Interior Department, National League of Cities and YMCA of the USA Join Forces to Connect Young People to the Outdoors

Last edited 09/29/2021

ST PAUL, MN — As part of Department of the Interior's ambitious youth initiative, the National League of Cities (NLC), YMCA of the USA, and the Department today signed an agreement to coordinate efforts to bridge the growing disconnect between young people and the great outdoors by creating meaningful connections to nature through four pillars: play, learn, serve and work.

Secretary Jewell joined Saint Paul Mayor and President of the National League of Cities Chris Coleman, Salt Lake City Mayor and First Vice President of the National League of Cities Ralph Becker, and YMCA of the USA President and CEO Neil Nicoll in the Mississippi National River & Recreational Area in Saint Paul, Minn., to sign the agreement.

“The millennial generation is more urban and diverse, but more disconnected from nature than any generation before,” said Secretary Jewell. “In a time of constrained resources, we need to work collaboratively with partners to engage the next generation in outdoor experiences. The National League of Cities and the YMCA have a long history working with communities and young people across the nation. With this trifecta, I'm excited about the possibilities to leverage our existing resources and our collective expertise to inspire millions of young Americans to play, learn, serve and work in the great outdoors.”

Through this Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU), Interior will join the NLC and the Y in advancing the Department's goal of seeding and supporting efforts that bring the four pillars of the department's youth initiative alive for millions of children, young adults and veterans in communities across the country.

Under the agreement, Interior will encourage its bureaus to develop relationships with NLC members and local YMCAs and provide opportunities to enrich NLC and YMCA programs on lands managed by its bureaus, including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and others. The Department of the Interior has a strong footprint in cities across the country, including more than 75 urban national parks featuring both historic and natural areas, 101 urban refuges within 25 miles of a city, and millions of acres of BLM recreational lands that serve as the “backyards” for urban residents.

The National League of Cities will provide technical assistance and “best practices” to municipalities to raise the visibility of Interior's youth initiative among city leaders while also encouraging direct participation by its member cities.

"The enrichment and education of our nation's children and young adults was the reason I became involved in the National League of Cities, and I am thrilled to continue that work in such a meaningful way as its President,” Saint Paul Mayor and NLC President Chris Coleman said. “This partnership between Interior, NLC, and the YMCA represents a powerful alliance that will help ensure that city and community leaders are fully engaged in advancing the exciting and important goals embodied in the Department's youth initiative. It will also build upon the work we've done locally and to which NLC has already committed—with partners like Wilderness Inquiry, the Children and Nature Network, MNRRA, and the Outdoor Alliance for Kids—that seeks to reconnect youth to nature and the great outdoors.”

As part of its commitment to nurturing the potential of every child and teen, the YMCA will identify opportunities to expose diverse groups of young people from various ethnic and socio economic backgrounds to outdoor programming, and connect local Ys to opportunities with Interior and its various bureaus.

“Engaging in outdoor activities helps youth develop important social skills, discover new talents, build relationships and enhance their health and well-being,” said YMCA of the USA President and CEO Neil Nicoll. “From camp to environmental education, the Y helps children and teens grow – physically, mentally, and socially – from young children into engaged, active members of their communities. Working with the Department of the Interior and National League of Cities will help us expand these opportunities to a generation of youth who lack access to the outdoors.”

The specific goals associated with Interior's youth initiative are outlined in the agreement as follows:

  • Play: Interior will develop or enhance outdoor recreation partnerships in a total of 50 cities over four years to create new, systemic opportunities for outdoor play for more than 10 million young people.
  • Learn: Provide educational opportunities to at least 10 million of the nation's K-12 student population annually. In addition to welcoming students into nature's classroom, Interior is developing and strengthening new online education resources, to reach more students.
  • Serve: Engage 1 million volunteers annually on public lands, effectively tripling the current volunteer numbers. Many more people are interested in volunteering at national parks, wildlife refuges and public lands, but there are often insufficient staff resources to coordinate them. In order to achieve the volunteer goal, a renewed emphasis will be placed on volunteer coordination and management.
  • Work: To develop the next generation of lifelong conservation stewards and ensure our own skilled and diverse workforce pipeline, Interior will provide 100,000 work & training opportunities to young people and veterans within our bureaus and through public-private partnerships. As part of this effort, the Department aims to raise an additional $20 million from private and corporate donors to support youth work and training opportunities.

The agreement follows a Secretarial Order issued by Jewell in March to significantly expand recreational, educational, volunteer and career opportunities for millions of youth and veterans on the nation's public lands, including partnerships with businesses and nonprofit organizations to support the Obama Administration's 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). The 21CSC is a national collaborative effort to put America's youth and veterans to work protecting, restoring, and enhancing America's natural and cultural resources.

For a copy of the agreement, click here.

The National League of Cities (NLC) is dedicated to helping city leaders build better communities. NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans.

The Y is one of the nation's leading nonprofits strengthening communities through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility. Across the U.S., 2,700 Ys engage 21 million men, women and children – regardless of age, income or background – to nurture the potential of children and teens, improve the nation's health and well-being, and provide opportunities to give back and support neighbors. Anchored in more than 10,000 communities, the Y has the long-standing relationships and physical presence not just to promise, but to deliver, lasting personal and social change.


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