In partnership with the Udall Foundation, University Outreach introduced 20 youth from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Flint to area parks through digital photography as part of the 2012 Parks in Focus program. During a series of day trips and overnight outings, participants explored a number of area sites including: Ligon Outdoor Center, For-Mar Nature Preserve, Bluebell Beach and Stepping Stone Falls, Seven Lakes State Park, Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge, Bay City State Recreation Area, University of Michigan-Flint, and Holly State Recreation Area. The program was full of firsts for the participants: hiking, camping in tents, fishing, catching frogs and roasting marshmallows over a campfire. Combined, the participants took more than 2500 photos of the adventures they had and the people, places, plants and animals they met along the way.
For its second year, University Outreach provided support to the program by working with community partners to build a series of positive experiences for Club members ages 11-14. New this year, participants from both the Haskell Unit and Averill Unit of the Club were able to participate. University Outreach also facilitated a visit for all the youth to the campus of the University of Michigan-Flint to explore career paths, learn of college culture and admissions requirements, and explore the campus amenities including the digital photography lab where youth created portfolios from their own photographs.
The Stewart L. Udall Parks in Focus program connects underserved middle-school youth to nature through digital photography by organizing outings to local natural areas and week-long immersion trips to national parks. Their goals are to: 1) provide outdoor educational experiences; 2) foster appreciation for the natural environment and public lands; and 3) build self-confidence through personal expression. Digital cameras and the art of photography are used as tools to both help establish the connection between youth and nature, and provide a medium of self-expression by which each youth’s connection can live on beyond a single activity, outing, or trip. To date, more than 600 youth in Arizona, California, Michigan and Montana have connected with the natural world through Parks in Focus.