetime of impact starts with knowing your own story. The importance of personal narrative was a theme throughout the West Coast Training at Long Beach, and the focus of a workshop led by Fresh Tracks trainers Luz Alejos and Christie Wildcat. The participants also explored how personal narrative is often rooted in their own pasts. Judge Deborah Sanchez, a guest speaker, spoke about how she inherited her dedication to community service from her Chumash, O’odham and Raramuri ancestors. In a moving Culture Share, many of the participants used poetry, song, and storytelling to illustrate how their personal narratives and cultures are tied into their advocacy efforts.

When I listened to Dr. Little’s talk, I realized I had my own biases and that’s not a true reflection of my character. I want to help other people recognize and disrupt their biases too.
— Eldridge Lile Cole, Fresh Tracks Participant
Judge Deborah Sanchez offered a blessing and acknowledgement of original inhabitants and shared how her community service is rooted in her cultural heritage. 

Judge Deborah Sanchez offered a blessing and acknowledgement of original inhabitants and shared how her community service is rooted in her cultural heritage. 

 Culture is a part of how we see ourselves, and how we see others. That was one of the lessons imparted in a powerful session on implicit bias led by Dr. Sharoni Little, Evaluator for Fresh Tracks, CEO of The Strategist Company, and a professor at the USC Marshall School of Business. Pointing to examples from popular culture and her own life, Dr. Little gave the participants new skills to acknowledge and disrupt implicit bias - to avoid determining a person’s abilities based on how they look.

 Throughout the West Coast training, the participants worked in Action Teams to develop community action plans. Action plans are facilitated road maps for turning their aspirations for change into real action.

Jean Lim Flores tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after talking about inspiring others to love the outdoors through her career with REI in Los Angeles.

Jean Lim Flores tries on a Fresh Tracks hat after talking about inspiring others to love the outdoors through her career with REI in Los Angeles.

During the training, the participants also had the opportunity to meet two special guests who have leveraged their aspirations for community impact into careers. On Saturday morning, Jean Lim Flores, Outdoor Programs and Outreach Market Coordinator for REI in Los Angeles, shared how she combined her personal and professional passions by inspiring others to love the outdoors. On Sunday, Vincent Holguin, Tribal Councilman for the Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, described his own career path, his decision to go to law school, and his belief that true change often requires a change in leadership.

I am invested in your leadership, as individuals, as movement builders, as champions of change. I am invested in you, in whatever you decide to do.
— Juan Martinez, Vice President, Children & Nature Network

The Fresh Tracks experience does not end when participants go home. That important note was stressed as a call to action for everyone present. The young leaders who completed the West Coast training departed with new skills and awareness, a network of like-minded peers from cultural communities in several states, and a platform of support offered by Fresh Tracks. The contributions of time, funding, and expertise made by our partners and supporters are investments in these young leaders and their determination to change the trajectory of their lives and their communities forever.

 

Martin LeBlanc
Vitamin N (for nature): A small dose provides substantial stress relief

By Mandy LeBlanc

A midweek hike through Discovery Park in Seattle recently brought a surprising amount of tranquility to my life – after a short sunset excursion, my family and I found we were far more relaxed and optimistic, slept better and had more perspective on our place in the world.

We had recently returned from a great vacation and had felt relaxed and interconnected, but those feelings only lasted a few weeks until school and work caused stress again. The short stint in the park brought myriad health benefits to my life, but you don’t need a whole evening or even an hour to relieve stress.

When many of us think about relieving stress, we think about the rejuvenating powers of time in the mountains, at the beach or on vacation. While extended breaks from everyday life have their role in managing stress, micro-doses of the outdoors can be just as powerful.

If you are like the majority of Americans, you are concerned about the level of stress in your everyday life. The American Psychology Association’s annual survey on stress consistently finds that most Americans are affected by stress.

Think of the last time you were stressed out. What did you do? Sitting still stewing about it rarely solves the problem, but walking away for a minute to refresh your mind and get another perspective can be one solution. The Japanese call this Shinrin-yoku, for the medicine of being in the forest.

