The U.S. Department of the Interior, in conjunction with the American Express Foundation, will fund a two-year volunteer initiative in San Antonio to get young people and their families outdoors. Partnering with the YMCA of Greater San Antonio and the National League of Cities (NLC), the $40,000 initiative will partially fund the wage of a YMCA community coordinator to help attract the younger generation to take an interest in volunteering and outdoor spaces throughout the city.
The grant is part of the national 21st Century Conservation Service Corps collaborative effort to put America’s youth and returning veterans to work protecting, restoring and enhancing America’s great outdoors, funded by “$6.7 million in grants to support conservation employment and mentoring opportunities at 43 projects on public lands across the country,” according to the Department of the Interior.
San Antonio’s grant was announced on the Mission San Juan Capistrano grounds on Wednesday, calling further attention to the July 5 World Heritage designation of the Alamo and San Antonio Missions and volunteer opportunities at the missions and other San Antonio parks. To get the ball rolling, the Department of the Interior will grant a separate $26,140 to the Texas Conservation Corps to support 16 young volunteers that will perform restoration work on two acres of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider presented the volunteer initiative to a crowd of about 50 people. This initiative came shortly after President Barack Obama announced the Every Kid in a Park campaign which provides a free pass for every fourth grader in the nation to visit national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, and other outdoor spaces during the 2015-16 school year.
“We could not be more proud to partner with all of you,” Schneider said. “We have big, bold goals of reaching millions of kids through recreation and education programs supporting a million volunteers annually.”
The national initiative aims to provide millions of children outdoor volunteer opportunities and 100,000 public land employment opportunities for young adults. Locally, the initiative hopes to attract 10-20,000 annual volunteers.
Posey Duncan, who will take on the YMCA community coordinator position, said as older generations, which are the driving force behind local volunteer efforts, cease to provide a helping hand, the younger generation must be ready to step in and begin volunteering.
“We are really trying to charge the next generation,” she said.
Duncan, with the help of conservatory groups and the Parks and Recreation Department, will create a calendar of volunteer opportunities.
“With the World Heritage destination, I want to make sure that’s a huge service project that we can count toward our 20,000 volunteers in San Antonio,” she said.
Mayor Ivy Taylor was present to acknowledge the initiative and encourage young people to live healthy, active lives.
“We have a great opportunity to accomplish a number of goals,” Mayor Taylor said. “We can help our young people acquire skills they will need to thrive as individuals and in the work place, we can ensure that more San Antonians are aware of and care for our historical sites, parks and other public lands and we can leverage the public dollars that we’ve already invested locally in these areas with support from our programs and agencies like the Department of the Interior.”
She said this initiative will help young people build healthy habits while acting as stewards for public places around the city.
YMCA Chief Operating Officer Matt Mitchell said the YMCA was founded to serve as a positive influence for young people.
“At the Y we believe in a world where being connected means building strong personal relationships and building a sense of belonging face-to-face and in the community, not just online,” Mitchell said.
*Featured/top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor participated in a service project after the press conference. Photo by Joan Vinson.