Getting Dirty: Why children need to be outdoors

Story and photos by KATIE HARRINGTON

A semi-weathered copy of Thoreau’s “Walden is perched on the top shelf of an IKEA bookcase in Nick Harrison’s bedroom, next to a collection of guidebooks, a stack of old climbing magazines and a French pocketknife — the handle made from the trunk of a cork tree. Harrison’s name is engraved on the blade.

A large, unfinished painting of southern Utah’s Castleton Tower is nestled into the corner of the room, near a box of paintbrushes and a piece of notebook paper with the title “2012 TO DO LIST” written across the top:

Keep a clear mind. Visit a different continent. Finish Castleton painting. Push my physical limits. Change someone’s life for the better.

Harrison, a 20-year-old student and a “liftie” at Alta Ski Area, grew up with the Wasatch Mountains in his backyard, inspired by their mystifying allure.

“I am drawn to the outdoors,” Harrison said. “These mountains are my constant source of motivation. I draw them. I climb them. But I didn’t fully appreciate what they had to offer until I got older. Survival, self-reliance, serenity: these are all things you can only truly learn by getting outside.”

But kids today don’t seem to see the outdoors the same way Harrison does.

Crowson (left) and Harrison pack their car for a climbing trip in April.

According to a national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages eight to 18 spend an average of 7.3 hours engaging in entertainment media in a typical day. This amounts to more than 53 hours per week.

Be Out There — a National Wildlife Federation campaign that hopes to reconnect children to the natural world — notes that a study in 2005 revealed that children are spending half as much time outdoors than they did 20 years ago.

Neil Crowson — Harrison’s roommate and adventurer counterpart — grew up down the street from Harrison, spending his childhood skiing in the Wasatch Mountains and rock climbing with his father.

“It’s really important for a kid to go out and get himself in the dirt, jump off rocks and cut his knees up, and get on the mountain at a young age,” Crowson said. “If kids do that, then they come to develop ambitions and learn to respect the mountains.”

Both Harrison and Crowson say they have — in one way or another — been defined by their outdoor surroundings, that growing up with the mountains as their playground has given them a sense of place and purpose in a seemingly uncertain world.

The walls of their living room are covered from ceiling to floor with personal photographs that share a common theme: being outside.

The gear room in the basement of their bungalow-style house is crammed with racks of ropes, climbing gear, bikes, skis, backpacks, tents and camp stoves—and a looming odor that can only be created from years of adventuring outdoors.

“I can’t ever see myself leaving the Wasatch completely,” Crowson said. “The people that founded these canyons, both in skiing and in climbing, have also founded tons of areas around the west coast. But you always see them coming back to Salt Lake and that’s because we hold the mountains with such high regard. They define us.”

But that defining power of the mountains — of the outdoors in general — is becoming increasingly sparse among today’s youth, as an increasingly technology-fueled lifestyle drives kids indoors — and keeps them there.

“It’s hard to learn a key set of morals as a kid when the world is changing so rapidly and technology is always advancing,” Crowson said. “It’s always hard to know how to become a man. But the beautiful thing about the outdoors is that it’s a constant. It’s timeless. So the same set of values that existed 100 years ago still exists today.”

Outdoor Nation — a community-based program created by young people, for young people — was founded in 2010 to address the growing disconnect between today’s youth and the outdoors.

“America is in a current state of crisis where its youth are choosing technology over nature, Xboxes (check the proper spelling on X box) over healthy lifestyles,” Outdoor Nation said on its website. “Green spaces in urban areas are either unsafe or non-existent. Families, schools, and media have failed to engage and excite youth about the benefits of the outdoors.”

Judy Brady, a licensed clinical social worker in Salt Lake City, said being outdoors is especially important for a child’s development because it fosters self-esteem.

“One of the ways in which we gain self-esteem is through task mastery,” Brady said. “When a child is outside, he or she gains personal self worth by problem solving, by completing new and challenging tasks.”

A series of studies published in a 2009 edition of Journal of Environmental Psychology found that being outside in nature makes people feel more alive.

