Giving Service, Building Capacity

My name is Walter Stankiewicz, and I am a Volunteer In Service To America working with Texas Children in Nature (TCiN) program at Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Headquarters in Austin, Texas. My role as a VISTA is to fight poverty in Texas. Doing so can take several forms, and TCiN is taking a rather unique and creative approach. Studies show that children who learn and play with nature are healthier (both physically and mentally), have higher self-esteem, get along with others better, are more creative, and the list goes on. So, our goal is to get more Texans engaged with nature because nature is a public health strategy.

One of my personal goals as a VISTA is to eradicate poverty in Texas. I know it’s unlikely that the poverty rate will be 0% by the time my service is done, but hopefully I’ll be closer to my goal then than I am now. My plan is to strengthen the relationship between Texas Children in Nature and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department to increase the number of outdoor activities available for Texans. Secondly, I plan to maximize our outreach programs to ensure that our target families are aware of these activities and can get to them because, again, nature is a public health strategy.

Why am I doing this? Well, I was born & raised in a rural, small town in the Appalachian Mountains in Boiling Springs, PA. I like to think I was lucky to be born in the mountains. And I feel even luckier to be born to wonderful parents – people who looked after me every step of the way, who made sure I always had food, water, & clothes, etc. Perhaps one of the most important things that they did for me was allowing me to discover my interests and support me in my pursuits. Given where we lived, I was ALWAYS going outside – hiking, climbing trees, catching turtles, chasing my sister around with mushy, green caterpillars, etc. And my parents really encouraged that (sorry, Ella, you got the short end of the stick there). To answer the question, it’s no longer a choice of whether or not we should get kids outdoors – it’s now a must. I was fortunate to have parents who understood this demand and could fulfill it, but I understand that not everyone is brought up the same. So, I’m assuming the duty of helping at-risk youth get outside and into nature because nature is a public health strategy.