Chicago Selected as Priority City by U.S. Department of the Interior to Connect Youth to the Great Outdoors

Part of Nationwide Commitment to Inspire Young People to Play, Learn, Serve, and Work on Public Lands

Last edited 09/30/2021

Date: July 28, 2015
Contacts: Jessica Kershaw (Interior),
Chicago Mayor’s Press Office,, 312-744-3334
Aileen Tormon (YMCA),, 312-404-6022

CHICAGO – As part of the Interior Department’s leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Outside initiative to engage the next generation of outdoor stewards and inspire millions of young adults to experience the great outdoors, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Dick Malone, President & CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, today to announce that Chicago has been selected as one of the first 50 cities to participate in the nationwide movement.

The initiative, funded through a $5 million national commitment by the American Express Foundation, will provide two years of funding for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago to create a community coordinator position to help coordinate efforts, facilitate collaboration, grow resources, and increase participation in outdoor programs on all public lands in Chicago, from local parks to federal lands and waters. The funding will also support efforts to engage young adults and veterans to serve on the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps and engage new volunteers during next year’s National Park Service Centennial.

 “Children across our nation are increasingly disconnected from nature, yet playing outside and learning about the natural world is fun, healthy and builds confidence in kids,” said Secretary Jewell. “Engaging volunteers of all ages in caring for parks and public lands in Chicago not only leverages public resources; it builds pride and a connection to these special places that stays with people forever.”

“True to our motto as a 'City in a Garden,' Chicago has been drastically expanding our park system over the last four years, adding 400 new acres of nature preserves and increasing outdoor recreational opportunities like camping, hiking, biking and rowing to provide residents with the ability to easily experience and appreciate the outdoors,” said Mayor Emanuel. “I applaud Secretary Jewell and the Obama administration for supporting the creation of greener, healthier cities, and we look forward to participating in this initiative.”

“Many people in our urban neighborhoods don't always have the chance to experience all that our public lands in and around the city have to offer,” said Malone. “This initiative will help us bring together leaders in conservation, education, recreation and service to provide opportunities to deepen connections to these natural and historic sites, develop important skills, and engage in activities where they can give back and strengthen our community.”

“Community service and historic preservation have a long heritage at American Express,” said American Express Foundation President Timothy J. McClimon. “Since our founding more than 160 years ago, American Express has seen how America's parks and public lands contribute to our sense of national and local identity, and we are proud to lead an effort to mobilize a new generation of volunteers to protect, conserve and revitalize America's public lands and treasured national parks.”

The Department of the Interior is leading First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move! Outside” initiative getting millions of young people to play, learn, serve and work in America’s great outdoors. This past March, Secretary Jewell announced this partnership with the American Express Foundation and kicked-off the first cities across the country to be a part of this movement. Chicago joins 26 cities that will be announced in 2015. The remaining cities will be identified in 2016. For more information about the initiative, visit:

This work is part an overall strategy by the Obama Administration to connect young people to the outdoors. Other efforts include the President’s recently announced Every Kid in A Park initiative to provide all fourth grade students and their families with free admission to national parks and other public lands and waters for a full year, and the National Park Service’s Find Your Park campaign preparing for next year’s centennial of the National Park System.

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