That’s the simple, yet powerful idea behind Outdoor Inclusive Adventures, the annual outdoor event organized by the YMCA of Central Ohio’s Early Childhood Resource Network+ (ECRN+).
The organization’s recent Outdoor Inclusive Adventures event, held in September at Prairie Oaks Metro Park, just west of Columbus, attracted hundreds of children, teens and young adults, including many with special health care needs and disabilities.
The event’s aim was to serve the network’s core mission of working with families who are asset-limited and living paycheck to paycheck, says Samantha Stewart, executive director of ECRN+ and an avid outdoor enthusiast. That, she adds, goes for “any family, to stabilize their housing situation and help kids be academically successful.”
To achieve those outcomes, the network provides a wide variety of programs. “We started with a focus on early childhood and preschoolers and children with disabilities and special needs and evolved from there,” said Stewart, noting how the ECRN+ was created as a standalone nonprofit, later joining with the YMCA of Central Ohio. And though its array of services range broadly—everything from early intervention and assessments, speech-therapy and other developmental screenings for preschoolers, to adaptive equipment loans and even housing assistance as well as sports programs—creating a connection to nature remains a tenet of the network.
The annual Outdoor Inclusive Adventures event provides an opportunity for the children and teens who participate in ECRN+ programs (most of whom live in densely populated urban environments) to experience the great outdoors in the safe setting of a Columbus and Franklin County Metro Park, which they may not have visited before—or even known existed. “Most of our work is home-based,” Stewart said, noting the benefit of the OIA event as a change-of-pace, open-air activity, especially for children and teens with disabilities.