Green frog on a child's hand

Jason the Treefrog

Jason the Treefrog

By: Julia Barerra, WYP Intern

Every Tuesday, the Treefrogs come out to play in Santa Barbara. Not real tree frogs, but the WYP kind, inquisitive and rambunctious K-2nd graders ready to take on the American Riviera.

Departing from the beautiful Rose Garden, they traverse the canyons, mountains, and beaches of Goleta, eager to look under rocks, dance among oak trees, and point out wildlife in tide pools and amid bushes. Jason*, in particular, likes to collect sticks. Under lead staff Sonia’s dutiful watch, he blossoms among the rocky dirt paths above Santa Barbara, long twigs and brittle parts of branches strapped to his camouflage-patterned backpack.

Energetic and silly, Jason brings a vibrant presence to WYP’s after-school program despite being tired from his busy day in first grade. During their time together, Sonia can’t help but be struck by his enthusiasm while engaging with nature as well as his perseverance in being positive; he is a natural go-getter among other children on the program, who can initially be more reserved and hesitant.

I appreciate how he can express his full range of emotions and can come out the other side is a great way,” she reflected fondly. “He’s a super fun kid that I enjoy on program.” They share a close bond and each week, Jason becomes even more of a joy, a particularly bright spot in Sonia’s day.

This is why it came as a surprise to Sonia when one day she heard from Jason’s mother that he could be a very anxious and timid child. Jason’s friend’s mother usually met with staff at pickup, so Sonia had never had the privilege of interacting with his parents. Now receiving a grateful text from his mother praising WYP for bringing Jason out of his shell, she was in awe of the power of nature connection. If not for his mother’s message, she would never have had any idea his personality was more withdrawn in everyday life. It seemed his time in the Tree Frogs helped him become more exuberant and emotionally open.

As an organization, Wilderness Youth Project aspires to go beyond just introducing children to nature. One of our core goals is to help kids in our programs build confidence and a heart for adventure, which not only contribute to their ability to become more physically active but also become more mentally active.

Sonia’s experience with Jason illustrates the power of nature to transform a child’s state of mind. The landscape calls to them and compels them to answer back. For many of our kids, each nature site can represent another world, one where they can embody so many possibilities.

And it is not only the scenic outdoors that brings out the best in our WYP adventurers. Our trained staff go above and beyond to provide fulfilling mentorship each week for the entirety of the program session, allowing the children to form deep emotional bonds that thrive under the leaves of sycamore trees, among the strawberry plants of community gardens at our partner organizations, and in the salty air along the coastline.

As Jason’s mentor, Sonia has been incredibly touched by his presence on program, which has helped her enjoy and appreciate her time in nature even more. “He is a super silly, enthusiastic & energetic kid,” she expressed in a recent email. “I am so thankful he has a place to shine and that I get to go outside and play with him every week.

Jason’s outgoing attitude is an inspiration to everyone at Wilderness Youth Project. Stories like his keep us energized and passionate about nature connection and its ability to bring out the best in everyone in Santa Barbara. We hope that the rest of his time on program is filled with new and inspired states of mind and we thank our staff and community for continuing to make his adventures possible.

*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.

Would you like to help get more kids out in nature?

While it may feel like nature is all around us, many kids lack access to the outdoors. Your support helps WYP connect kids from all backgrounds to Santa Barbara’s natural beauty. Thanks to support from people like you and our WYP community, we are able to provide scholarships to nearly 1,000 youth each year.