The Making of a Thrive Outside Community: Oklahoma City

A river that once divided Oklahoma City is now the unifying artery of the community, linking diverse and previously underserved populations to incredible meaningful and repeatable outdoor experiences.

By Kristen Pope December 12, 2019

The significance of the river running through Oklahoma City has changed in recent years, according to Mike Knopp, executive director of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, the backbone partner in the OKC Thrive Outside Community network. “What used to be a dividing line is becoming a unifier, and we feel like [Thrive Outside] is really going to help take it to the next level, and again make that generational change and shift,” he says. “And so already we’re seeing the communication that occurs through this [Thrive Outside network], and it’s really exciting to see the collaboration that is beginning to take hold and take place.”

As they analyze the various partner organizations and physical resources around OKC, Knopp and partners are working to address all segments of the diverse community and bring together a wide array of stakeholders, including the Boys & Girls Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Oklahoma City Public Schools, Oklahoma City Community Foundation, Native American Cultural Authority, Latino Community Development Agency, Indian Health Clinic, Oklahoma City Black Chamber of Commerce, the health department, charter schools, and even the Police Athletic League, among other partners.

While some organizations work to provide programming, others encourage kids to sign up for the programs and try new activities, like paddling. “Our community knows us and understands us, and the [Boathouse Foundation] and the YMCA partners with us to help recruit families and kids to the program,” says Raul Font, president of the Latino Community Development Agency.

Thrive Outside strives not just to encourage individuals to enjoy the outdoors, but to connect whole communities to a lifelong love of the outdoors. 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 pilot Thrive Outside Communities—Atlanta, San Diego, Oklahoma City, and Grand Rapids, Michigan—is looking at where they have parks and programs and where they are lacking. They’re assessing their communities to learn what work is already being done, how and by whom; they’re identifying existing people and programs in order to learn about available resources and what each partner can bring to the table. In doing so, they are also identifying gaps and opportunities.

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 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.

“A lot of what we’re trying to do is 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.

Font is eager to work with partners to provide more opportunities for young people in the community. “We’re excited that we’re part of the conversation because sometimes we’re not even sitting at the table,” Font says. “So this is a big step, I think, in the right direction and so we’re happy that we’re part of it.”