Building a Bridge to Nature
A Hesitant Participant
His first time coming to program, Mateo* stood stiffly and quietly beneath the blossom tree in front of the El Centro community center, a partner in WYP’s Bridge to Nature program. Sky blue eyes turned down to the leaf-covered grass, he looked like he wanted to be anywhere but WYP.
Throughout that first day, while the kids explored the Somos Semillas Garden down the road, each staff member took turns trying to coax him out of his shell. After several efforts, it was clear he was timid, content to pick tangerines and watch silently as one of our staff, Luis-Angel, explained how to prune flowers.
At first, I was a bit worried. Was he enjoying himself? Did we need to connect with him more? There were always kids that needed time to adjust, to find where they fit in to have the most fulfilling experience possible. By the time the next week of program rolled around, I decided to keep an eye on him. That day, we visited Parma Park, a popular hiking spot in Montecito, and among the dappled light of the woods, I noticed Mateo began to change.
Finding the Nature Connection
Along the dirt trails, he was eager to observe, examining each leaf and rock we passed. His eyes were wide open and he seemed to take in each view as though hungry, feet agile along the steep inclines, never looking back. A shy grin spread across his face as we sipped homemade tea from the plants he had foraged earlier. I watched, fascinated.
From then on, Mateo blossomed slowly and beautifully. He became spirited and competitive, asking for another round of game after game. He was sassy and dramatic, sighing exasperatedly as he waded into opaque river water, but dunking himself and shivering in delight all the same. I noticed him begin to talk with the other kids and open up to the staff, especially our one male staff Luis-Angel.
Seeing him be so adventurous and joyful warmed my heart. Bit by bit, we were able to see all of the wonderful parts of Mateo, with each new nature spot unlocking yet another unique facet of his personality, a new petal on an ever-blooming flower.
What Happens When We Build a Bridge to Nature
Witnessing Mateo’s gradual transformation, I realized that I was seeing the very heart of WYP’s work in real-time. Bringing nature into kids’ lives, we always hope that it can have a positive impact on not only their physical well-being, but also on their mood, social growth, and overall sense of fulfillment in life.
Seeing Mateo express so much curiosity and confidence with each outing proved to me that WYP’s Bridge to Nature was for real and that it was having tangible effects on underserved youth’s connection with the land, with each other, and with themselves.
WYP truly believes in and brings out the limitless potential in kids. Working in harmony with the Santa Barbara wilderness, it has the power to gently unfurl participants like Mateo and ultimately show us as adults the beauty of nature connection. So if you’re looking for an amazing program for your blossoming adventurer, don’t wait to enroll with WYP!
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality.
About the Author
Julia Barrera (they/she) is a 4th-year Feminist Studies major and Professional Writing minor with an emphasis in Civic Engagement at UCSB. They currently serve as Wilderness Youth Project’s community relations intern, writing creative and promotional content for WYP, and they get to spend every Wednesday mentoring 2nd-5th graders at WYP’s Bridge to Nature after-school program at El Centro SB.