By: Andrew Ulven
I am currently serving in the Conservation Corps Individual Placements program, working with a nonprofit organization called Project Get Outdoors (GO). Project GO’s mission is to get youth outdoors by making safe and memorable after school and summertime outdoor experiences available to those most in need. As technology becomes more prevalent in our daily lives and screen time increases for our youth, many have become disconnected from nature and struggle with obesity, anxiety disorders like ADD and ADHD, and other health issues. By connecting youth with adults passionate about the outdoors, we hope to foster in youth a lifelong appreciation for the wonder of nature and its calming health benefits. Prior to 2013, Project GO operated strictly out of the southeast corner of the state, but we are currently pursuing expansion in the Metro and beyond.
Since I began in January, I have worked to meet two main goals. I have focused on establishing relationships with area organizations like the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Minnesota DNR, the Minnesota Canoe Association, Wilderness Inquiry, the Friends of the Mississippi River and others to create a sustainable program at our first Twin Cities pilot site, Skyline Tower in St. Paul. As a result of building these relationships and identifying common goals between our organizations, we have a very exciting lineup of activities and field trips, which were influenced by the teens at Skyline, set for this summer. Some highlights include fishing, canoeing and hiking outings and an I Can Camp experience (a partnership between Conservation Corps and the DNR) at Fort Snelling State Park.
I have also been developing and implementing Project GO’s Community Greenspace Mapping Initiative and exploring the construction of a mobile mapping game app, which would give youth extra motivation to get outdoors. Users of the app would “check-in” at parks and other greenspaces through on-board GPS chips in smartphones and tablets. While on location, youth would be notified of available challenges in the area and would gain points for accomplishing these challenges and submitting photos. An online version with post-experience upload capabilities would also be available for those without access to a mobile device.
I pitched our idea at an event called “Visualizing Neighborhoods: a Hackathon for Good,” organized by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, on May 25. I was fortunate to get several interested and highly skilled people to join my team at the event, where we brainstormed how we would like such an app to function, from multiple user perspectives. At the end of the day, we created a “mock-up” of a walking tour adventure (a potential component of the app) in the Mill City area, which drew inspiration from a Sherlock Holmes story map. The Hackathon was a huge success for Project GO. I am excited to continue meeting as a team and individually with the team members to further our plans in moving the app development forward.
I eagerly anticipate the coming months as we kick off our summer programs on June 18 and continue working on the development of a Project GO app. We are always looking for passionate outdoor enthusiasts to volunteer with us, so if you are interested in joining us, or know someone who might be, contact me at via email or by phone at 507-951-3778.