Green spaces make people healthier and happier. We feel better after a short walk, a trip to the beach or a visit to a park. When we spend time outdoors, our moods improve, our stress goes down and we feel more calm. For many, outdoor time during the pandemic was a life-saver—both physically for fresh air and social distancing and mentally to get out of a cooped-up home and find respite.
Unfortunately, systemic racism has left many people of color without access to nature and the many benefits that nature provides. Communities of color are almost three times more likely than white communities to live in “nature deprived” areas, with less or no access to parks, paths, and green spaces. “The distribution of these nature disparities is not an accident,” says Shanna Edberg, one of the authors of The Nature Gap. “It was a choice, made over generations, from redlining, to choosing to exclude minorities from certain neighborhoods, to choosing to put parks in certain neighborhoods, and choosing to pave over communities of color to build highways and coal plants.”
The San Francisco Foundation’s Youth Access to Nature Fund goal is to improve access to nature for young people of color, in order for them to realize the myriad of benefits that nature provides and help them reach their full potential. Over the past six years, more than 25 donors have contributed to the fund with gifts ranging from $50 to $1M and more than $7M in grants have been distributed to community groups. Over 125,000 young people have been exposed to meaningful experiences in nature that they likely would not have otherwise received.
Now, and with thanks to one of our San Francisco Foundation donors and her lead gift of $50,000, we are kickstarting Youth in Parks, a pilot program to bring youth of color and from low-income families into our National Parks. This partnership with the Point Reyes National Seashore Association will provide guided programming and transportation to the Seashore for an inaugural cohort of six of our Youth Access to Nature grantees.
Together Youth Access to Nature and Youth in Parks are committed to providing experiences for youth of color that are truly welcoming, inclusive and accessible, while inspiring a lifelong love for nature to preserve the earth and our communities now, and in the future.
Francesca Vietor is a Senior Advisor at the foundation who oversees the Youth Access to Nature Fund. To learn how to support this work, please email fvietor[at]sff.org.