By Emily Henry
Did you know that California State Parks offers free entry at 19 state parks for fourth-grade students and their families? It’s through a pilot program called Adventure Pass, which was championed by the First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom and launched by California State Parks to encourage young people to start to build their own relationships with parks and outdoor spaces. Last year, members of my team and I met with State Parks staff to understand how we could help solve some of the hurdles that families were experiencing when trying to take advantage of this free program. Ultimately, we want to help increase the use of this program and, in particular, reach underrepresented communities who struggle with getting to or enjoying parks.
With our partners at State Parks, we decided that one of the best ways to address the known challenges, such as lack of transportation to get to parks or the availability of culturally-relevant programs, is to create a grant program modeled after our Route to Parks grant program. We took the best practices and learnings from Route to Parks and created a grant process for eligible community and non-profit groups that are well-equipped to provide fourth graders and their families with meaningful and relevant outdoor experiences in their local state parks.
After months of planning, we just announced the 12 non-profit organizations that will receive funds from our new Adventure Pass Grants Program to facilitate visits for fourth graders and their families this year. As the grant manager, it was so exciting to be the one who shared the good news with each organization, and I can’t wait to hear the stories from the fourth graders and their families – some of whom are visiting their local state park for the very first time.
But I have to say, the best part about this program, for me, has been helping to design this grant program from the ground up with our partners at State Parks and then getting to work with interested non-profit groups during the application process. To help, I led an informational webinar and held a series of “office hours” to explain the grant guidelines and answer questions from prospective applicants. Park staff from the 19 Adventure Pass sites also joined the webinar, which gave the non-profit groups the chance to directly connect with their local state park partners, so they could get to know each other better and share feedback on their grant proposals. Seeing park staff and nonprofit leaders exchange ideas, learn from each other and partner together during the application process was incredibly rewarding.
And it’s because of these connections that I know the fourth graders and their families are going to have meaningful visits to their state parks this year. Please join me in congratulating these 12 great nonprofit groups.