Outdoor Connections aims to teach kids about outdoor education in the Elk Valley.

Connecting children with the great outdoors

Outdoor Connections Foundation is a new non-profit organization that delivers educational programs for children in the Elk Valley.

Outdoor Connections Foundation is a new non-profit organization that delivers educational programs for children in the Elk Valley.

“Our mission is to provide affordable opportunities for children to connect to themselves, each other and the natural world. This mission is carried out by designing a variety of programs that have as their goal, education and character development,” said the Foundation’s Executive Director, Courtney Haeusler.

The programs are designed to be affordable and for youth who are three to 18-years-old.

“We strive to make all programs affordable and offer additional subsidies upon request. We hope any child or youth wanting to enrol in one of our programs has the opportunity to do so,” Haeusler said.

The Foundation uses the natural world as its classrooms. A large van shuttles participants to recreation sites throughout the Elk Valley.

“We envision having land in the woods with a yurt for our Forest School, and a cozy wood cabin for our other programs,” she said. “A place where we can build fires, pitch our tents, and stare at the stars; a place where kids can explore and learn by being fully immersed in nature.”

There are no full time workers at Outdoor Connections; instead there are six outdoor educators who work on a casual, part-time basis.

“The rest of our team is strictly volunteers. In fact many of our qualified educators also fill that volunteer role,” she said. “Our volunteers help with organizing fundraisers, setting up promo booths at community events, social media, shuttle driving and attending meetings.”

The Foundation has helped organize the Elk Valley Spring Clean this year, scheduled for May 28.

“If you’re looking to be involved in this event please get in touch with us. We also need people to help with tables at the Farmer’s markets, Coal Miner Days and Canada Day.”

Outdoor Connections tries to bring their enthusiasm and the outdoor experience to every event they participate in.

“Outdoor Connections participates in community events like Griz Days, Coal Miner Days, Canada Day and the summer Farmers Markets. Our signature treat at markets is ‘Bannock on a Stick’, which is not only a delicious snack but also an experience,” she said. “Kids, adults and seniors thoroughly enjoy wrapping the dough on a stick, cooking it over the fire and smothering it with butter and jam. We love giving people this camp experience at community events and it’s a perfect way to meet the public.”

The company has entered its second year of operations and aims to be as successful as another outdoor education company that is based in Ontario.

“Myself and Erich Leidums co-founded Outdoor Connections in 2014.  We are inspired by a very successful outdoor education company called ALIVE outdoors in Ontario, which we both have worked for as outdoor educators,” she said. “In the beginning, Erich and myself spent hundreds of hours developing the organization and creating the vision. In these last few months we are seeing all that work has paid off as the momentum is growing.”

There are three categories of programs at Outdoor Connections, Summer Camps, School Groups and Youth Programs. The summer camps have been so popular that another week of programming has been added for the upcoming season.

“Our summer camps have been a huge hit and have filled up very fast for this upcoming summer. Due to the demand, we have added an additional week of Camp Connect for this summer and are excited about many returning campers,” said Haeusler.

The school group program is called Project Connect. The reason for this category is to get more kids spending time outdoors.

“Project Connect is the main reason I wanted to start an organization like Outdoor Connections. I have taught in the schools here for 10 years, and believe many kids in this valley could benefit from spending more time outdoors during school hours,” she said. “If we as teachers don’t take our students outside during school, they might not make it outside at all that day, especially during the dark winter months where it can be easy to curl up inside with a remote in our hands.”

Haeusler said the school programs can cater to all grades.

“Outdoor Connections wants to make it easy for teachers to get their students outside, engaged and learning from real-life experiences. We cater to all types of classes, from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to homeschoolers.”

They also offer  female specific programming; currently it is taking place weekly in Fernie and Sparwood.

“We also run a Girls’ Adventure Series designed to promote mental wellness through outdoor adventures.  We currently have a spring series happening until the end of June, and will start a fall series in September. This program is happening in Fernie on Mondays, and in Sparwood on Tuesdays, all after school hours.”