For those who don’t know me, and I imagine that’s the majority who are reading this, I am Claire Blakely and I’m the new Texas Children in Nature VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) at Texas Parks and Wildlife.
I’m one of those rare unicorns you hear about but never see who was born and raised in Austin. Due to the vast outdoor opportunities here in ATX and my mother’s love of nature, I grew up outside camping, hiking, and biking starting around the age of three.
Much like a stubborn child whose mother forced them into the Texas heat, I also hated every minute of it until I was about fourteen. Then due to lack of free time and immense stress, I found myself connecting to nature in a way I never had before. It was my saving grace, a time where stress and anxiety were no longer present. This connection to nature has only intensified as I’ve gotten older, finding myself on top of some of the tallest mountains in Texas and enjoying my time alone camping in various state and national parks.
My motivation to encourage children to get outside comes from a personal level. I have seen the immense positive effects it has had on me, significantly improving my mental health and creating lasting connections, both to nature and others. It has engrained in me a strong caring for the world and the need to preserve and protect it.
My personal relationship with the outdoors is not a unique concept and my goal here in this year with TCiN is to inspire and help everyone create a meaningful connection with nature. Yes, it does seem like a lofty goal and no, I don’t think this will be anywhere near complete by the end of this year. This is a lifetime process and one that is not done alone. But as the weeks go on and more children start to appreciate their backyards, their neighborhood parks, their time away from the computer and cell phone, this process becomes easier, the army of conservation stewards grows.
And of course, because I am a VISTA, my primary focus will be on those who are living at the impoverished level, who may not have much experience with the outdoors, to inspire them to create a lasting and meaningful connection with nature that will last throughout their lifetime.
(Claire will be working full time at TCiN to help build capacity for the network to connect more children and families with nature to be healthier, happier and smarter. She is a former State Park Ambassador, and has worked at the Thinkery in Austin. TCiN is excited to have Claire be part of the team!)