Thrive Outside Grand Rapids: Connecting with the Outdoors During COVID-19

April 29, 2020

In its first year, The Outdoor Foundation’s Thrive Outside Community Initiative has made multi-year grants to four regions across the country (San Diego, Oklahoma City, Atlanta and Grand Rapids) to build and strengthen networks focused on providing children and families with repeat and reinforcing experiences in the outdoors. Our communities are finding unique ways to positively impact their communities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The following work, led by our partner organization Our Community’s Children in Thrive Outside Grand Rapids, has applicability in other regions across the nation that are trying to help people experience the outdoors during coronavirus lockdown restrictions.


With governments issuing stay-at-home protocols, it became clear to one Grand Rapids-based nonprofit that parents and children didn’t realize that it was still ok to venture outside to boost mental and physical health. “We talked with after-school providers and found out that parents didn’t know what they could do outside. So, we reviewed local, state and national standards and developed a resource for parents on the subject,” said Lynn Heemstra, executive director of Grand Rapids’ Our Community’s Children program.

The resource comes in the form of a brief publication titled “Yes, You Can Go Outside” and is available to families in both English and Spanish. To create the document, Our Community’s Children worked closely with local city staff and leaders from Grand Rapids Public Schools. The publication honors the importance of maintaining social distancing, and reminds families that children should not be interacting with friends other than online, and they should not use playground equipment or engage in any close-contact sports such as basketball, soccer or football.

The resource provides other suggestions to help families get a nature break, including going for walks, biking, fishing, listening to birds and exploring trails. All this is packaged with some common sense tips (such as taking your own water bottle, avoiding public restrooms and water fountains). Be sure to check local guidelines when applying this resource to your region, and good luck getting outside to enjoy some fresh air during these challenging times.