When I was six years old, I visited the snow leopard exhibit at a zoo - a small, concrete, cell-block exhibit. All that animal did was pace back and forth with a maniacal look in its eyes.

Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.

I distinctly remember that experience. I brought it with me into adulthood and often wondered if humans are similarly affected by the lack of time we spend outside. I’ve always been passionate about spending time in nature. I’m less tense, more in tune with my body, and motivated to take better care of it. In particular, I love a good hike. Before children came along, I was an avid hiker - not an expert or anything - but it was a regular part of my life.

And then I had kids…

Finding time and motivation to hit the trails was difficult for me. But I recognized how much better my children behave, eat, and sleep if we run around, climb trees, splash in puddles.

In September 2008, I saw Richard Louv speak about his bestselling book, Last Child in the Woods. I was inspired to create a nature club, RI Families in Nature, to encourage families (including my own!) to spend more time outdoors and explore RI’s many beautiful natural places. So I went home and purchased a domain name, www.rifamiliesinnature.org, that very night. Over the next couple of months, I created a website, started a monthly e-newsletter, and began leading monthly hikes.

My first hike was on a cold day in January, just a couple of hours after a snow storm ended. Four people showed up for the hike: my husband, my two kids, and me. Oh well, I thought, at least it got us outside. And we really did have a wonderful time trudging through the snow and checking out the icicles.

My second hike was on a balmy day during February vacation. Over 30 people showed up and, again, we had a blast.

Since then, my monthly hikes attract anywhere between 3 and 73 people. Occasionally it’s just me and my kids. Other times it seems like an entire town shows up. Usually it’s a couple dozen people.  

RI Families in Nature (RIFIN) grows mostly by word of mouth. People learn about us when friends invite them on one of our hikes, or if they see it posted on another website’s calendar or on various list serves. The website has gone through a design change, thanks to generous folks who were willing to strike an awesome deal with me, and over 700 people have signed up for the monthly newsletter.

In exchange for the marketing exposure, a friend created our awesome - and totally free! - RIFIN app that makes information on the website including the upcoming hikes (with times, directions, etc.) instantly available on iPhone or Android-based devices. The app has been great for RIFIN. I urge all family nature club leaders to network and find options in your area to create one; a lot of companies enjoy helping non-profits.

In addition, RI Families in Nature would not be half of what it is without the incredible support of like-minded organizations such as the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, The Nature Conservancy, RI State Parks, RI Environmental Education Association, and so many others. Each time I reach out to a Director of Education, Preserve Manager, or Director – even if it’s just to let them know we’ll be hiking in their park or preserve - I am greeted with enthusiasm and assistance. Sometimes they just answer my questions about the best trail or where to park; sometimes a staff person will join us; sometimes they’ll help spread the word about the program. It always amazes me what a quick email or, better yet, a phone call can lead to!

About four years have passed since I saw Louv speak about Last Child in the Woods and started on this journey. It has benefited my family more than I can explain and, I hope, helped other people as well.

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Replies to This Discussion

Wonderful article!  Thanks for sharing.  I'm really curious about the RIFIN app that was created for your club.  Was this something that was very difficult to do or do you just need the right talent?  I'm also curious if it was difficult to go through the steps to turn your club into a non-profit.  I have considered this but have always been told how expensive and difficult this is to do.  Thanks for any feedback.

Thank you, Holly!

I can say that the RIFIN app was entirely constructed by my friend so I cannot weigh in on how difficult it was for him to create. My hunch is that it was pretty basic technology for an app - there's nothing really complex when you think of other apps (like GPS or Shazam or something).

And although RIFIN is free, it is not a non-profit. I decided not to go ahead with that because I don't want to have board meetings, file federal tax returns, etc - never mind the costly and time-consuming nature of the process. I just want to take people on hikes!! Of course, I am not able to apply for funding because virtually every grantor wants you to be a federal 501-c-3 organization so my activities are limited. I figure if I ever really want to apply for a grant, I'll just find a non-profit that will act as my fiscal agent. They would get a small percentage of the funds, but that would be worth it.

Hope this helps!