“In vital states people demonstrate better coping and report greater health and wellness,” the study reported. “Being outdoors has been proposed to be good for health and well-being because when outdoors, people tend to both interact more with others and get more exercise.”

The sunlight also triggers serotonin and dopamine production, neurotransmitters that help maintain positive feelings in the brain, Brady said. Cases of seasonal depression are seen more often in the winter months because there is less sunlight and people spend less time outdoors.

“When we are surrounded by all man-made objects and man-made ideas — products of our own society — we become dysfunctional,” Crowson said. “We forget how to respond. We are alienated from each other because we are constantly around each other. When you are in the outdoors and there’s nothing but organic sounds, it gives you a chance to really bond with other humans.”

Allison Librett — a lawyer and fitness instructor in Salt Lake City — said that exposing her children to the outdoors at a young age has helped them establish and maintain relationships.

Librett has a nine-year-old and an 11-year-old, both of whom spend their summers at outdoor camps with children of diverse abilities and backgrounds.

“Fresh air, exercise, mental stimulation — these are all such important things for child’s development,” Librett said. “My kids have had the opportunity growing up to interact with the world around them, to know what their imprint is and that they have a purpose.”

Librett said that when her children spend long periods indoors — especially when they are on the computer or playing video games — she notices that they are much more anxious, emotional and frustrated.

Those emotions disappear when her children are engaged in outdoor activities.

Harrison said he hopes that today’s youth will realize what adventuring outdoors has to offer.

“Kids should be excited to get out, to be outside, to breathe fresh air, to see a full moon and a bunch of stars, and hear the coyotes,” Harrison said. “That’s the sickest thing to me: just hearing and seeing and feeling the world as it is. ”

And if Harrison’s convictions about the benefits of nature aren’t heartfelt and persuasive enough, then perhaps a passage marked in his copy of “Walden” is:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

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Utah Dream Center proves helping goes a long way

Story and slideshow by MELANIE HOLBROOK

Explore the Utah Dream Center

“Our dream is to see you live yours.” That is the slogan of the nonprofit organization Utah Dream Center, which was created to help community members fulfill their dreams.

Whether starting an arts program or a private elementary school, the organization located at 1624 S. 1000 West helps people get started so that more individuals can be assisted in the long run.

In 1998 husband and wife Alfred and Anna Murillo traveled to Los Angeles for a short-term mission project. Already involved with servicing their community, the Murillos brought with them 40 boys and girls to help out at one of the Los Angeles Dream Center’s programs.

Amazed by that center’s goals and projects, such as its after-school programs that provided activities for kids, the Murillos became inspired and knew Salt Lake City needed its own Dream Center.

In January 2000, Alfred and Anna launched the Utah Dream Center, modeled after the one in Los Angeles. With no help yet, the Murillos traveled throughout the U.S. in search of ideas and help from anyone interested.

With creativity and a U-Haul, the Murillos began to follow their dreams in June 2001. With the back of the U-Haul used as their stage they pursued after-school programs for any Glendale-area neighborhood kids who were interested in participating. Starting off simple, boys and girls could come hang out at the U-Haul after school for food and games.

With that, word spread fast. In February 2002 their U-Haul had become their very own facility that they still use today.

With their name already in the public, the Utah Dream Center was able to serve more than 400 kids in the first year.

“People had heard about what we were doing and wanted to get involved. People want to help out and contribute to making something of their community,” Alfred said in a telephone interview.

Over the years the Utah Dream Center has added at least 200 volunteers to their family. Alfred explained that there isn’t a payroll; the organization functions off the work of volunteers.

The Utah Dream Center stays running and thriving through its donors, volunteers and other sources that want to be a part of it. Out-of-state churches and businesses that have heard of the organization will send in donations.

Alfred explained that they’ve never purposely been in the news. The organization doesn’t believe in soliciting or asking people for contributions; people hear about the organization and want to donate.

“We work on helping kids around us, we’re not trying to make a big uproar,” he said.

“The other day I was getting my oil changed and during those 15 minutes we (the employee and I) started talking about what I do. He didn’t charge me for my oil change and handed me $250 because he wanted to help,” Alfred said.

