Get Outdoors: A New Prescription for Health
Health professionals near Atlantic City, New Jersey are finding new ways to help kids and families get well and stay well: They are prescribing outdoor activities for their patients.
Getting outdoors for health is the main idea behind the Nature Champions Program, a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Environmental Education Foundation and a variety of health care professionals and organizations. AtlantiCare Health Systems, The Boys and Girls Clubs of Atlantic City Champions of Youth Program, and Gilda’s Club of South Jersey are three groups that are actively involved in the program and are beginning to prescribe outdoor activities to their patients.
Employees and volunteers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge in Oceanville, New Jersey are working closely with practitioners and youth leaders to develop fun and motivating activities that get kids and their families moving outdoors. Refuge volunteer coordinator Sandy Perchetti, together with Barry Keefe, a local social worker and refuge volunteer began a Nature Club for families at the refuge. At least one Saturday every month trained refuge volunteers lead visitors on walks through the refuge, introducing them to local ecosystems and wildlife that depend on that environment. The walks are open to the public, but children with a prescription from Barry, their family doctor or other health care facility receive a special “incentive prize” for participating.
In September 2010 Sandy and Barry attended a training workshop developed and conducted by the National Environmental Education Foundation. During the workshop, held at the National Conservation Training Center, health care professionals worked with Fish and Wildlife employees to develop strategies and programs for getting patients out to National Wildlife Refuges and other nature centers in their areas. In addition, workshop participants received “tool kits” that provide a variety of resources they will use to train additional health care professionals who want to participate in the program.
Thus far Barry has given nearly 50 prescriptions to families and kids at the Gilda’s Club of South Jersey, a clubhouse for families touched by cancer, as well as to high school students participating in the Atlantic City Champions of Youth Program. Several of these families have already visited the refuge, participating in the Nature Club hikes. One little girl, on her second nature club hike, again seeing a ruddy duck swimming underwater, exclaimed excitedly, “There’s my duck!”
A breakfast conference for local pediatricians and other health professionals is planned for February, sponsored by the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and AtlantiCare Health Systems. Barry will present the Nature Champions model and distribute “prescription” kits to participating doctors, nurses and other interested professionals.
Three other National Wildlife Refuges in the Northeast and several refuges around the country also participate in this National Nature Champions program. To learn more about the program or how you could get involved, visit the National Environmental Education Foundation website at www.neefusa.org