As soon as LaVonte Stewart starts talking to the young people in Lost Boyz Inc. about upcoming outings to the Forest Preserves of Cook County, he sees the excitement on the faces of the boys and girls served by his nonprofit group.
“Getting out of their neighborhood to do something is encouraging to them, being outside of their comfort zone and seeing that Chicago is a huge city and that you can have all this green space inside of an urban jungle,” says Stewart, the founder and executive director of Lost Boyz Inc. “You can find all this serenity and these spaces for peace.”
Lost Boyz Inc. provides sports-based development for youth from South Shore, Pilsen and other under-resourced neighborhoods in Chicago, as well as opportunities for civic engagement and recreation. The Forest Preserves Nature Express Bus program has become a valuable resource to this small organization.
“The Nature Express Bus is another way we work to help even more people get out to enjoy all the Forest Preserves offers,” says Jacqui Ulrich, the director of the Forest Preserves Department of Conservation and Experiential Programming. “For community groups and nonprofits that have limited resources, it’s a free trip to our special events and locations.”
By working with the Forest Preserves on transportation, Lost Boyz Inc. has taken youth to the Preserves’ annual Kids’ Fest at Wampum Lake and zip lining at the Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Course in Bemis Woods. These outings have helped kids learn about nature, meet other kids outside their immediate communities, and simply broadened their horizons.
“[These opportunities have] had a very positive effect on them in a number of ways,” Stewart says. “It has helped to increase various protective factors, helped to decrease certain risk factors, and has enhanced their connections to people, nature and animals.”
Is your group interested in getting out into nature?
Through the Nature Express Bus program, organizations with at least 25 participants that demonstrate a need for funding can apply for free bus transportation to a Forest Preserves event, amenity or to visit one of the Forest Preserves’ partners, Brookfield Zoo and Chicago Botanic Garden (price of admission included).
Learn more and download the Nature Express Bus application.