Shaping Youth through Nature: Media, Unplugged.

hootApr. 5, 2014 Update: I am experiencing a “Hoot” moment firsthand watching a bulldozer move to our final open space of green wetlands here in San Mateo, home to my favorite egret who I’ve watched feed and frolick for 15+ years…

It’s uncanny that the movie has me in full “movement” mode, with an old environmental impact report of 2007 and neighbors shoulder shrugging ‘the inevitable’ I can’t help but turn to youth who are the last lone voices alongside me battling for the voiceless…wildlife.

Please take a moment to visit Children and Nature Network and their excellent work. Then say, “YES! Let’s GO” (Get Outside) year round…daily. Saturday sadness today…going for a walk in nature…before it vanishes.

9-yr flashback: Original Post 2006!

Movies like “Hoot,” IceAge2-The Meltdown and Over the Hedge did a fabulous job vaulting ecology and the environment into kids’ brain-bandwidth…

…But let’s face it, when a 4th grader says, “I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” there’s a Mt. Everest sized problem with the natural order of things. (btw, I highly recommend Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder as a must-read for all media hounds)

So what happens when urbanity and wilderness collide with the net generation?


…A force of nature in itself.

summer searchSummer Search is an incredible urban teen progam that plops low-income, high risk kids with undiscovered potential into environs that literally rock their world.

It’s ‘Survivor’ meets ‘Extreme Makeover’ for the worthy teens selected, as they disconnect from their familiar wired worlds and tough it out eco-crunch style.

These kids ditch the ipods, stash the cells, unplug completely, and head for the hills to find new coping skills that’ll last a lifetime.

Many of these teens are packed with urban traumas and family fiascos that make roughing it in the wild seem like child’s play. But not to them. THIS is scary, life-altering stuff.

I had the pleasure of hanging out with these impressive city-slickers this week, thanks to Charlotte Ziems who’s on their board and my colleague within our NextNow thinktank group.

Both of us are wired AND wilderness types…embracing youth issues with equal fervor, so this was a real treat to spend an evening listening to teens recap their sophomore summers sans ANY media gadgetry…emerging transformed as beacons for the environment.

urban backpackIt’s almost as if they were swallowed up by the cavernous beauty of nature and spit back out as leaders and inspirations to mark the trail and blaze the path for their communities.

Enrique for example, proudly showed me his ‘colors’ in a way his gang-ridden neighborhood may never understand… “The red bead was for my solo, this one was for the endurance hike”…he went on to explain the threads of accomplishment on his wrist, with his smile sparkling as bright as his rhinestone ear tags.

“I’m used to having my cell, my buds, then I had NOTHIN,’ not even a watch…makes you really get inside your head. I sat on rocks for what seemed like hours looking at the sun pass overhead, sleeping under the stars…I kept tellin’ myself you can get through this.”

Wow. Get through this? Seems like heaven to me. Then again, he was put through some pretty rigorous paces in an Outward Bound survival approach to strip them of their creature comforts and challenge them to grow. Enrique talked of loneliness, reflection, rationing food, and the culture shock of re-entry into his San Jose neighborhood…two close friends were locked up, one for armed robbery, another for car stealing.

“I don’t need none of that,” he shook his head and beamed, and went on to add how he wanted to be a role model for his cousins and the little kids as young as six who were already mirroring ‘colors’ in gang-speak-wannabe style with bright red baggy shirts and pants saggin’ into oblivion.

“They’re six but they don’t know any thing different, ya know? I wanna make ‘em look to me instead, I wanna give back. I wanna tell my story.”

He wants them to go take a hike, literally. And I hope his advice echoes through the urban canyons. I’m confident Enrique will lead his urban pals on a whole new adventure up the mountain so to speak…

Summer Search teens ALL had poignant stories indoors and outdoors…

One Vietnamese girl talked of ‘making herself invisible’ so she wouldn’t add noise to the cultural chaos of her large family feuding and the quarreling domestic scene, another boy became a man at 12, sleeping propped up against his mom’s door to listen and make sure she was safe…

…And now these kids were flipping rafts in Colorado whitewater, confronting advertsity, seeing icebergs calve in Alaska, an emerging strong and steady with people skills and team building tactics they’ll take back to share in their urban wired worlds.

Sheesh. I know some young suburban teens who could use that kind of ambition, drive, and hardship to get the silver spoon out of their mouths, put the video game and electronic must-haves away, and toss the remote to get their wired keisters outdoors!

Summer Search is thankfully not some 3-week “train and gain” feel good grant where kids are plucked for a summer then, ‘cool trip, fun time, see ya back in the projects’—They’ve embedded ongoing, weekly mentoring, focusing on the core qualities of resiliency, altruism and potential for performance.

And man, do these kids have those qualities. Whew. Inspiring.

– 100% graduate high school
– 93% go to college
– 89% of alumni have graduated college or on track to do so (compared with 12% of their low-income peers).
– 72% are involved in community service

Amazing what can happen when kids unplug and nature and nurture align…

As Thoreau said,

“ I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”

Tell it Henry.

I think Enrique at Summer Search would agree…



  1. Amy–Thanks for coming on Sunday night and for blogging so eloquently about the power of Summer Search. The kids give me goosebumps everytime I hear them speak. I’ll forward your blog post to my list of invitees as a follow up. –Charlotte

  2. I attended the Summer Search event too. Thanks Charlotte for the invite and it was SUCH A PLEASURE to see a group of people that WILL succeed in life…and the others there that support this effort.

    Thanks Amy for capturing your insights on the evening and organization.


  3. Enrique Rodriguez says

    Hi Ms.Jussel,
    First of all I would like to thank you for publishing me on this blog. I truely want to say thank you. Things like this, moticate me even more to succeed in life. This makes me feel liek if I got my thoughts across to you. This make me very happy. Well anytime you need anything, I will be more than happy to let you know how htings having going for me since I returned from Montana. If you would like to get in contact with me my email address

    Enrique R.

  4. Hey, Enrique! I’m honored you actually kept my card and looked me up in the cyberspace blogosphere…Yes, you and your tribe of wilderness vs. wired high schoolers inspired me to take my own “tween” to the Rockies, and you’ve just again pinged me to remind myself to blog it! (the other girl who joined us was a VERY text-messaging/cellphone driven gal who really enjoyed being ‘off the grid’ and learning about nature too, so I’ll follow through w/my comments on the trip in the next couple of days) I’ll drop you an e-mail to see how you’re doin’, as I’m blog-back-logged big time, but you can always find me here. Keep swaying the cityslickers to the mountainsides for Xtreme adventures of a diff. kind…it’s sure to inspire. All good thoughts, Amy

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