Texas Children in Nature Summit 2017: A VISTA’s Perspective

Three hundred individuals gathered in San Antonio on November 7th and 8th 2017 to celebrate, learn, and network among some of the most inspirational and dedicated organizations in Texas when it comes to connecting children and their families with nature. The summit was a two-day event filled with workshops, professional development, and trips out into the field to view some of the innovative projects that were happening in San Antonio. The goal of the TCiN Summit was not just to provide information. The Summit was meant to give individuals and groups a platform for developing community and individual action plans. Day 1 was filled with knowledge and information on programs, and research. Day 2 was a time for brainstorming, collaboration and practice through Action Labs based on the TCiN five strategic plan categories- Health, Education, Community, Access, Marketing.

My position as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Texas Children in Nature afforded me a unique experience participating in the Summit. However, we had five other AmeriCorps VISTAs from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department that were working with us as volunteers. Brandi Heasley, McKinney Falls State Park VISTA shares her experience at the Summit:

“From emails to reports, it’s easy to get bogged down on the day-to-day tasks, so I jumped at the chance to attend the Texas Children in Nature Summit. This was a chance to switch up my daily routine, network, and learn ways to improve my VISTA projects. From Eco-Therapy to natural play areas to the health action lab, I left the conference with a sense of purpose again. The summit provided the opportunity to learn from others and brainstorm ways to update our own programs. I felt so inspired by everyone I met, that I left San Antonio with a long list of ideas for revamping my own programs and events at McKinney Falls State Park. I am really excited to incorporate eco-therapy and health information in my hikes, and build a program upon a loose parts play area. However, the best part about the TCiN Summit was being around 300 other individuals that shared the same goals of inspiring our youth to get outside and become great stewards”.

The VISTA position and perspective is unique place to be. I, being one myself went into the Summit excited to meet a variety of professionals from the field that I am also passionate about. As a VISTA our goal is to increase the capacity of our host organization. For Brandi, it’s increasing the capacity of McKinney Falls State Park and for me it is increasing the capacity for the Texas Children in Nature Network and what better example than a gathering of 300 individuals who came to the Summit to build upon their own programs.

Capacity building is important in the connecting children with nature movement. We want this movement to be sustainable, to last into the next generation and beyond that.

VISTAs are meant to leave their organization better than they found it, to provide resources that can be built upon. The Texas Children in Nature Summit inspired me to keep pushing forward, to make sure that whoever comes into my VISTA position after I leave is well equipped to continue to develop our capacity instead of starting over. The Summit inspired me to connect across sectors because the connecting children in nature movement is larger than just education and environment. It is education and environmentalism. It is business and healthcare, architecture and urban planning. It is government and policy. Most importantly this movement is human and we can’t do it alone.