On a sunny, warm day in March, nine children from a local school spent their afternoon learning about nature and giving back to their community during a visit at Trailside Museum of Natural History. The experience, which included a guided nature walk and a litter clean-up, was directed by Chicago Voyagers, a youth development program that uses experiential adventure-based programs and activities to help foster the development, responsibility and leadership in Chicagoland youth.
Bess McGeorge, program manager for Chicago Voyagers, explains that the organization believes every child has potential, and that using nature as a tool helps participants establish connections with their community, opens curiosity and keeps them engaged in the experience.
“It’s really great to introduce youth to their local nature, we want to plant seeds for that excitement in the outdoors,” says McGeorge. For many of the participants, their experience with Chicago Voyagers may be their first time in nature. “Some may have picnicked with their families, but nature like this, no.”
One of the youth at the March experience, Elijah, had never before visited the Forest Preserves prior to his field trip with Chicago Voyagers. In addition to learning about different trees and the many animals found in the forest, Elijah says he enjoyed the litter clean-up.
“[It’s important to clean the forests] for the animals to be safe,” Elijah says.
In addition to guided nature walks and volunteer opportunities, Chicago Voyagers also introduces youth to outdoor adventure-based recreational opportunities like canoeing, biking and cross-country skiing.
Following a Chicago Voyagers experience, McGeorge says she hopes youth leave with “a sense of accomplishment, capability, connectedness to the outdoors, and I always say, self-efficacy – their belief in their selves to do tasks.”
Chicago Voyagers partners with a variety of agencies that work with youth. To learn more about the organization, visit chicagovoyagers.org.