The YMCA of Greater San Antonio is looking to make the outdoors more welcoming, accessible and inclusive for youth from communities of color and low-income families through the Y’s ROAR program.
Hosted at a 1,000-acre education, research center and nature preserve known as YMCA Roberts Ranch, ROAR (Ranch Outdoor Adventure Reach) serves youth from the Y’s 21st Century Afterschool program and Y Teen Achievers.
MaryAshley McGibbon, the director of Roberts Ranch, said by making the preserve more available to people, they will provide greater accessibility to the natural world.
“We can offer communities who have been historically separated from these spaces an opportunity to enjoy and receive the positive benefits of time spent outdoors,” said McGibbon. “Removing some of the barriers to wilderness and nature access that exist within our community is critical to increasing engagement in environmental issues.”
ROAR Program Funding and Details
Recently, ROAR was awarded $53,290 in a grant from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) Community Outdoor Outreach Program. This initiative aims to build relationships with non-traditional constituencies who have been underrepresented in TPWD activities and programs.
McGibbon said a large percentage of the grant will go toward cost of buses to bring participants to the ranch. “Transportation can feel like a huge barrier to get students from the city of San Antonio all the way to the ranch, which is 45 minutes out of the town,” said McGibbon. “We’ll also be using funds to allow Y staff to implement Project WILD curriculum both in the classrooms and meeting spaces in the city and when the youth come to the ranch.”
The curriculum will help prepare attendees for their visit to the ranch. Once there, they will learn about native plants and animals, sustainable land management and new ways to enjoy outdoor recreation.
“We are blessed with an extremely strong team of Texas Master Naturalist volunteer educators who are enthusiastic about sharing their passion for nature and conservation,” said McGibbon. “Ultimately, planting native pollinator gardens will help students complete a final project together that benefits their space and their ecosystem.”
Other funding will offset the cost of staffing and training. Specifically, the Y will hire a seasonal program coordinator for summers 2023 and 2024. Student lunches, supplies, and native plants for the group project round out the rest of the funding.
Future Goals and Advice
McGibbon said there is currently a lot of excitement within the YMCA of Greater San Antonio about the ROAR program. The volunteer educator team is constantly planning and brainstorming different ways ROAR can continue to benefit the community.
“The numerous mental and physiological health benefits of outdoor recreation are important,” said McGibbon. “It should be experienced by all who want the opportunity. The Y served over 18,000 children in 2022 through our diverse array of youth development and sports programs. We have so many powerful connections with youth across our region, and therefore we have so much room to grow.”
In fact, McGibbon said they would like more after school and summer day camp trips to the ranch. The Y’s five-year-plan also includes developing middle and high school youth into leaders in the field of environmental equity. This includes providing incentives for working with YMCA Roberts Ranch and sharing their experiences with younger generations.
“Collaboration is key for us at the Y,” said McGibbon. “Leveraging the strength of our programs led to a creative idea we were able to fine tune. One of our greatest strengths lies in a strong culture of volunteerism and our volunteers are passionate and energetic. Their desire to bring more youth to our preserve for the first time was a driving force as well.”
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