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Enjoying the Unexpected

This April I attended the C&NN Conference- 2015 in Bastrop, TX. It was an incredible opportunity and I learned valuable information that was in fact, almost overwhelming there was so much to absorb and experience over three short days.

However, as I look back on it and think about the conference the thing that struck me the most was how this one issue has resonated with so many people from all over the world. I’ve attended many national/international conferences in the past. Never, have I seen so many people from such diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise attending one conference. It was inspirational to say the least. It reminded me of my favorite quote by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

The greatest opportunity for me was actually getting the chance to talk and listen to all of these people during sessions and breaks. Learning about their passions and why they were attending the conference and how we shared a single vision- to get children outside.

I was able to hear Christina Goldfuss, Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality; Jonathan Jarvis, Director of the National Park System and of course Richard Louv, the man who started it all with his book, “Last Child in the Woods.” They were wonderful speakers, but I admit these were people that I would have expected or would have hoped to see at such a conference.

What I enjoyed most was for me the “unexpected” sessions or panels. Listening to Ellen Braff-Guajardo the Program Officer for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation- Healthy Kids talk about their efforts to improve the health and well-being of children and how Children and Nature Network fit into this. I remember thinking; wow even a cereal company cares about this issue. Meeting a TV producer over lunch and learning about a new TV show being created for PBS called Nature Cat to encourage children to go outside and explore their own backyards or how teachers can use an app called iNaturalist to engage their students in citizen science.

I was definitely inspired listening to the “Kid Talk” by Andy Kuhlken, Sahil Shah and Benjamin Shrader. It is amazing what the youth accomplish when they are empowered. Listening to Andy talk about incorporating biophilic design into Minecraft. (A game I have only heard the name of and confess to know nothing about.) Sahil, a 5th grader discussed how he used iNaturalist for his 8-week service learning project. Or Benjamin Shrader talk about his passion for invasive species and creating a video series on YouTube called Commander Ben to educate all youth about invasives.

I really enjoyed Annie Bogenschutz and Carmen Burks from Cincinnati talking about their innovative models of partnership between the public schools, health officials and others to improve student’s academic achievements, gain better access to health care, and improve the overall sense of community that is vital to a neighborhood. This reminded me of my days as an Americorps*VISTA member at the State Health Department to improve public health in Texas.

The icing on the cake for me was greeting old friends and meeting new ones. Talking with a couple from MO about what species of frogs can be found in Bastrop and what they had seen while on their hike through the Lost Pines. Or meeting a gentleman from Amsterdam who shipped his camping gear to Bastrop and wanted to know which Texas State Parks he should see while he was here.

By the end of the conference, it occurred to me that what I had been involved with and had witnessed was not a conference. It is a movement. That in fact, I was and am part of this awe inspiring movement. And these dedicated citizens are indeed changing the world.

Kris Shipman is the Coastal Expo Coordinator at Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.