Getting Military Kids (and Their Families) Outdoors

- Adults and kids smile during Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors April 1 "Celebration of the Military Child" event in Virginia.

Chiara Leist's military family moves so often, she says it's hard to connect with local families and fun local things to do in each new location. Her husband is an active duty Army soldier currently deployed for six months, leaving her and her nine-year-old son Eli on their own in Virginia.

So when Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program alerted her to an April 1 "Celebration of the Military Child" event in Virginia's Prince William Forest Park near her home, Chiara knew she and Eli should go.

"We had a blast," says Chiara. "We went on a hike, practiced fly-fishing, and talked to all kinds of people."

The April 1 event brought together Mission Outdoors along with a coalition of groups aimed at connecting military families with nature.

"Military children serve too, and we've found that connecting these children with the outdoors allows them to not only have fun, but gives them and their families a sense of resiliency," said Stacy Bare, Sierra Club Mission Outdoors Military Families and Veterans Representative. "The outdoors heals."

Chiara says she and Eli also attended a Mission Outdoors rock-climbing event last fall, and both times her son has been hooked on the outdoor activities.

"When we were done with the April 1 event, he wanted me to take him to get a fly fishing rod for him, and last fall we got rock climbing harnesses after that event," she says with a laugh.

The April 1 gathering also served as a time to announce the Sierra Club’s renewed commitment to fund $675,000 (from The Sierra Club Foundation) to the National Military Family Association, Armed Services YMCA and the YMCA of the USA to provide outdoor experiences to military children.

- Adults and kids hike during Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors "Celebration of the Military Child" event on April 1, 2012, in Virginia.

As my colleague Michael Brune noted, "One way we can help is by recognizing that military service takes a toll not just on those in uniform but also on their families."

The Sierra Club's Mission Outdoors program provides a variety of opportunities for military service members and their families to find adventure, camaraderie, a sense of mission, and relaxation through outdoor experiences. An entire family can reconnect at a retreat; a returning veteran can participate in a paddling, climbing, mountaineering, fly-fishing, or other outdoor adventure. Military children of deployed parents can find empowerment by going to camp.

Since 2006, Mission Outdoors has helped more than 50,000 children from military families get outside, whether it was a picnic in a city park, a fishing trip to a local lake, a hike in a state park, or a week at summer camp.

This Saturday, April 28, Camp Pendleton is expected to play host to as many as 5,000 from military and veteran families for the 17th annual Kids First Fair, an event where children "will explore nature [and] learn outdoor skills."

The event is sponsored by Marine Corps Family Services and features activities organized in collaboration with San Diego Children and Nature Collaborative, the Sierra Club, the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, Family Adventures in Nature, and Mission Trails Regional Park.

Chiara recommends all military families take part in Mission Outdoors activities nationwide. "You need to get your kids outside, let them see the planet. Eli had so much fun. It's important to have times to just play. It takes a lot of stress out of your life if you just go someplace to play."

We look forward to working with our many military family partners to continue these opportunities for military families like Chiara's. To get involved, check out our Mission Outdoors website.

Together, we will honor their sacrifice as we explore and enjoy the lands they and their parents sacrificed to protect.

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