Developing the next generation of young conservation stewards is the goal of a new Canadian Wildlife Federation (CWF) program being offered free to Kitchener/Waterloo teens who like to get “wild outside.”
As the country’s largest conservation charity, CWF has recently introduced its national conservation-based youth leadership program called WILD Outside to the Kitchener/Waterloo area. As it does in the other 13 cities in which the program currently is available, WILD Outside will bring young people aged 15-18 years old together for outdoor adventures as well lead them in service projects designed to help conserve local wildlife and habitat while engaging the community to care about the environment.
“Young people today are doing such cool things and they have so much to offer, so we want to provide them with adventures and service opportunities in their own communities,” says Mike Bingley, CWF’s director of education.
CWF has been offering a similar program for 18 to 30-year-olds for two years now called the Canadian Conservation Corps. It’s been very successful but Bingley says there was a real need for a program designed for younger Canadians.
“Young people were always coming to us and saying ‘I’m not 18 yet, but how can I get involved and what can I do to help the planet?’” says Bingley. “So we knew there would be an interest in something like this.”
Anyone between 15 and 18 years old can sign up to participate in WILD Outside free of charge, whether they’re still in high school or not. Bingley says there’s funding to ensure the program is “as inclusive as possible” to ensure no teens are left out. “We want to give these teens the chance to try activities they’ve maybe never had an opportunity to try before.”
Some of the seasonal outdoor adventures might include canoeing or kayaking, hiking, ice skating, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, rock climbing, cycling, fishing, outdoor cooking and nature walks to identify birds and plants. There’s no charge for any of the activities and any equipment will be provided by WILD Outside program facilitators.
After each outdoor adventure, the teens will plan and organize service projects they can deliver in the Kitchener/Waterloo area. Bingley says that might include cleaning up shorelines, removing invasive species, planting trees or building wildlife habitats, but he expects the teens will come up with something even more innovative.
“Young people are incredibly creative and born innovators. Their brains are wired that way,” says Bingley. “They come up with project ideas that I could never think of.”
Over the course of a year, the students will do six outdoor adventures and six service projects so they’ll each complete 120 volunteer hours. Many high schools require students to put in a certain number of volunteer hours before graduating, and participation in WILD Outside could count towards other youth achievement initiatives like the Duke of Edinburgh Awards.
While COVID-19 restrictions have placed limits on social gathering, the WILD Outside program is still recruiting participants and connecting with youth on line via webinars and discussions with CWF staff and conservation partners. The goal is to be ready to hit the ground running with program activities and projects once the restrictions are lifted.
“We want to make sure these young people get the chance to have their voices heard and really contribute to their communities,” said Bingley.
To learn more about WILD Outside or register for the program, visit WildOutside.ca.