Summer 2022 Youth Education

This summer has been a busy one for SAHC’s youth education programming! Equity and Education Manager LaKyla Hodges and AmeriCorps member Laura Fraser spent the summer organizing and leading environmentally themed lessons and outings with the YMCA Horizons program and Youth Transformed for Life (YTL). Youth from primary school to teens enjoyed adventuring on the Nolichucky River, planting native pollinator plants, studying stream health, looking at plant anatomy, and so much more.

Former SAHC president and USA Raft owner Matt Moses and the staff at USA Raft hosted rafting experiences twice this summer, allowing the participants in our youth education program an opportunity to connect with nature recreationally. Students and staff aging from 4 years old through adulthood were able to spend a day on the Lower Nolichucky at the USA Raft facility!

We were also excited to partner with Josh Perkins, Environmental Education Specialist at The North Carolina Arboretum.  Josh led one of the youth groups in a geocaching hike at The NC Arboretum. Students were put into small groups and provided with handheld GPS units in order to locate the caches along the trails using coordinates.

“The summer programming has aided in the process of restructuring SAHC’s education programming,” says Education and Equity Manager LaKyla Hodges. “We are excited to build a more standardized curriculum around conservation and to create pathways to environmental stewardship and recreation.”

Over the past five years, Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy has been growing a unique youth education program in partnership with after school and summer camp groups. We host a variety of activities at their sites and then organize special outings to SAHC’s conservation areas around the region. Our after-school education program developed with a goal to broaden access to conservation, connecting with youth who might otherwise have limited opportunities to access outdoor recreation and environmental education.

SAHC’s youth education program focuses on partnering with after school groups who serve youth at community recreation centers in the Asheville area (such as Stephens-Lee Community Center), YMCA Horizons (a grant-funded program for students in grades 5-8 in the Buncombe County Schools), and individual organizations like Youth Transformed for Life, a training program that “creates bridges for children and families to overcome the current gaps of disparity”.

Staff Perspective: LaKyla Hodges, Equity and Education Manager

LaKyla standing in front of stream“Equity, diversity, and inclusion has quickly become one of the most talked about topics in the environmental world,” says LaKyla. “Since its beginning, the environmental movement has taken a community-based approach that largely revolves around rallying students, lobbying, and building a network of nonprofit organizations. Though this method is tried and true, several groups of people slip through the cracks. People of Color, low income populations, and rural communities specifically have been left out of these movements. As someone who has been exposed to environmentalism from a very young age, I can confidently say I didn’t have the opportunity to connect with an environmentalist who was a Person of Color or from a low income background until I was in college. Even then, the representation was few and far in between.”

“Because of this, I am so excited to have the opportunity to be the Equity and Education Manager here at SAHC,” continues LaKyla. “I’ve observed many successes and even more failures at inclusion in the environmental world. What I’ve learned is that several of the failures stem from the same set of issues; lack of communication, cultural fluency, and needs assessments. Meeting with communities, explaining the resources we have, and asking if and how we can work with them is a key way to implement effective programming to foster positive connections to nature. As a land conservation organization, our work doesn’t go far if the engagement is low. This is why we as an organization have worked to prioritize forming meaningful relationships with the communities we’re trying to serve.”

Former AmeriCorps Perspective: Laura Fraser – The Sensory Experience

Being an educator had its challenges but also came with the greatest of rewards. I loved getting to know each of my students individually – quirks, personalities, and all! I’ve learned how to cultivate and create lessons that are tailored to each group and in order to have a successful day.

It’s important to get to know your students and groups before anything else. Establishing a rapport with your students from the start is key to a successful school year and summer experience together. The first few weeks can be fun, low-key introductions where you can observe what does/doesn’t work with different groups. Some students love the active, physical activities while others may prefer to stay indoors and do a nature related art activity. It’s important to know what’s going to click with your students.

One thing I noticed during this service learning year is that students LOVE using their five senses during a lesson. This can range from food projects (smell/taste), making salamander slime (touch), bird walks (hear), or scavenger hunts (see). Most groups enjoyed anything to do with food. We made Dessert Dirt Cups where we learned about the layers of soil and salsa with in-season produce supplied by local farmers. In this activity students were able to see where their food comes from and how easy and simple it can be to grow the ingredients at home.

Younger elementary students (K-3rd) loved arts and crafts time where we made Nature Self-Portraits, and Flower Bouquet Cards. Older elementary students (4th-5th) enjoyed anything where they could run or compete with one another.

Sometimes just being outside in nature is all a student needs. Learning to read my students made me a better educator.

Community Farm Update Summer 2021

This summer, Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims brought a whole new feel for farm life to a wide variety of camp and community groups. From partnering with the NC Arboretum in their EcoExplore program to teaching kids to safely hold chickens raised on the farm, this season has been full of volunteer work days and educational activity, growing young minds along with  agriculture.

Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims has been busy running educational programs on the farm this summer! In July, Tamarya taught groups from Project Lighten Up, Youth Transformed  for Life, and others about chickens, farming eggs, and how chickens fit into the farm ecosystems. Read more

Intern Perspective: LaKyla Hodges

Since her childhood, inspired by shows like the Crocodile Hunter and the Jeff Corwin Experience, LaKyla has loved wildlife. Today, she is passionate about intersections among environmental issues and under-represented communities. She hopes to raise awareness about the disproportionate impacts of environmental challenges on minority communities and also to help engage youth in these communities in environmental advocacy.

“I am very excited to work with the SAHC team and to help connect diverse communities with land conservation,” she says. “When working in the environmental field, it’s important to remember to consider how different aspects of one’s identity can affect how they view and interact with the natural world. Intersectional environmentalism is one of the best ways we can ensure that our environmental practices are sustainable and effective. Taking intersectionality into account can help to reach people of all types of identities by making them feel seen and comfortable rather than being “blind” to our differences. Incorporating values such as equity, diversity, and inclusion can give you a strong start to becoming a more socially conscious organization or environmentalist, but  the follow through is the most important part. Deconstructing outdated beliefs that have been passed down to you and talking with members of marginalized groups first hand are, in my opinion, the best ways to reinforce intersectional practices. Reframing your point of view and doing needs assessment are much needed yet often forgotten aspects of activism.”

Summer Youth Education Programs 2021

This summer, we were grateful and excited to be able to work in-person with YTL Training Program and YMCA Horizons to facilitate youth education in the environment and outdoor recreation. We want to give a special thank you to Board members Allison Williams, Matt Moses, and Larry Pender for helping provide exceptional and exciting experiences — from whitewater rafting to horseback riding!

Education improves through partnership, knowledge, and experience. We are so grateful for the opportunity to partner with Youth Transformed for Life in educational outings, and to have experts in the field of conservation and recreation partner with us as well. AmeriCorps member Cici Wood and intern LaKyla Hodges continued to work with Youth Transformed for Life (YTL) to host on-site educational programs and plan a series of excursions. Community Farm Associate Tamarya Sims led one group on an exploration of farm life, including pollinators and chickens. Matt Moses and his team from USA Raft ( provided on-the-river rafting experiences for youth and teens, rafting the Lower Nolichucky from the USA Raft Adventure Resort in Erwin, TN. Thank you to USA Raft for donating two afternoon excursions! Read more

Allison Williams: Conservationist and Community Outreach Specialist

Allison is crouching in a garden. Behind her are rows of small green plants. She is smiling, wearing a blue shirt and black leggings.

Allison volunteering in an Asheville Community Garden, courtesy of Allison Williams

Allison Williams became a board member at SAHC in 2019. She is currently serving as an information assistant with Francis Marion National Forest in South Carolina. After her recent recognition by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) for her community outreach and coordination work, we were fortunate enough to have a conversation with Allison.

“It’s hard to be recognized in conservation. No one gives you a gold star”

In April, Allison was on the NPCA’s 10 Under 40 list. This list recognizes young people making a difference in conservation. This honor is especially fitting for Allison as she identifies more closely with the term conservationist than she does with environmentalist. She stated that “conservationists are more connected with the informative side of environmentalism” and that she is “100% an information person”. Information has been a driving force in Allison’s journey to get to where she is today. 

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Youth Education with Black Folks Camp Too

Earl speaks to YMCA HorizonsEarl B. Hunter, Jr., founder of Black Folks Camp Too, speaks of bringing people together in unity to enjoy the great outdoors. Former Vice-President of Sales at SylvanSport and a recognized speaker in the outdoor recreation industry, Earl began his company as a way to bring all people together to experience and benefit from outdoor recreation. He says they are creating an educational portal, and the campfire in their logo is a way to bring people together for discussion. We were excited to partner with Earl and Black Folks Camp Too during the summer to host outdoor recreation events for two local youth programs – Youth Transformed for Life and the YMCA Horizons program.

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The Blackalachian Visits Asheville

Daniel visits with SAHC and Blue Ridge Forever staff.

Appalachian Trail thru hiker Daniel White grew up in the Shiloh community of Asheville and now lives in Charlotte. Last year, he set off hiking the AT to gain a new perspective on life. Unlike many who make the trek, Daniel started his journey without any backpacking experience. Now he’s become an ambassador for outdoor recreation.

“I hadn’t slept in a tent until three days before I started,” he says. “Growing up in Asheville, the trail was there all the time, but nobody introduced me to it. Once I got started, it was a learning experience. I was only planning to hike for a couple months, but then I really got into it and didn’t want to stop.”

Daniel hopes to use his own experiences to encourage others to get outdoors and enjoy nature. Read more