Eight years ago, I could have never imagined that I would be speaking on behalf of the experiences our family has had with ELK. It all started when my middle daughter, who was in high school at the time, approached the table set up at her school (DSST: GVR HS) where two staff members (Amy and Justin) from ELK sat introducing themselves to the kids, seeking participants for the program. You see, it was back in August 2015 when she had just returned from being on the Colorado River with Outward Bound, where she was out there rafting, kayaking, hiking, getting all sandy and muddy while learning survival and leadership skills. It was back in October 2015 that she began working as an Assistant Educator with ELK, and by summer 2016 she had become a full-fledged Urban Ranger.
That’s where our story begins with ELK, and, within those eight years, my children and grandchildren have done everything from hiking, participating in Cast a Line (where my grandson caught his first fish), to camping and community service trips. I know firsthand, you see; I’ve watched my own children grow and develop into the young women they are today. Nizhooni, my middle daughter, graduated from DDST: GVR HS and went on to attend Colorado College, majoring in Environmental Studies. She now works in environmental conservation with the National Wildlife Federation.
My youngest daughter, Shandiin, recently graduated from DSST: GVR HS and is attending Colorado State University’s (CSU’s) civil engineering program. She aspires to contribute to sustainable housing — and that’s because of her love for nature in her own right but also her involvement in ELK and participation in their Leadership Corps program. I believe she will do exactly as she intends.
For me personally, I’ll never forget when we stayed in a yurt at Colorado State Forest State Park. It was pure glamping at its finest. The night sky was crystal clear, the stars were so bright, the air was crisp, and so clean — it was beautiful. I truly enjoyed my time in the outdoors with the kids hiking, and exploring because, you know, we’re all kids at heart.
When I think of ELK, I think of children laughing, playing, exploring.
Watching grasshoppers, chasing dragonflies, batting fishhooks, learning how to cast a line, and catching their first fish. Oh, to witness the excitement and wonder of a child exploring the natural world around them, away from their cell phones, TV shows, and video games. To see them as they instinctively are, explorers headed out on a mission to see beautiful sites and discover wonderful adventures for the day. To hear their laughter and amazement when doing something they’ve never done before. At first you see the apprehension, the doubt on their faces — “I can’t really do that; I don’t know how.” Then it happens, with steady encouragement: seeing their newfound friends making their way, they too find the courage to make their way. Challenging themselves to do something they’ve never done before, resulting in overjoyed screams of “I did it! I did it!” The smiles on their faces tell the story of ELK and the opportunity of the outdoors for them. They tell the story of how the outdoors belongs to ALL of us, of how everyone has a place in nature. Of how families who have never stepped foot outside the city can experience nature for themselves.
It doesn’t matter if they’ve never done it before — with ELK they can.
As a parent, and now grandparent, I can tell you it’s multigenerational. I’ve had the pleasure and honor to see not only my children and grandchildren flourish, but yours too.
If you take one thing away from this, let it be that ELK is a jewel for our community. It provided the opportunity for our children to explore and experience nature, and hopefully their personal experience with nature and the outdoors just might spark them in knowing how their purpose can impact this enormously beautiful world.
About Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK): Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) is a Denver-based, nonprofit organization established in 1996 to address the growing need to introduce and educate Colorado’s racially diverse youth about science, leadership, and careers. Twenty-seven years later, ELK continues to provide strong educational support, good role models, and opportunities for positive community action for youth, helping them to become engaged, productive, and successful members of society. Learn more at elkkkids.org.
About the Author: Lisa Hurd describes herself as a proud Mother to three lovely daughters and a grandmother to five beautiful grandchildren.