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LEEF youth reach new heights

20160423_132531_resizedJumping off ledges, scaling walls, and swinging from trees aren’t part of most youth development programs. But for Seattle Parks and Recreation’s pilot program ‘Leaders in Environment, Equity, and Facilitation’ (LEEF), these exhilarating activities are built into the curriculum! LEEF is designed to help develop the next generation of challenge course facilitators and environmental leaders, and to connect young people from diverse backgrounds to employment opportunities.

LEEF is specifically geared towards low-income youth who identify as people of color and/or LGBTQ. No other challenge course training program like it exists in the country. Over the course of six months, LEEF provides training on a variety of subjects, including social equity, leadership, public speaking and decision making, followed by paid internships over the summer. Youth participants also receive training on how to lead groups at Camp Long through the challenge course–a series of activities involving logs, platforms, posts, ropes and cables attached to trees and other structures used for team building and personal development.

With a core tenet of contributing back to the community, LEEF helped host the Environmental Education Station on June 18. Through a partnership with the Delridge Neighborhood Development Association (DNDA), LEEF offered hands-on environmental learning and activities for the public at Camp Long’s 68-acre wooded forest.

Aji, a 15-year-old who attends West Seattle High School, said his favorite part of the program is being able to receive free training in high ropes facilitation, something that his family wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Aji described the high ropes course as being “like a giant jungle gym in the sky” and said that he gets excited about leading groups through the course because he likes being able to help create connections among different groups of people.

Other LEEF participants said they enjoy the family-like atmosphere and the opportunity to develop important life skills, such as public speaking and teamwork. Kaydee, a 20-year-old participant, described the impact of the program: “I feel I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills and how to push yourself, and how to be more inclusive and how to make programs more equitable. I enjoy the outlet to be outdoors because I don’t usually get to do that.”