Youth Engagement Project Highlights and Video

Central Oregon community agencies say YES to outdoor programs for kids

Deschutes and Ochoco National Forests team up with Children’s Forest of Central Oregon and 10 local agencies to engage youth during difficult times



While 2020 was a particularly challenging year for many — especially youth — there were a few bright spots in Central Oregon shining through the frustration and isolation that came with a global pandemic. With Children’s Forest of Central Oregon and 10 partner agencies coming together to get kids outside, there was fun and learning to be celebrated throughout the region.


Thanks to $35,000 in Youth Engagement Strategy funds from the U.S. Forest Service,  CFCO and its community partners rallied to support the social and emotional needs of kids by connecting underserved youth to public lands through conservation education, service projects, or career pathways initiatives.


“During a year when youth faced many social and emotional challenges connected to the stresses of the pandemic, our partner programs helped connect them to the healing power of nature,” said CFCO’S Executive Director, Katie Chipko.


With YES grants of up to $5,000, CFCO partners implemented 10 programs specifically targeting underserved youth and communities, including Tribal youth, Latinx youth, youth with special needs, or other underrepresented groups.


“These YES partnerships are resulting in a significant increase in the number of participants coming from historically underrepresented communities,” said Chipko. “Our partners really invested energy and attention into recruiting kids and families that we haven’t had the opportunity to work with in the past, and have strengthened partnerships with these communities along the way.” 


Overall, the YES funds reached 1,023 youth and families in Central Oregon with 12 weeks of summer camp, 4 outdoor leadership expeditions, paid job training, and more. In addition, 555 students learned about watersheds and careers in conservation and 125 nature kits were delivered to families.


The YES grants resulted in the following:


Boys & Girls Clubs of Bend successfully implemented Ultimate Journey, an environmental stewardship and cultural heritage program for youth ages 9 to13. Designed by Boys & Girls Clubs of America specifically for Clubs, the Ultimate Journey includes more than 25 hands-on activities to promote environmental stewardship and help members appreciate and care for the place they live. The program served 51 youth who attended the summer program on a weekly basis. The participants took part in healthy outdoor activities and learned about becoming good stewards of the environment through fun and engaging STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) activities. 


The Middle Deschutes Watershed Council and Trout Unlimited collaborated to provide virtual and in-person after-school programming and field trips for 133 students in kindergarten through 8th grade from Warm Springs Academy, Madras Elementary School, Buff Elementary School and Black Butte School. Trout Unlimited also created an online Deschutes Watershed Story Map, which was a resource for schools across Central Oregon.


Heart of Oregon Corps provided six weeks of summer day-camp programming for 16 youth ages 16-22. With additional support from Oregon Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Oregon Department of Education, and the US Forest Service, youth participants earned minimum wage to work at Camp Tamarack, States Parks and the U.S. Forest Service to help complete trail work, remove invasive plants, plant native plants, spread mulch, construct and repair barbed wire fencing, complete fire fuels reduction projects, painted and stained park benches and tables. 


Bend Park and Recreation District provided seven 1-week camp programs, Aventuras al Aire Libre (Discover the Outdoors) serving 79 youth ages 11 to 15-years-old, 95% of whom represented Latino communities. 


Redmond Parks Foundation provided 87 free STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) project kits to help kids explore the Deschutes River. The kits were filled with equipment, activities, and information to help them explore their natural environment with their families or other important adults in their lives. 


Camp Tamarack provided 4 Outdoor Leadership Program expeditions so 26 high school students had an opportunity to be outdoors and connect with nature and their peers while developing leadership skills. The expeditions included primitive camping and backpacking. 


Camp Fire Central Oregon provided enhanced programming for Latinx youth ages 12 to 14 by hiring bilingual personnel to help plan and lead Teen Leadership and Service Programs and to be present at Tumalo Day Camp and SummerKids Camps. Students visited Smith Rock, Riverbend Park and Mt Bachelor while learning about watersheds and picking up trash.


Juntos Aprendemos partnered with Vamonos Outside and the High Desert Museum to connect more than 200 participants (52 families) with outdoor events and activities including trips to Bend Pine Nursery, Redmond American Legion Park, High Desert Museum, and Tumalo State Park. 


The Environmental Center partnered with Campfire Central Oregon and the City of Bend to pilot Aguas Frescas, a 4-day camp program for 12 LatinX youth in grades 7 through 12. The goal was to host a small group with a focus on relationship building and inspiring a love of the outdoors. The students explored nature, learned about watersheds and the importance of conservation, and were introduced to various career pathways in recreation and municipalities.


“The outdoors can be such a catalyst for personal growth and confidence, which is so important for this particular age group. My hope is that through these programs, we are creating more confident students that will be empowered to take on leadership roles, as well as a sense of responsibility for their environment,” said Geneva Mayall, youth education program coordinator for the Environmental Center. 


According to Tyler McRae, summer program manager for Heart of Oregon Corps, the ability to safely serve youth during the pandemic was impactful.


“We adapted the program this year from an overnight camp to a day camp to keep everyone safe, and still were able to see growth in campers. Though we are looking forward to camping out again, we know Camp LEAD is remarkably consistent in the magic that it creates. Young people experiencing disabilities connect with public lands and career options, and bond with each other and the camp counselors through the days spent outside,” said McRae. 


Gabriela Peden, Juntos Apprendemos program coordinator was most excited about the engagement of families in the summer programming. 


“We see the commitment these families have towards their children’s education and community building. Families came to the High Desert Museum, which is far and not very accessible for many families. We had over 100 people there from Bend, Redmond and Jefferson County. Whole families came and we had the opportunity to meet some grandparents as well. It was a magical experience for us and I believe it was a magical experience for them,” said Peden.


Thank you to the U.S. Forest Service for supporting these great projects!