On any given summer day in Minnesota, scores of families head to “the lake” for the weekend; some with boats in tow, others with kayaks or canoes strapped to the roof of their cars.
But for hundreds of thousands of inner city children, such experiences are often out of reach. Many have never dipped so much as a toe in a local lake or had the opportunity to view their city from the river on which it was likely founded.
RBC Wealth Management-U.S. is working to help bridge that gap through support of a nonprofit called Wilderness Inquiry, donating more than $350,000 in recent years to the organization and its Canoemobile program.
Canoemobile inspires the next generation of citizens to experience, enjoy, explore, and protect public lands and waterways with a roving fleet of six hand-made, 24-foot Voyageur canoes that travel across America.
“So many of the kids who come to us have never been on the water and they are afraid,” says Julie Storck, associate director at Wilderness Inquiry. “They get in the boats, they paddle and you can see a change in them in just a matter of a few hours. By the end of the day, they have huge smiles and have built up their confidence.”
That was the case for Shalesa Johnson, who first connected with Wilderness Inquiry several years ago as a freshman at Central High School in St. Paul.
Unlike many of her peers in the group, Johnson grew up spending a lot of time outdoors, camping, hiking and fishing with her family. So the water was not at all unfamiliar to her. Still, she had never been in a canoe.
“It was really scary at the beginning and I felt like I was going to flip over,” Johnson recalls. But by the end of the day, Johnson felt entirely comfortable. Soon she was encouraging peers to try Canoemobile, too. “I thought I could show my friends that, ‘Hey, if I am doing it, you can too.’”
The program, she says, is unique because it enables city kids to experience the natural world around them in ways that sitting in a classroom won’t allow.
In addition to helping kids overcome barriers and build confidence – on the water, and in life – Canoemobile aims to expose the next generation to the Earth’s precious natural resources and gives them a new perspective.
In fact, 86% of youth who participate in Canoemobile say they are more interested in protecting their environment and report stronger connections to nature.
“Wilderness Inquiry has done an incredible job by not only by getting kids out on the water, but by giving them an introduction to the outdoors,” says Warren Bischoff, director of RBC Wealth Management’s Washington, D.C. complex, who helped with an RBC-sponsored event in that area. “The program was a great fit for RBC, where youth education, protecting the water and the environment are all a big focus of our community giving efforts.”
Even Shalesa Johnson, who already enjoyed nature before she got involved in Canoemobile, says the program had a profound impact on how she views the environment. After participating a few times in the program in high school, she came back as an intern and a staff member for Wilderness Inquiry. As a student at the University of Minnesota, she studied fisheries and wildlife.
“My experience with Wilderness Inquiry definitely strengthened my appreciation for the environment,” Johnson says. “But it also provided me with a vision of what I would like to focus on and do in the future.”
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