A 2010 study in the Environmental Science & Technology journal found that people experienced boosts to their mood and self-esteem after spending five minutes outside doing light exercise, such as walking or gardening.

If your smartphone is rarely out of arm’s reach, that means you are making yourself available to the world most of the time. Add social media feeds and 24/7 news and life rarely allows you to hit pause. Many physicians have started prescribing nature most days of the week to promote the physical and mental health benefits of time spent outdoors.

So while weekend activity is key to training for a big climb, daily walks in natural habitats have a big effect on our mental well-being. Time in nature has been proven to lower cortisol levels and blood pressure and allows us to be more mentally agile. Why?

It is primal: At our core, our predecessors were hunters and gatherers so we were used to being outside. These days, we have become used to being held captive by our technology, which means less time “off the grid.”

Nature provides perspective and a more positive outlook. The next time you are feeling stressed or can’t seem to come up with a solution to a problem, try taking a 15-minute walk. You might see that you come back more refreshed and with a deeper sense of perspective of your role in the world.

Restored mental energy and improved concentration: Many of us are awake for up to 18 hours a day. A brief walk in nature can revive your mind and hit the reset button. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders found that children with attention deficits concentrate better after a walk in the park.

A more positive outlook: Soothing natural experiences often leave us with a more positive outlook and a sense of hope for the future.

Improved memory: While outside we tend to be focused on the present and give our brain time to defragment. Studies have shown that participants are better at repeating numbers backwards, and other cognitive tasks after walking through the forest.

So consider this a prescription for Vitamin N and don’t neglect it, even if you can only get a small dose.

Mandy LeBlanc
Empowering Impact: More Than a Tagline

By Thatcher Heldring 

We’ve all seen a million taglines. All of them promise something. Whether or not we buy it depends on how much we believe it. We have to know the tagline comes from a place of truth. If it doesn’t, it’s just another string of words.  

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Recently I was thinking about the LBC Action tagline - empowering impact. These two words are at the heart of the LBC Action story, equal parts rallying cry, north star, and promise. But how do we show they come from a place of truth?

There may be no purer expression of empowering impact than Fresh Tracks, a program that brings together young adults from urban and indigenous communities for cross-cultural leadership experiences in outdoor settings across the country. Earlier this month, I was with Fresh Tracks at Essex Woods, a retreat center nestled in the woods not far from the Atlantic Ocean.  The occasion was the first Fresh Tracks training expedition of 2018.

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Fresh Tracks is a program of the Center for Native American Youth at the Aspen Institute. Inspired by a call from President Obama for programs that would use the outdoors to help young Americans realize their potential as leaders, Fresh Tracks was brought to life in 2016 by several members of the LBC Action team.  Two years later, more than 90 aspiring leaders from urban and indigenous communities have taken in part in at least one Fresh Tracks training.  I had the privilege of being at the recent training in Massachusetts. As the communication lead for Fresh Tracks, my job was simple: listen and report.  

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For three days I listened to the stories of everyone at Fresh Tracks. Stories of people who have been tested. Who have overcome adversity.  Who have committed themselves to bringing positive social change to their communities. When they tell their stories, they do not say they want to make a difference. They say they will make a difference.  And Fresh Tracks is an opportunity for these young leaders to connect, to share, to push themselves and each other to reach their full potential as change agents. To empower impact.  

The Fresh Tracks participants came from urban centers in Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago and Hartford, from Tuscarora and Akwesasne Mohawk communities on the border of New York and Canada, the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in Virginia, and from the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. They come from vastly different cultural perspectives, but after just two days together, two new truths emerged. First, there is more uniting them than dividing them.  And second, when it comes to creating healthy, equitable communities, they are all in it together. As Madison White, a Fresh Tracks participant put it, “Fresh Tracks is helping me remember that the issues we face individually are really on a global scale. It's something we all face, and it unites us.”

When I see young leaders from so many different backgrounds look beyond differences to find common ground, that’s more than hope. That’s proof.  Not just that empowering impact is more than a tagline - or that it comes from a place of truth - but that something real is happening.





 

Thatcher Heldring