Kinetic Joy: Youth in Nature

By Giving List Staff   |   January 2, 2021
Young Eagles at the Rose Garden and Van's Meadow

Children today spend as much as 90% of their lives indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The effects on health are obvious. But, brain development? A California Department of Education study found that at-risk students who participated in outdoor education programs saw their science scores jump 27%, while boosting self-esteem and motivation to learn. 

This is something the team at Santa Barbara’s Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) knows intrinsically. The 21-year-old nonprofit has a simple slogan: “Spending time in nature makes children smarter, healthier, and happier.” 

Alongside afterschool services, summer camps, and teen camping trips, the organization’s marquis program is “Bridge to Nature,” a program that takes 4th graders on a 3.5-hour nature-based adventure once a month. 

Despite having more than 80 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch, Franklin Elementary on Santa Barbara’s Eastside has become an oasis of promise with vibrant afterschool programs, dedicated teachers, and the Wilderness Youth Project. 

“For me as a classroom teacher, I have really seen a change in the students in regards to how they view nature,” says 4th grade teacher Marlen Limón. “I love how they come back and are so excited and want to share how their day went. They are writing narratives about WYP, understanding science through hands-on learning, and just vocalizing how they love to be outdoors.”

On a recent Thursday, one of Limón’s students joined a pair of WYP’s experienced mentors and his classmates on a trip to Lizard’s Mouth, 20 minutes up into the Santa Barbara mountains. The group made time to play “coyotes and fawns” – a nature-based version of tag. They journaled and they made the steep hike to the top, with its sweeping views down over the shining blue expanse of the Pacific.

“I look out and see the ocean, the town, the world,” the 4th grader wrote from his perch. “This is one place where I can just be who I am: I can run, jump, sit, hide, and explore. I am amazed by this place and wonder what extraordinary animals live here.”

The WYP team loves seeing that kind of exuberance from their young charges. It’s that “kinetic joy” children get when exposed to nature. 

WYP doles out nature-based joy to 1,000 children and adults every year. 


Wilderness Youth Project

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Matching Challenge

Through December 31, 2022, the first $5,000 donated will be matched thanks to a generous challenge grant from the Natalie Orfalea Foundation.

Building Bridges

Wilderness Youth Project’s Bridge to Nature program is entirely reliant on donations from individuals and organizations. The nonprofit works with youth service agencies, shelters, housing groups and local schools who refer participants. Frequent partners are schools like Franklin Elementary, where 91% of students are Latinx and 85% of families are low-income. Over the next 12 months, Sánchez-Arreola anticipates record demand for the Bridge to Nature program and hopes donations match that increase. “We’re going to have the most parents, schools and community partners saying, ‘Hey, can you come take our kids? They need you,’” Sánchez-Arreola says. “And I really want to tell all of them yes.”

With your support, we go to where the vulnerable children are. Whether they’re at school, identified by teachers as students in need of extra attention, in a low-income housing space, attending programs at a partner youth-serving agency, or meeting us at a neighborhood park, your support provides the scholarships so the kids who need connection can get it.


The mission of Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) is to foster confidence, health, and a life-long love of learning for young people and families through active outdoor experiences and mentoring.
(805) 964-8096
Co-Development Director: Michelle Howard

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We know you care about where your money goes and how it is used. Connect with this organization’s leadership in order to begin to build this important relationship. Your email will be sent directly to this organization’s Director of Development and/or Executive Director.

My son, Oscar, is full of life and now, thanks to Wilderness Youth Project, full of information about nature. He is constantly teaching me things I didn’t know about creatures. Our favorite time together is in the ocean. WYP helped my son grow into the 10 year old compassionate person he is today. It is an amazing program and we are so grateful to have it in Santa Barbara.
Laura Capps
Board Member,
Santa Barbara Unified School District

Key Supporters

Audacious Foundation and Jane & Paul Orfalea
Monica & Timothy Babich
Terry Cunningham & Randi Miller
Graham Duncan & Courtney Smith
Colleen & Ted Friedel
Adam Graham & Katie Szopa
Carrie Kappel & Carl Palmer
Bob & Betsy Manger
Jillian & Pete Muller
Ryan & Sarah Muzzy
Natalie Orfalea Foundation
Stacy & William Pulice
Allan Rogers & Marianne Sprague
Jean Rogers
Dr. Tony & Kyra Rogers
Michel Saint-Sulpice & Mary Staton
Amber & Ben Sprague
David & Rachael Stein
Dana White
Carlene & Scott Wilson