The Making of a Thrive Outside Community: San Diego

San Diego’s South Bay has dozens of organizations focused on improving outdoor recreation access and opportunities for underserved youth. Thanks to the Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside grant, they’re forming a collaborative network that will increase their impact.

By Kristen Pope October 17, 2019

Thrive Outside strives not just to encourage individuals to enjoy the outdoors, but to connect whole communities to a lifelong love of the outdoors. In order to meet this aim, backbone partners are working with their communities to create partnership networks to collaborate and bring even more people outside. Each of the four pilot Thrive Outside Communities—Atlanta, San Diego, Oklahoma City, and Grand Rapids, Michigan—is looking at where they have parks and programs and where they are lacking. They’re assessing their communities to learn what work is already being done, how and by whom; they’re identifying existing people and programs in order to learn about available resources and what each partner can bring to the table. In doing so, they are also identifying gaps and opportunities.

What is Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside? It’s a nationwide effort to connect and coordinate disparate community organizations working—often in parallel—to connect children with quality outdoor experiences. The lack of coordination between these organizations lead to gaps and missed opportunities. The Thrive Outside approach helps organizations connect with each other to create repeat and reinforcing experiences, while also leaving room for the unique offerings and cultural differences in each community. Read more »

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is help catalyze and be kind of a connective tissue between all of these sorts of assets that are in the community,” says Chris Rutgers, who is a Thrive Outside consultant and executive director of Transforming Youth Outdoors, a convening organization that links people and communities with experts, thought-leadership, resources and best-practices about youth outdoor programming.

In San Diego, partners are working with the University of San Diego to conduct a gap analysis to identify that haven’t been involved in outdoor activities in the past. They are currently working with Rady Children’s Hospital to bring kids with mental and physical health conditions outside, and the partners are also working to develop programing in cooperation with a juvenile detention facility and probation department.

“The focus overall of the San Diego Thrive Outside community is looking at how can we use meaningful outdoor engagement to address critical community needs in the greater San Diego region, with a specific focus on South Bay San Diego,” says Ben McCue, executive director of Outdoor Outreach and co-chair of the San Diego Thrive Outside Steering Committee. They are working with numerous partners in the government, academic, nonprofit, and philanthropy sectors, including The San Diego Foundation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, YMCA of San Diego County, and the County of San Diego.

This spring, Outdoor Outreach collaborated with Rady Children’s Hospital to work with young people in the outpatient psychiatric unit, including those with depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Participants attended two outings a week, engaging in activities like kayaking and rock climbing with a clinical social worker who helped them with skill-building, using techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy. The next cohort will include medically fragile youth with cardiac and kidney conditions, diabetes, and other health issues, whose physicians have cleared them for the program.

Sandy Mueller, director of social services and psychiatry operations for Rady Children’s Hospital, says many patients experience social isolation and have difficulty experiencing the outdoors for a number of reasons, including health, finances, and time constraints while managing illnesses.

“The outdoors is a very natural way for kids to gain skill-building,” Mueller says. “It’s non-threatening, it gives them an ability to do an interpersonal challenge but also to work as a team, and then to also have to be reliant on the Outdoor Outreach team. So there’s trust-building that occurs, there’s relationship-building that occurs, there’s [internal] resiliency that occurs.”