RELEASE: White House Honors “Champions of Change” for connecting youth with the outdoors


March 17, 2014

Contacts: Jackie Ostfeld, Sierra Club – 202-821-8877;; Paul Sanford, The Wilderness Society – 202-429-2616;

White House Honors “Champions of Change” for connecting youth with the outdoors

Several OAK members to receive award

Washington, DC — Tomorrow, fourteen Champions of Change will be honored at the White House for their efforts to engage the next generation of conservationists through outdoor recreation and physical activity. The honorees are helping to fulfill Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s youth initiative by ensuring that young people and communities have opportunities to play, learn, serve and work outdoors. Several champions are members of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK).

“Thank you to the White House and Secretary Jewell for raising the voices of these exemplary change agents who are bridging the gap between young people and the outdoors,” says OAK’s co-founder and chair, Jackie Ostfeld. “Kudos to all the champs who are setting young people on a course to improve their health and well-being, establish lifelong connections with nature, and lead tomorrow’s conservation movement.”

Many of today’s champions are members of OAK:

Anthony Ciocco, of the Mvskoke tribe, is a Crew Leader for the Ancestral Lands Program at the Southwest Conservation Corps, a program of Conservation Legacy, leading ecological restoration crews on the Navajo Nation. Under Anthony’s leadership, crews of local Native youth work to rebuild damaged ecosystems and build trails to provide access to the outdoors for local communities.

Dr. Benjamin Blonder, co-founded the University of Arizona’s Sky School, a residential science school that provides inquiry-based environmental education on a campus located in the heart of the Coronado National Forest. Because of his efforts, each year hundreds of K-12 students, primarily from Title I schools, are now able to conduct independent research while exploring the unique ecology, geology, and astronomy resources of the region. Benjamin’s vision for the Sky School was inspired by his AmeriCorps service in central Idaho at the McCall Outdoor Science School, a NSF-supported teaching fellowship in a Tucson public school, and his long-term volunteer leadership with the Sierra Club’s Inner City Outings program, which provides opportunities for urban youth to experience nature.

Bill Hodge is the Director of the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards, or “SAWS,” a project of The Wilderness Society. SAWS engages high school and college students in on-the-ground public lands stewardship projects in the National Forests of Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina. Through these programs, SAWS engages young people in active volunteerism and helps to develop the next generation of public lands stewards.

Jon Brito served three AmeriCorps terms with Kupu’s Hawaii Youth Conservation Corps from 2008 to 2013, as a team member, team leader, and a year-long intern. During these terms, Jon engaged local youth and community members on the rural island of Moloka’i in critical environmental community service and indigenous cultural practices. Jon’s commitment to serving the island’s land and people has helped protect and restore countless endangered native Hawaiian species and habitats, perpetuate native Hawaiian knowledge and culture, and has inspired other local youth and community members to take an active part in the conservation movement on Molokai.

Na’Taki Osborne Jelks is a nationally-recognized leader in engaging urban communities and youth of color in environmental stewardship. In 2001, Na’Taki co-founded the Atlanta Earth Tomorrow® Program, National Wildlife Federation’s multi-cultural, youth environmental education and leadership development program that engages urban youth in investigating causes of environmental challenges, helps them connect to nature, fosters their leadership of youth-led community action projects, promotes civic engagement, and nurtures leadership skills for building personal environmental stewardship. The Program has reached over 2,500 youth and was selected as a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps member organization. Na’Taki is also a Board Chairperson of the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), a community-based organization that launched the Atlanta Children’s Forest Network (ACFN) in partnership with the USDA Forest Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Pam Hess is the Director of Youth Engagement and leads the Outdoors Rx Program at the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC). Outdoor Rx is a collaborative partnership with the healthcare community to provide free, dedicated resources for prescribing regular outdoor physical activity to youth, especially underserved individuals. AMC helps families “fill” these prescriptions by providing free, guided outdoor programming in their communities several times a week.

Dr. Stephen Lockhart is a Vice President and Regional Chief Medical Officer for Sutter Health in California. He has served on NatureBridge’s board of directors for 12 years, most recently as board chair. Under Stephen’s leadership, NatureBridge provides transformational environmental science programs in national parks to more than 30,000 children and teens each year. With NatureBridge, and as a board member of REI, NPS Second Century Commission and National Parks Conservation Association, Stephen advances his passion of connecting diverse young people to our national parks.

Watch the event live on Wednesday, March 18th from 9:00am to 12:00pm ET at


About the Outdoors Alliance for Kids (OAK): OAK is a national strategic partnership of organizations from diverse sectors with a common interest in expanding opportunities for children, youth and families to connect with the outdoors. The members of OAK are brought together by the belief that the health and well-being of current and future generations, the health of our planet and communities and the economy of the future depend on humans having a personal, direct and life-long relationship with nature and the outdoors. OAK brings together more than sixty national organizations including the American Heart Association, Children & Nature Network, Izaak Walton League of America, National Association of State Park Directors, National Recreation and Park Association, National Wildlife Federation, The North Face, the Outdoor Foundation, Public Lands Service Coalition (a program of The Corps Network), REI, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society and the YMCA of the USA to address the growing divide between children, youth and the natural world.

Find out more on our website:

Published by Jackie Ostfeld, OAK Chair

My name is Jackie Ostfeld. I am the co-founder and Chair of the Outdoors Alliance for Kids and the Director of Sierra Club's Outdoors for All campaign. I am an advocate for connecting kids with nature. Views are my own.

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