Anita Evans and Lynea Schultz-Ela are on a mission to connect area youth with nature through their non-profit Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) organization established in July of 2018.
All four board members Evans, Schultz-Ela, Anne Janik and Abram Herman have numerous years in outdoor education according to Evans who serves as the fledgling organization’s president.
“Part of the reason that we formed Friends and Nature is because of our love for nature,” said Evans, who has 30 years of experience with non-profits serving kids and served as a teacher in the Delta County School District for 25 years.
She and husband Richard Hypio, founders of The Nature Connection program, discovered that similar outdoor programs in the area were struggling to get the word out about their organization’s programming.
So, Evans and several volunteers set out to find a solution by developing the Friends of Youth and Nature website to act as a directory for schools, youth groups and families to find out what’s out there in terms of getting kids and families connected with nature.
According to a study by Tim Casey, Ph.D in political theory from Colorado Mesa University, 67% of people looking for outdoor activities for their family search online. Casey’s study was instrumental in prompting FOYAN to collate all of the information on various outdoor programs and create an online warehouse for seekers.
“I would say that we’re about half-way done with that portion of the project,” said co-founder Schultz-Ela.
She said the three biggest needs facing the group were developing an easily accessible and navigable online database, providing transportation for clients and funding scholarships for the underserved population.
“We work at grant writing, we work at exposure to the opportunities through the website, we work with the organizations that provide programming to make sure they’re on our website,” she said. “We also work to make sure the organizations have all the details in place like insurance before they can get on the website. We also write articles about kids in the outdoors to inspire kids, parents, teachers and families to do things outdoors.”
In a nutshell, FOYAN serves as a “link” connecting outdoor seekers to program providers. They also act as a conduit between outdoor programs helping them find other programs that can assist in meeting the needs of the community.
“So, we’re trying to also be that resource of information for the providers as well,” Evans said.
Beyond promoting other organizations, FOYAN provides needed bus scholarships and program scholarships for students and schools who need the extra support.
“One of the biggest expenses in this area, because it is so large, is the transportation piece. Each of the school districts — Delta, Montrose and Mesa — have a different way of dealing with that,” Evans said.
Delta County uses its own buses and drivers while Montrose and Mesa counties contract out the services. Either way, Evans said, the cost to provide transportation to outdoor activities is one of the main obstacles these programs face in providing services.
In its first year FOYAN impacted close to 1,000 students. So far, this year, Evans says the organization has nearly tripled its efforts since August.
“The need is there and it’s growing exponentially. This fall we received their Communities for Environment grant from Western Colorado Community Foundation to help the Farm to School Program to get materials for recycling and composting.”
They recently secured a number of grants including a transportation grant to assist The Nature Connection’s winter program, a grant for Family’s Plus for scholarships to help eight students access a summer outdoor program as well as scholarships for kids in the Grand Junction area for equipment and lessons in cross country skiing last winter through Odin Recreation and Grand Valley Nordic Ski Club.
“If you’re looking at educating kids whether it’s in science, math or literature or anything else if you can combine that with experiences in the environment then the next generation starts to wrap their arms around the idea of taking care of these beautiful lands as part of their life’s responsibility,” Schultz-Ela said.
This year FOYAN plans to work with the Farm to School program for Delta County School District and Mesa County’s Outdoor Wilderness Learning Lab (OWL) program on transportation needs as well as many other local outdoor recreation providers.
The best way for readers to understand and appreciate the work of FOYAN is to visit its website at friendsofyouthand
Under the Home tab you’ll find information on the organization, benefits of kids in nature, environmental education, as well as what the organization has accomplished and its future plans. There’s also a Resources tab which includes outdoor providers for Montrose, Delta and Mesa counties; resources for instructors; where to find gear, maps and tips on outdoor safety. Under the Funding tab there’s vital information on student scholarships and bus and project funds and how to donate to FOYAN.