The Making of a Thrive Outside Community: Atlanta

Too often, fear of the unknown is the biggest barrier preventing kids and their parents from exploring outdoors. A few organizations in Atlanta, Georgia, are working together to make urban, close-to-home adventures more accessible — literally and figuratively — for families in their community.

By Kristen Pope February 19, 2020

Last summer, one of Atlanta’s Thrive Outside partners, the Arthur Blank Family YMCA, held a nature camp where 50 kids each week explored a full week of close-to-home and further afield outdoor adventures. Arthur Blank Family YMCA executive director Tony Kimbrough says some parents were initially unsure about signing their kids up for nature camp since they weren’t familiar with some of the activities and they were concerned about safety factors like their child not knowing how to swim. The YMCA worked to overcome those barriers and teach kids the skills they needed to stay safe, and Kimbrough says the camp now fills up as fast as basketball or robotics.

“We’re trying to expose them to everything so that they are able to sit back and be like, ‘I want to take this path’,” Kimbrough says. “And if we see kids begin to kind of take paths that they never would have traveled down, for us it’s extremely successful because now we’ve opened their eyes to something that they’ve never thought they would be able to do, and now they see that there’s an opportunity out there for something they enjoy doing.”

Thrive Outside Atlanta will provide even more opportunities for young people to explore the outdoors and try new activities through backbone partners like the Trust for Public Land, as well as two YMCAs, the Boys & Girls Club, Chattahoochee Nature Center, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, Atlanta Audubon, Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy, and other groups.

What is Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside? It’s a nationwide effort to connect and coordinate disparate community organizations working—often in parallel—to connect children with quality outdoor experiences. The lack of coordination between these well-meaning organizations lead to gaps and missed opportunities. The Thrive Outside approach helps organizations connect with each other to create repeat and reinforcing experiences, while also leaving room for the unique offerings and cultural differences in each community. Read more.

“Now that we’ve had several calls [with the backbone partners] and they understand kind of who does what and what they bring to the table as far as this network, I think they’re beginning to form a group and feel like they have a common goal and they each have things that they can bring to it,” says Susan Patterson, Georgia director of philanthropy for the Trust for Public Land. “So, I do think it’s coming together nicely.”

Thrive Outside strives not just to encourage individuals to enjoy the outdoors, but to create whole communities of avid outdoorists. In order to meet this aim, backbone partners are working with their communities to create partnership networks to collaborate and bring even more people outside. Each of the four 2019 pilot Thrive Outside Communities—Atlanta, San Diego, Oklahoma City, and Grand Rapids, Michigan—spent the year looking at where they have parks and programs and where they are lacking. They’re assessing their communities to learn about available resources and what each partner can bring to the table.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is sort of help catalyze and be kind of a connective tissue between all of these sorts of assets that are in the community,” says Chris Rutgers, who is a Thrive Outside consultant and executive director of Transforming Youth Outdoors, a convening organization that links people and communities with experts, thought-leadership, resources and best-practices about youth outdoor programming..

Customizing programming to each community will help to cultivate outdoorists, which is crucial, according to Rutgers. “What’s going to happen when you have an entire generation that has no personal connection to the outdoors?” Rutgers says. “And those are going to be our policy makers. We need to start right now and create the next generation of environmental stewards.”