He said it’s the goodness in people and their mentality that keeps their organization going.

Donations to the organization are given in various ways. Alfred said when he took his daughter to the dentist he again got to talking about his work. After listening, his dentist told him to bring kids in and he will work for free. Over the past eight years Alfred has taken in three kids while his dentist has put in thousands of dollars of service just so he can help others.

“Our dream is to see your fulfill your dream. We’re not asking you to make ours. When you help people it spreads a mentality, you want to help people when you’ve been helped,” he said.

Utah Dream Center has four programs in the Glendale area. Those programs are the Arts Academy, Open Door, Provisions for the Ministry and Mobile Medical. A director who came to the Murillos with his or her idea started each program. After discussion of their idea, the Murillos helped them get it started.

“The Open Door is held every Monday night. We’ll have chunks of different segments; half an hour for free time, time for reading and tutoring. We feed them a healthy dinner,” Susanna Metzger said in a telephone interview.

Metzger, the director of the Open Door after-school program, said on average 40 kids come every Monday.

The Arts Academy lets kids engage in music such as piano, drums and singing. The program also incorporates painting and drawing.

“My daughter has been going to Arts Academy for two years now. She’s 8 years old and is so bright — I thank the program,” Gabriela Hardy said.

“Hobbies such as piano or painting can make a child so much more well-rounded and determined to learn and grow at a young age. It shapes them,” she said.

The program Provisions for the Ministries delivers food and donates clothing to various churches every Wednesday.

Mobile Medical is stationed in the U-Haul the Murillos used back in 2001. This program was established to help community members who can’t afford certain medical help. Having it in the U-Haul makes it easier to serve more people.

Hardy isn’t one of the only fans of the organization. Richard Williams, a donor to the organization, said his son isn’t old enough for any of the programs but wants to get him in them when he’s ready.

“I found out about Utah Dream Center through my brother and donated soon after. An organization that helps people succeed in things they want to do, why wouldn’t I want to support something so great?” Williams said.

But community members aren’t the only people who have heard about the organization and want to help out.

Kyle Korver, a former player for the Utah Jazz, became involved with the organization. Korver would give Alfred 30 tickets to every Jazz game for any boys and girls who wanted to attend.

Real Salt Lake presented Alfred and his wife with the “Heroes Among Us” honor at a sold-out game. In the middle of the field, the Murillos were given jerseys with their names on them.

Alfred said one of the greatest honors was when “Good Things Utah” surprised him and his wife with a big metal key that would unlock the door to their new office. Utah Dream Center will be on “Extreme Home Makeover” where the organization will be given an entirely brand-new office; the episode is set to air in summer 2012.

The Utah Dream Center has expanded to help those suffering with problems such as gangs and drugs. There are now locations in Ogden, Provo and Kearns.

“You never know where helping people can take you,” Alfred said.

Jackson Elementary School moves ahead with Adelante Partnership

Story by MELANIE HOLBROOK

Explore Adelante here

“Adelante,” the Spanish word meaning forward or ahead, is a big part of the lives of students and teachers at Jackson Elementary School. But it’s more than just a word; the Adelante Partnership is a university-school-community partnership that seeks to raise awareness of higher education opportunities and to increase the expectation of university attendance and success among students, families and teachers at Jackson in Salt Lake City.

The Adelante Partnership started in fall 2005 as it kicked off at Jackson, located at 750 W. 200 North. The partnership has five major components: University Visits and Academic Summer Camps, University Service Learning and Mentors, Cultural and Academic Enrichment, Parental and Community Engagement and Research Informing Practice. It has approximately 125 University of Utah mentors and 10 staff members.

Judy Perez, Adelante coordinator, explained in an email that each component gives kindergarten through sixth-grade students hands-on experiences that will help enhance their learning horizon.

“Each grade takes one field trip to the U of U per semester and learns about a subject that fits with their current curriculum. For the summer we offer a four-day camp mostly focused on science since it’s been cut down at their school,” Perez said.

