Outdoors program looking for friends

For many local students who participate, the Louisiana Outdoors Outreach Program-New Orleans is their first opportunity to paddle a canoe or hike wooded trails. LOOP gives them plenty of exposure to nature through 10 to 14 trips within a single school year, but there’s much more.

“What we do is like a trinity,” says Dan Forman, founder and manager of LOOP. “The first part is soft skills, so building that sense of rapport, an appreciation for teamwork and cooperation. Then there’s the academic element, which we incorporate into these trips. And the third component is the skills they learn, like water safety, camping, getting around in the wilderness.”

Lesson plans for each trip are designed to bring classroom studies to life, so a canoe trip through the lagoons of City Park might cover the history of New Orleans, the impact of Hurricane Katrina and the importance of volunteering all in one paddle.

 “We go into the schools, bring the kids to City Park and we see these kids throughout the year,” says Forman. “We have staff now who first started out with us as students on our trips.”

For students, LOOP is a journey of learning. But the program itself has been on its own journey, as organizers use the imperative of perilous budget cuts as the opportunity to direct a new, more stable future.

LOOP started in the 1990s as the minimally funded program of the New Orleans Recreation Department, but Forman and his volunteers built it into a network of outdoor clubs for local, under-served public schools.

Eventually, current mayor Mitch Landrieu, then serving as lieutenant governor, threw his office’s support behind LOOP, and it became a state program. While LOOP now has a physical home in City Park, which includes a new ropes challenge course built by the park with funding from a private benefactor, the program is active in more than a dozen schools, serving some 1,200 students each school year and another 1,000 in summer camps.

But with budget cuts looming, Forman and his supporters are focused on the future of the program. A group of educators and other leaders helped form the Friends of LOOP Advisory Committee to raise funds, while LOOP has opened its ropes course to corporate groups and private schools to generate fee income.

To support the program, send tax-deductible donations to:
Friends of LOOP, c/o FirstLine Schools, 3649 Laurel St., New Orleans, LA 70115; or email inquiries to dforman@crt.state.la.us.


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