Great story, Jeanine, thanks for sharing! That's a good lesson to learn, that sometimes there will be lots of participants and sometimes there will be dry spells. The trick is not to get discouraged and to just enjoy the nature you came for in the first place, as you point out. It's a win/win: lots of people and you get that glowing feeling from connecting that many more people, fewer people and you enjoy a more intimate experience with nature and get to know someone better.

We hear you on the 501-C-3 and funding. But you're right, I don't think it's worth the hassle. We did get a few backpacks donated by REI and some occasional other freebies, like Clif bars. Sometimes people just admire what you do and want to help out a little.

Keep generating, and writing, stories!

Jeanine, Congratulations on what you've accomplished! I'm very inspired by your story. I just launched a Nature Group within my neighborhood. Our first event was supposed to be tonight -- the DC/Baltimore Cricket Crawl -- but we were rained out. I was really impressed with how many people said they would be there, and how many expressed disappointment when we were rained out. So I'm optimistic that there is interest in participating in nature programs in my suburban development. I'd love to get to the stage that you are at!

By the way, how do you handle liability issues? Do you have participants sign a waiver?

Thank you, Neita! I thought I had already responded, but I guess it didn't post.

First of all, I promise that you will definitely get to where I am - perhaps much further! I think that family nature clubs grow as much as we nurture them. Put in the time and energy that you are comfortable with, and your club will grow at the right pace.

Great question about liability issues. At the beginning of every hike, I ask everyone to sign a standard liability waiver and photo release form. I bring multiple copies on a few clipboards to speed up the process. I can email you one if you inbox me...

Great information!  I'm currently hosting a seasonal nature club event through a non-profit organization... just starting out though.  I'd love to see what you use for the photo release and liability forms.  Currently organizing all that for the next meeting now.
 


Jeanine Silversmith said:

Thank you, Neita! I thought I had already responded, but I guess it didn't post.

First of all, I promise that you will definitely get to where I am - perhaps much further! I think that family nature clubs grow as much as we nurture them. Put in the time and energy that you are comfortable with, and your club will grow at the right pace.

Great question about liability issues. At the beginning of every hike, I ask everyone to sign a standard liability waiver and photo release form. I bring multiple copies on a few clipboards to speed up the process. I can email you one if you inbox me...

Hi Ash!

First of all, welcome to the Natural Families Network! I'm glad you jumped in and responded to this discussion. Great question. I'd recommend you download the "Tool Kit" for Nature Clubs for Families at http://childrenandnature.org/  Just scroll down the page until you see the "Publications" box and you'll find it there! Within the tool kit, you'll find an example liability form and photo release form (p. 17), plus many other fabulous resources, ideas, and checklists!

Please keep us informed as you embark on this journey. I'd be happy to chat with you on the phone or over email as well. Please don't hesitate to contact me if there's anything I can do to support you in your efforts to connect children and families to nature!

Best of luck,

Janice

National Coordinator, Nature Clubs for Families
Children & Nature Network

Welcome, Ash! I agree that the Tool Kit is a great resource. I prefer having the liability and photo release forms on one document so that people can sign in quickly. I've attached my most recent one here. Feel free to modify and use for your own club.

Attachments:

You ROCK!  That's exactly what I was looking for, easy and complete.  THANKS!

Hi Neita!

I was just reading through Jeanine's post for a little "re-inspiration" and saw your reply. I love the idea of a "Cricket Crawl"! Sorry you got rained out on your first event -- that's a bummer. How did it end up going when you did it (assuming you still ended up doing it that is)? What a fun idea. Do you have any other ideas for outings? How are things going with your Nature Group? What is it called? I get so excited when I learn about new groups. =)

All the best,

Janice

Neita Tyler said:

Jeanine, Congratulations on what you've accomplished! I'm very inspired by your story. I just launched a Nature Group within my neighborhood. Our first event was supposed to be tonight -- the DC/Baltimore Cricket Crawl -- but we were rained out. I was really impressed with how many people said they would be there, and how many expressed disappointment when we were rained out. So I'm optimistic that there is interest in participating in nature programs in my suburban development. I'd love to get to the stage that you are at!

By the way, how do you handle liability issues? Do you have participants sign a waiver?

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