2020 KEEN Effect KiDS Grants: If We Thought Getting Kids Outside Was Tough Already…
By Mark Steinbuck, KEEN Philanthropy Manager
“So… I have a question. I know it’s weird, but will KEEN Effect fund a dishwasher?”
Gas for the busses to Yosemite? Sure – I can’t expect a 4th grader from Richmond to bike it. A canoe trailer to help paddle the Wautauga River? Easy. Done. Milkweed seeds for an urban rooftop pollinator garden? There is no bigger fan of the hungry journey of the monarch butterfly than KEEN – cut the check!
These are the normal and expected budget items that routinely flow into our KEEN Effect KiDS Grant program. Everything that could be needed to make an outdoor experience happen has floated past our desks a time or two… but never a dishwasher.
“I’m hoping you’ll allow it under these unusual circumstances," one of our grantees wrote. "We’ve always used our staff’s home dishwashers to do our dishes. We’re not allowed to provide food for our students now, but as soon as we’re able to, we’ll need a safer alternative.”
One study done mid-year showed 60% of environmental, 70% of behavioral health, and 100% of out-of-school-education non-profits were down in revenue, many of them down over 50%.
This is running a non-profit in a nutshell: high-impact, low funding. The grassroots organizations that our grants have funded the past 7 years have always been scrappy and lean. As true heroes do, they provide an absolutely necessary service to humanity with little margin for error or waste. Our grantees have long been battling the insidious and multifaceted “nature deficit disorder” – a real but little-known physical and mental health pandemic caused by a nearly complete disconnect of humanity from nature-based experiences.
But during COVID, the pandemic we all know, the situation went from lean to famished. One study done mid-year showed 60% of environmental, 70% of behavioral health, and 100% of out-of-school-education non-profits were down in revenue, many of them down over 50%.
This is alarming.
But how can this gap be made up, and what are the best things you can do when it all falls apart? We don’t have all the answers, but we think a good start is to be flexible, be reliable, and just be there.
Despite the pandemic scare, we continued a second year of funding for 5 amazing non-profits carried over from 2019, while also adding two more grantees to our list: Chicago Adventure Therapy, based in Chicago, and Georgia Audubon Society, based in Atlanta.
All of these grantees, as well as all of our other long-term KEEN Effect partnerships, are guaranteed unrestricted funding, meaning that they can use a KEEN Effect grant however they see fit to keep afloat (be it on the project they applied with or not).
In reality, so many of the best intentions of early 2020 were not realized, but most of our partners found amazing and creative ways to still connect to their communities – some in person, and some not. It required ample masks, smaller group sizes, shorter excursions, and most often taking one for the global team and admitting that just this one go-around, inside could sometimes be the better option.
It was nobody's ideal, but we’re so proud of all the perseverance and passion that went into making 2020 work.
And yes, we funded the dishwasher ;-)
OUR 2020 KiDS Grantees:
1. NEW! Chicago Adventure Therapy – Chicago, IL
Chicago Adventure Therapy’s “All Outside” program provides access for underserved Chicago youth to local natural spaces. They paddle on Lake Michigan, the Chicago River, the Fox River, and at Skokie Lagoons, and cycle on city trails. For many of their youth, despite living within a mile or two of Lake Michigan, this program is the first time many see the Great Lake. To navigate COVID closures, CAT took over an entire street to spread kids out on the street to learn basic kayak safety, paddling, and navigation. The whole neighborhood joined in!
Kids in the program: 260
2. NEW! Georgia Audubon Society – Atlanta, GA
The Atlanta Urban Ecologists program guides teens through an 8-month exploration of the fascinating, rich ecology of metro Atlanta, providing opportunities for hands-on field experiences, conservation, and community science, while also establishing a network of environmental professionals who can assist with their academic and career development. Georgia Audubon had success safely getting a crew of approximately 100 students and teachers to build a native plant garden at an elementary school. They planted native trees, bushes, grasses, and flowers that will provide food, cover, and nesting sites for birds and other wildlife, as well as provide a beautiful outdoor classroom. Before the group even finished, bluebirds and mockingbirds were investigating their new habitat!
Kids in the program: 50
3. Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center – Key Biscayne, FL
Summer by the Sea Camp is a co-ed, 4-week program that provides scholarships for Miami’s underserved children to engage in STEAM-related activities and learn life-enhancing skills through hands-on exploration of south Florida's unique ecosystems. Campers participate in marine science expeditions, outdoor recreation, and multi-disciplinary arts. This year, they conducted their very first virtual summer camp, packed with fun-filled learning, including art and science lessons, poetry classes, and even weekly yoga sessions! Every child, regardless of their accessibility to resources, had an opportunity to participate in all of the awesome activities, as the campers received weekly boxes filled with art and science supplies, stickers and notebooks, and KEEN gear that would help them embark on their next adventure.
Kids in the program: 120
4. Mountain Alliance – Boone, NC
Canoe Program for Teens engages teenagers in transformative opportunities through paddling on local rivers. MA has been providing free outdoor experiential education since 1990, and hopes to connect students with the incredible water resources in our area. These programs will be inclusive to at-risk and under-resourced youth. The kids are planning their first big summer expedition to paddle from Boone, NC, to Virginia over the course of 10 days or so, planting native species, pulling trash, meeting park rangers, and cooking camp food every day. All of these plans aim to increase grit, an appreciation for diversity, and growth in leadership skills. But this fall, it was all about the fun and human connection they have all been craving.
Kids in the program: 1500
4. Soul River Runs Deep – Portland, OR
Soul River uniquely partners with combat veterans to introduce disconnected youth to the outdoors through the art of fly fishing and awareness of threatened places. In the past two years, Soul River not only brought its students on a deployment to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to learn about the environmental threats directly from Gwich’in elders, but also deployed another team of kids and vets to learn about the lifelong conservation efforts of Frank Moore, himself a 97-year old WWII combat veteran who spent most of his life defending the Umpqua. Just last year Frank’s life work resulted in the landmark 100,000 acre Frank and Jeannie Moore Wild Steelhead Sanctuary.
Kids in the program: 24
6. Earth Team – Richmond, CA
Asphalt Break! is a 24-month program serving 300 underserved high school youth. Twenty teams of outdoor first-timers will spend 25,000 hrs outside in 20 immersive adventures visiting 5 different ecosystems to acquire new outdoor exploration abilities, learn about landscape conservation, and develop skills to become environmental leaders. Earth Team got out for a lot of adventures early in the year, and successfully adapted to a virtual programming environment for the remainder of 2020.
Kids in the program: 300
7. Size of Wales – Wales, UK
Forest Champions is a dynamic and immersive experience for young people in Celtic Rainforests and other special forests in Wales. The program inspires life-long passion for the world’s forests, an understanding of the importance of forests in mitigating climate change and creates a cohort of “Forest Champions.” Our 2020 support enabled Size of Wales to continue to deliver climate change environmental and outdoor education through new digital resources to aid at home and distanced learning. Size of Wales has also been visiting schools to provide socially distanced education sessions, and even this year launched a Youth Climate Ambassador program.
Kids in the program: 400
Now Accepting 2021 Grant Applications
We're looking forward to a new year of connecting kids to nature. Through cash grants of up to $10,000 each, we support innovative programs inspiring outdoor access and inclusion for underserved communities of kids. Know any youth-focused non-profits that could use a little extra support? Please encourage them to apply here.