Under the University Service Learning and Mentors, Perez explained boys and girls take a one-year ethnic studies course during their first year in the program. Students complete a total of 11 service-learning hours per semester. Mentors and children build relationships and have conversations about college.

For Cultural and Academic Enrichment, students can learn the Folklorico dance, a traditional Latin American dance that mixes local folk culture with ballet. “Currently we have 40 students participating! We also have oral histories in the second-to-sixth-grade dual classrooms,” Perez said.

Adelante started off with a dual program at Jackson, meaning a program given in English and Spanish. Within the dual program there were initially about 250 children, but since Adelante extended to the entire school there are now about 550 students.

Perez explained that Adelante started the first cohort when the kids were in kindergarten and now they’re in the sixth grade. Every year after that Adelante has followed the students entering in the kindergarten dual immersion program allowing them to work with the whole school.

Enrique Aleman, co-director of the Adelante Partnership, said in an email interview that being in a predominantly Latino community their program found it vital to have a dual program.

“That’s why we chose Jackson Elementary. At the time it was the only public school offering a dual program, the other two schools that offered it were charter or private. We wanted a public school on the west side,” Aleman said.

Students can talk with Adelante mentors and staff whenever they please due to their office being located within the school, allowing students to build stronger relationships.

Some adult relationships children can also build is with their parents.

Aleman and Perez both agree that without parents and families the partnership wouldn’t be where it is today.

“My son is in the 3rd grade at Jackson elementary and absolutely loves Adelante. There’s always something new about him and college to be talked about at the dinner table,” Luisa Vizcarra said.

Vizcarra said neither she nor her husband attended college but they know their son will, thanks to the Adelante Partnership.

“The ambition and kindness of staff is touching. These men and women are truly making a difference in these children’s lives,” Vizcarra said.

When asked what her favorite aspect of the Adelante Partnership was, Perez said in an email, “From the students, to the parents, university mentors, teachers and staff, every day I’m reminded of the work that has made amazing impact and the work that still needs to be done to get more students of color in college. Having students asking me ‘when are we gonna take another field trip to the university?’ or conversations of ‘when I go to college I want to be …’ is like love songs to my ears. I love hearing the impact come out of their mouths.”

Perez said Adelante doesn’t believe in teaching and working with their students in any selective way. They want to bring their ‘home’ into the school and partnership.

“We recognize their struggles and challenges and therefore this is why parents and families are always invited to partake in Adelante decisions,” Perez said.

During field trips students wear their T-shirts that say “Future College Student” that were given to them by Adelante.

Adelante is hoping to extend to all of the west-side schools, yet programs cost money and can be a struggle every year. “One step at a time,” Perez said.

Niños on skis

by ERIK DAENITZ

Twelve years ago the Rev. Bob Bussen, pastor of Saint Mary’s of the Assumption Parish in Park City, Utah, saw a divide in the community.

“I noticed that we had challenges in Park City embracing our diversity,” Bussen said. “I challenged the city that we needed to find ways to build bridges, noticing that I needed to do that as well.”

The result of Bussen’s challenge was the Niños on Skis program, which he envisioned as a way for Hispanic and non-Hispanic families and children to come together while having fun skiing.

The success of the program is due in part to the efforts of sponsor families who agree to ski with children who otherwise might not be able to enjoy the slopes of Park City.

In addition, Park City Mountain Resort, Aloha Ski and Snowboard Rental, and St. Mary’s provide equipment and services that make skiing free for children who participate.

Normally, a youth day ticket at the resort costs $50 while passes for Utah students between ages seven to 17 range from $175 to $225. However, the resort’s involvement with the Niños program lifts this burden.

“Park City Mountain Resort has just been fabulous because they give all our kids free passes and make it possible to do everything,” Bussen said. “Aloha we just kind of got to know and they got involved, too. St. Mary’s provides clothes through the St. Lawrence thrift store in Heber City.”

However, these opportunities did not always exist, and it has taken some effort to get the program where it is today.

“We live in this world-class resort and have many Hispanic families here,” said Ernest Oriente, the Niños on Skis program director. “Many of them were going back and forth to work or school every day looking up at these amazing mountains but never getting to experience them.”

