New Haven, CT, April 3, 2012 – This week, nearly 180 students grades K to 8 pour onto Common Ground’s campus at the end of the school day. Yellow school buses drop them off from 13 different local schools, including 8 New Haven public schools. These children join in the launch of Kids Unplugged and West Rock Rangers after-school programs, significantly expanded this spring thanks to contributions from Trailblazer and Columbia Sportswear.
Through Kids Unplugged, city kids explore West Rock State Park, help care for Common Ground’s gardens and farm animals, make art from natural and recycled materials, and cook food straight from the garden. The number of participants engaged in the program has doubled since last year, and more than quadrupled since Kids Unplugged began in 2009. For many participants, Kids Unplugged represents a first opportunity to build sustained connection to the natural world. While the program is nearly full, a few spots are available in Spring sessions and Common Ground’s April vacation programs.
Early this year, Columbia Sportswear and the Grassroots Outdoor Alliance Belay Program announced a $5,000 grant to support Common Ground’s children’s programs. Trailblazer, an independent local outdoor store based in Connecticut, supported Common Ground’s application and offered a 1:1 match to the Columbia Sportswear/Grassroots Outdoor Alliance grant. Columbia Sportswear and Trailblazer support added to core program funding from the City of New Haven’s Community Development Block Grant Program and the Barnes Foundation.
“Trailblazer is proud to support Common Ground in its programs to get all children outside while educating them about our local environment, sustainability and how to lead a healthy, active lifestyle,” says Karen Brown, Marketing Manager at Trailblazer. “These programs have a real impact on our local youth, many of whom are engaging in outdoor activities for the first time.”
These two new grants have allowed Common Ground to charge New Haven public schools students just $60 for a 9-week after-school session, discounted to $20 for students who qualify for free lunch. Grant support has also made it possible for Common Ground to double the number of schools from which we are providing transportation, eliminating another significant obstacle to participation.
“We’re so glad to have the resources to expand this program. We believe that every kid – including every city kid – deserves a chance for outdoor adventures,” says Rebecca Holcombe, Community Programs Director and the force behind Kids Unplugged. “The research says pretty clearly that kids who get opportunities to explore the natural world are healthier, grow into leaders, are less likely to get into trouble, and even do better on standardized tests.”
This Fall, a survey of Kids Unplugged families gave additional evidence of the program’s impact. According to their parents, there was a 22% increase in the number of children choosing to play outside, and a 51% increase in the number of children choosing to try new healthy foods, after participating in Kids Unplugged. Nearly 9 in 10 parents said their children adopted environmentally friendly behaviors or demonstrated new environmental knowledge at home after participating in the program.