Being outdoors gives me life. It gives me strength, happiness, clarity and a sense of awe. Once I learned I was going to be at the Natural Leaders Legacy Camp in Austin, Texas with 25 other individuals who also felt the same way about nature, it gave me extreme joy and excitement.
There was so much that happened in those 5 days and 4 nights under the stars, but I will share with you the most impactful moments. Throughout the week we focused on a theme–Love and Gratitude. The week consisted of many wonderful and thoughtful speakers, workshops and service projects. After these sessions we would take a moment to incorporate love and gratitude through everything we did, making the week an incredibly positive and insightful experience in growing as a natural leader.
A little background: After Richard Louv’s book, “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder”, was published in 2005, he and a few others co founded the Children in Nature Network (CiNN). CiNN, a non-profit, works to engage natural leaders across the U.S. to reconnect children with nature. Natural Leaders Legacy Camp is an initiative of the CiNN to empower the next generation of Natural Leaders, (18-29 year olds) with tools to promote youth access and opportunities to the outdoors.
The importance of this camp was that it was regional. For the past few years, the National Natural Leaders Legacy Camp has been in West Virginia, but this was the first time the Natural Leaders Legacy Camp had been regional. That meant many of the people involved were able to share their local experiences, resources, and ideas. Just meeting the many people at the camp was exciting to me, knowing they are also geographically close allowed for more local collaboration, shared resources and relationships to build further. Now, we are not only a part of the National Natural Leaders Network, but we have our own community right here at home.
We had many wonderful speakers and presenters from the Austin area to talk to us on topics such as their path to becoming a natural leader, resources they can provide, and mentoring natural leaders.
The speakers and presenters were my favorite part. Keep Austin Beautiful, Families in Nature, National Park Service, City of Austin Watershed, and Explore Austin were just some of the many speakers who talked with us. Hearing about their organization and what they do was fascinating, but what was powerful was to hear how they got there. Many of them had a path that lead them all over the place before it landed them into their current role.
It was kind and refreshing to hear that it is never too late to enter into the field of conservation, to not worry about how you get there or judge your path against someone else’s, and almost everyone is willing to help and guide you, if you only ask.
After every speaker I left feeling like I had a new mentor right there, helping guide me to my natural legacy. I also felt like I had a new connection to help my organization and what I am doing in San Antonio.
Intermittent in the week were service projects on Shield Ranch, where we were staying, as well as Westcave. These opportunities allowed us to express our love and gratitude to Shield Ranch for hosting us as well as to Westcave for giving us a guided tour of their beautiful educational outdoor preserve. These were wonderful chances to do service with one another, experience the outdoors, and give back.
Besides service projects, most of the days consisted of some type of workshop guiding us with tools for things like coalition building and elevator pitch ready for advocacy. My favorite workshops were Goal Setting, Power of Personal Narrative, and Know Your City Council.
For goal setting, we laid out personal, health, career, and community outreach goals of what we wanted and did not want. Goal setting was a nice start to week so we could see the importance of reaching our personal goals to then better reach community goals. I learned to change my can’ts into cans and dreams into plans.
In personal narrative, we learned the best way to reach the community is to first distinguish the difference between relating to someone and building a relationship. By sustaining connections with people around you and telling them your personal narrative, you can transcend barriers that previously stopped you from reaching your goals or properly sharing your message. Your personal story can help you as a leader if you build relationships when sharing your narrative.
Finally, understanding the power of local government was amazing! Your local government is what can truly make a difference in our everyday lives, so it is up to us to speak to our local city council man or woman. Your power comes from your voice, so call your city council today and attend a meeting so you can make a lasting impact in your community.
At the end of the week, I was in tears. Tears of love and gratitude for having been given the chance and opportunity to meet amazing people, people my age who share my passions; for having made wonderful connections and been given ideas and resources for my community to have better access to the outdoors; for the experience of reconnecting with nature myself and being told I AM A NATURAL LEADER. Now I have a network of people to help me continue my natural leader legacy and help others make theirs.
With what I gained, I plan on working with my community and approaching my councilman to put in a cross walk to our neighborhood park. I also plan on working with Families in Nature and helping them expand here in San Antonio. Goodness knows how great it would be for more families to get outdoors together.
Going home from a week outdoors filled with laughter, Texas heat, good food and even better people, I feel more enthused and excited to take back everything I have learned to my community and continue growing the connections and relationships I have made.
If you are interested in hearing more about the Natural Leaders Network and this Legacy Camp, please feel free to contact me or take a look at their website at http://westcave.org/legacy-camp!
By: Chloe C.