Oriente became involved in the program 10 years ago after reading about it in a church bulletin. With Puerto Rican heritage on his mother’s side of his family, Oriente identifies with diversity and the need to extend opportunities to all.

“We must remember that we are a nation of immigrants,” Oriente said. “We are a melting pot of cultures.”

Starting out with eight children, the Niños program has consistently grown under Oriente’s direction. This year 51 boys and girls participated.

“Ernest and Father Bob collaborated on the program,” said Garrett Glenn, a Park City High School student who volunteers with the program. “Ernest is the director and does a lot of the work, and Father Bob is there to provide support.”

Niños on Skis enables children with minimal or no ski experience to eventually ski some of the most challenging terrain at the resort, such as runs off the Jupiter lift, which services black and double black diamond terrain.

“My favorite part of the mountain is King Con, but I’ve been up to Jupiter too,” said Martin Heredia, 9, who began learning to ski with the program two years ago.

The ability of new participants to rapidly improve their skills is due mainly to the structure of the program.

During the first three Saturdays of December, sponsor families pick up the children and bring them to the resort by 9 a.m. Half an hour later children are grouped based on skill level and experience with ski instructors who teach the children until noon.

After the free lessons, all of the children, instructors, and sponsor families converge at the bottom of the Payday lift and head to lunch at the resort center.

“It’s not unusual that lunch will run over $1,000,” Oriente said. “Lunch is paid for by St. Mary’s church and wonderful donations that are given to us by the community.”

When participants are filled up and warmed up, the sponsors take the children back out if they want to continue skiing into the afternoon.

“After the first three Saturdays it’s ski whenever you want and as much as you want with the children,” Oriente said. “The kids I have now, we’ve skied over 15 times with them already.”

Also, many times a boy or girl will be paired with a sponsor who is in middle school or high school, fostering new friendships.

Jessica Murphy, a 9th-grade student at Treasure Mountain International School, skis with Oladyd Angeles, a 2nd-grade student at Trailside Elementary School.

The two ski together throughout the season and Murphy further aids Angeles in learning better technique.

“I usually go in front and she follows,” Murphy said.

Angeles, who has lived in Park City her whole life, said she likes the mountains and that her favorite part of the program is getting to ski.

Another pair who ski together is the duo of high school student Garret Glenn and Martin Heredia, a 4th-grade student at McPolin Elementary School.

“I like the big jumps,” said Heredia, when discussing his favorite part of skiing. “But I’ve made friends, too.”

When skiing together, Glenn said he prefers to let Heredia lead as he watches from behind to make sure Heredia is OK.

“It’s a good program,” Glenn said. “I like to be able to ski with him and help him out, help him get a little more practice and experience.”

Although he is only 9, Heredia already has a plan for his skiing future.

“When I am older I will teach other people to ski, too,” he said.

These examples of service and friendship illustrate that the program is about much more than just skiing.

“In my opinion this program has gone on to become the most interconnected relationship between the Hispanic and non-Hispanic community that exists in Park City,” Oriente said. “This is more than a cursory event. This can be a 12-month relationship, an ongoing relationship that takes many shapes and forms.”

While the Niños program fosters these connections, St. Mary’s is behind other efforts to improve integration.

“We have Spanish masses, but we also have a bilingual mass that we do during Lent and Holy Week,” Bussen said.

He also said he has seen improvements in the school systems, healthcare services and with other programs such as the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program, the Boy’s and Girl’s Club and the tennis program that St. Mary’s helps run.

In fact, the children who participate in Niños on Skis can segue straight into St. Mary’s tennis program, Oriente said. It provides another opportunity for interaction and learning by allowing boys and girls to transfer from a winter sport to a summer sport.

It seems that the divide that once existed in Park City is being joined.

“You keep making steps, you keep making strides,” Oriente said. ” I don’t know about the rest of Utah, but I know that in my own world in Park City we care. In the Niños program we can’t touch 10,000 lives, but I know we can touch the lives of 51 children, and that for me means a lot. I know that in some small way we are making a contribution.”