Bridging the gap
They’re innovators and trailblazers. Visionaries. Self-starters. Who step up to do the good and be the love they’d like to see in their communities. They’re ordinary women doing extraordinary things. And we’re honored to celebrate them. This is WomanKind, where making a difference means sharing your passions and gifts with the world.
This month, Tarsha and Keisha Scovens, founders of Let’s Go Outdoors and Urban Outdoor Initiatives, share their story of how they parlayed their love of nature and family into a movement that is inspiring minority city dwellers to get outside.
Tarsha and Keisha Scovens are raising the next generation of environmental stewards.
The twins founded the Philadelphia-based organization Let’s Go Outdoors to connect African-Americans living in the city to experiences in nature.
While national studies by the Outdoor Foundation repeatedly show participation in such activities is lowest among African-Americans, the two didn’t have to look to such reports to know minorities aren’t among America’s many outdoor enthusiasts.
A SEED IS PLANTED
Growing up in the city of Norwalk, Conn., the sisters’ idea of outdoor recreation was playing kickball or Wiffle ball on the neighborhood streets with their friends. But then they joined AmeriCorps straight out of college and drove across the country to Utah, where they were stunned by the beauty of national parks like Arches and Zion.
“We had never seen landscapes of that magnitude, and it really impacted us,” says Keisha. “As we were out there visiting those places, we realized there was nobody out there like us. The random few we ran into we were so excited to see but we thought, ‘Why aren’t there more?’ ”
When the women started Let’s Go Outdoors in 2012, it wasn’t only in response to that nagging question. By then, they were moms, and it was important to them to raise their daughters with a love for the outdoors.
“Our whole mission is about engaging families and reminding them that this is your opportunity to give your kids something more,” says Tarsha, whose girls are 5 and 3. “Our kids are the future of our environment. The sooner you get them out there, the sooner they’ll get excited about it.”
MAKING THE CONNECTION
Let’s Go Outdoors connects city communities to the outdoors by offering activities such as fishing, camping, canoeing and nature wellness walks. Programs like Baby Sensations introduce little ones to the sights, sounds and textures of the outdoors at an early age, while some events inspire a greater curiosity about the natural world through games, playful movement and arts and crafts.
“Our goal is to make the outdoors accessible, friendly and fun,” says Keisha, whose daughter is 8. “These are things if you plan accordingly, prepare and get the right guidance, they’re easy — and they’re good for your overall well-being.”
THE LEARNING LINK
While the focus is always on fun, every activity is rooted in teaching participants to be more environmentally conscious. LGO often partners with area conservation and environmental organizations to educate families on topics ranging from water pollution to preserving animal habitats.
In low-income, high-poverty neighborhoods, where the twins run Urban Outdoor Initiatives, the nonprofit arm of their organization, the focus is on getting families to notice the natural world right outside their door, from identifying trees and birds to the sources of stormwater runoff.
“We’re trying to send a message that you can’t just think about nature as ‘Oh, it isn’t for us,’ ” says Keisha. “The environment is a part of everything we do, the paper we write on, the water we wash with, the fish we eat.”
Eventually, they plan to expand their programming to include a therapeutic component, connecting the mental health population and individuals with speech disabilities to the benefits of the outdoors. Keisha is a certified language and speech pathologist while Tarsha’s background in higher education includes helping those in mental health recovery to meet their educational and employment goals.
“We’re establishing a legacy together through our organization, which is wonderful and provides greater joy in our life,” she says.
Closer to home, both women say their work, which has strengthened their bond as sisters, has also made them more present as mothers.
And they’re inspiring their daughters to be more than future conservationists and nature lovers.
“We’re teaching them to be passionate about their dreams and be bold enough to take a risk to do what they love,” says Tarsha, “even if they don’t ‘look like’ or fit the mold of others involved.”