Wild Things

“I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief... For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

—Wendell Berry

About 10 years ago, I got a call from my boyfriend (now husband) from my hometown. His band was there for a gig, and he wanted to know if there was somewhere they could go hang out the next day.

Given the time of year (mid-spring), I immediately thought of a forest preserve near Lexington, Ill. I started going there for hikes and birdwatching with my dad when I was in high school, and had continued visiting regularly during my college years.

The preserve lies along the Mackinaw River, and during the spring the entire river valley fills with bluebells. The view at that time of year is breathtaking, and will remind anyone who thinks Illinois is nothing but cornfields that there's a subtle natural beauty to be found by those willing to take a closer look.

So the band decided to take a hike that spring day, and for the drummer Mike, in his mid-20s at the time, it was the first time he had ever been in a forest.

I remember being shocked to hear this at the time, but Mike is hardly alone in having limited access to nature throughout his childhood and teen years. Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods documents the absence of nature in children's lives, how that impacts their health and well-being, and how it's in our best interest to bring kids back to nature.

But limited access is not limited to nature. Many other recreational, sports and fitness activities also have limited access, particularly in low-income and urban areas.

Take swimming as an example. While our wealthier suburbs have plenty of pools and opportunities to swim, many children—and adults—in lower-income neighborhoods may not have access to a swimming pool. They are further hampered by a continuing trend wherein parents who never learn to swim also never encourage their children to learn, creating a risky cycle.

Parks and playgrounds also see limited access. For example, according to the Trust for Public Land (TPL), as many as two out of three city residents don't have access to a nearby park, playground or open space. Take New York as an example. According to the PlaNYC 2030, a program that aims to bring more open space and playgrounds to New York's residents, 51 percent of NYC neighborhoods exceed a standard of 1,250 children per playground. And according to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the Department of Education, the rate of overweight and obesity in New York exceeds the national rate, with 43 percent of New York City's elementary school students falling into this unfortunate group.

Bringing more opportunities for recreational activities and play—and simply chances to be in nature—to people like Mike is an important mission for organizations like TPL and others such as KaBOOM!.

The bottom line is that some places—and people—simply aren't lucky enough to be born and raised in a place where they have access—to open space, to playgrounds, to swimming lessons, to Little League teams, to safe streets to walk and play on. For others, access is limited by physical disabilities.

I suspect that knowing you're working to improve access to such places and for all people—whether you're working in a low-income city neighborhood or a better-off suburb—is just one reason why so many of the respondents to our annual survey, which resulted in the Salary Survey report you'll find on page 14, indicated they are so satisfied with their work. Knowing you're involved in a mission so critical to the well-being, happiness and health of the patrons you serve has to leave you feeling good. Maybe not all the time—no one can be happy every day of the week, and the challenges of your work are many—but at least enough to result in general satisfaction that you're doing something good in the world.

In fact, nearly four in 10 respondents to our survey indicated they are very satisfied with their work. More than half are satisfied. To learn more about how your career stacks up, turn to our Salary Survey. And to learn how nonprofit organizations, parks and manufacturers are bringing more play—and more interaction with nature—to children across the country, turn to Nature and Nurture.

And continue doing the good work to bring fun activities, participation in sports and fitness, and opportunities to play and interact to your community. As one of the lucky ones who got to play regularly on a playground within walking distance of my home, who got to take part in the summer theater program put on by the local park district, who was encouraged to interact with nature by a father who just couldn't stay inside all day every day (even in the depths of winter), and who got to take part in many more activities that would not have been available if it weren't for the dedication of professionals like yourselves, I applaud you for doing what you do—especially those of you who are bringing these opportunities to people who've never had them before.


Emily Tipping
Editorial Director


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