In keeping with our last few posts about wildlife volunteering, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of conservation volunteer heroes: Tommie and Theresa Berger, the masterminds behind Kansas’ Outdoor Adventure Camp. They were finalists in Field and Stream Magazine’s Conservation Heroes of the Year contest in 2011 but they were volunteering to make a difference long before that.
We all know what a big problem childhood obesity is in America. As we have transitioned to a digital society, kids have transitioned to the couch en masse. There is nothing sadder than seeing a third grader get winded on a flight of stairs. Well okay, there are sadder things, but this is so preventable! It’s not just a camp about exercise though, and that’s part of the reason it’s so effective. Exercising is so much more fun when you forget you’re doing it. So it’s not just about health, it’s about experience. Kids who sit inside looking at a screen all day aren’t seeing the beauty of the outdoors. They aren’t using their imaginations to create worlds for themselves. If you grow up without a love for nature and for exploration, how can you be expected to function as a responsible, caring, global citizen?
For more than 20 years, Tommie and Theresa Berger have been working as volunteer teachers and organizers at Outdoor Adventure Camp, a program Tommie Berger conceived of and designed with help from the Kansas Wildlife Federation. Tommie is a fisheries biologist and the camp focuses on wildlife education while getting the kids outside, playing, learning, and developing a love of nature. After all, all kids need to enjoy nature is some good shoes.
The camp is kind of like boy scouts meets science with a healthy dose of camp-like games and adventure. One of the things that makes the came so unique is its focus on conservation—teaching children the dangers of pollution and wasteful living while empowering them with ways to fight it. You can’t start to fix a problem until you understand it, and not just that it exists but how it began, why it continues, and what you can do individually to make a difference. What a powerful thing it is to transform a group of sedentary children into ecologically aware human beings.
The kids that attend the Berger’s camp are between ten and twelve years old. Think back to when you were that age—before you were quite so jaded or self-conscious, when you dreamed of your future and those dreams felt so real and so achievable. That was when I really felt like I could change the world.
We think about the problems of the planet with a focus on the immediate future. It’s in our nature to want immediate results. I think one of the best ways to make the future better than the present is to create a new generation that understands the challenges we face and the reasons we face them. Theresa and Tommie Berger do too.