Exploring, inspiring and empowering – outdoors
There is a little-known crisis affecting children in our city, state and country. While not a medical diagnosis, the growing epidemic called Nature Deficit Disorder highlights the alarming lack of time today’s children spend outdoors. According to the Child Mind Institute, the average American child is said to spend a mere four to seven minutes per day in play outdoors, and a whopping seven hours per day in front of a screen. Finding this incredibly disturbing, I was elated to discover local nonprofit LOOP NOLA (Louisiana Outdoor Outreach Program), founded to combat the trend by providing positive, life-changing outdoor adventures to New Orleans’ children and youth regardless of their family income, physical limitations or experience.
LOOP NOLA’s Executive Director Jon Skvarka’s contagious passion for the outdoors was evident from the moment we met, leading me to believe the over 2,700 students from second through 12th grades in Orleans and Jefferson parishes that participated in LOOP NOLA programs this year were undoubtedly equally inspired. He explained the organization’s beginnings in 1997 as a city-financed NORD program and how ultimately, after state funding cuts, became its own nonprofit in 2015, now dependent on individual, corporate and foundation giving.
In his third year as Executive Director, Skvarka and his highly qualified staff, all with extensive outdoor and nonprofit backgrounds, are making the outdoors more equitable for underserved, urban children and youth so everyone can experience the physical and mental health benefits of outdoor recreation along with the joy and wonder that are created in natural spaces. LOOP NOLA provides three opportunities for youth: half, full-day or overnight custom programs with a sliding payment scale for charter, public and private schools; afterschool outdoor Adventure Clubs; and an Outdoor Ambassador summer internship program. Through partnerships with local and state parks, school groups can participate in adventure-based activities such as LOOP NOLA’s ropes course, hiking, fishing, canoeing, camping, plant and wildlife identification and wetlands ecology programs. Offering a higher level of mentoring and leadership for older students, the Adventure Clubs and Ambassador Internships cultivate new local leaders who will share their love of the outdoors with the next generation.
Using the outdoors as their tool, LOOP NOLA develops students’ emotional and social skills by empowering them through physical and mental challenges, thus inspiring development of a lasting relationship with the outdoors. The added benefits are immense from decreasing stress, increasing creativity and cognitive ability, improving mental health and improving academic achievement. Ninety-five percent of partner teachers felt the LOOP NOLA programs made participants feel safe and welcome outdoors, more confident in themselves, more self-aware and more respectful of natural areas. One sixth grader shared, “LOOP NOLA helps us do things we don’t think we can do. I was scared to get in the canoe, but by the end I really liked being on the water.”
Secluded in a forest in City Park, LOOP NOLA also boasts a Challenge Course facilitated by LOOP NOLA staff that offers adults three courses with low and high elements to develop cooperation, goal setting, leadership and self-confidence with facilitation. The Challenge Course is ideal for corporate, church or other groups wanting a unique and dynamic team building experience without having to leave the city. And fees support LOOP NOLA’s mission.
“This nature thing is crazy! But I like it,” a third grader gushed.
Thank you LOOP NOLA for changing lives by believing in the power of the outdoors.
A little more…
For more information or to support LOOP NOLA, visit LoopNola.org or call 330-5369