At Risk of Nature Deficit Disorder

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In the dense Blue-Ridge Forest of Appalachia I climbed on rock for the very first time. It was 1995 and I was a wayward teen from the Deep South, longing for some kind of deeper connection. With that very first touch of rock against skin a spark was ignited, my soul touched by something so profound that it would take years for me to understand.

Over the last few decades since that first interaction I’ve come to know more. That summer spent learning to climb, camp, and backpack in the mountains outside of Boone, NC opened up the natural world to me. Rock climbing was the vehicle which brought me closer to nature and as result closer to knowing myself as a human being. This relationship gave me purpose and became the foundation for my adult life.

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This past winter Sacred Rok hosted it’s first intern. A young woman from just outside of Boone, North Carolina reached out about her high school senior project; she was very interested in climbing for health and in the process of her research had come upon an article I’d written about the very topic.

<www.climbing.com/people/out-on-a-ledge-the-mental-health-benefits-of-climbing/>

In the article I talk about the health benefits of time spent outside and the work we do at Sacred Rok. Intrigued by this she reached out to us about doing an internship in February.

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She came to Bishop for a l long weekend and returned home filled with such inspiration that it gained the attention of some of her climbing teammates. Other youth wanted to experience the Sierra and Yosemite, and the life-changing potential of time spent communing the body, mind and self in nature.

Five young people, ages 16-21, spent 4 days with us camping in Tuolumne Meadows. It was an exceptionally memorable trip. All of these youth are rock climbers to some degree and while climbing was something we shared with them a lot of our time was spent hiking the domes, watching sunsets, swimming in the river and sharing stories of experiences- past, present and future- over the campfire.

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On their last evening we took them up the frontside of Lembert Dome to its summit to watch the sun dip beneath the horizon, painting the Sierra in that quintessential fuchsia glow. We were the only people up there that evening. The beauty was beyond capture in picture or words. It was such that it made it’s way into your chest, depositing itself there for later use - For those times when we find ourselves in stressful situations, detached from the ceremony of nature or closed in by the demands of our modern lives.

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This group of young people was a slightly different group than we normally work with but through our 10 years as a non-profit we have come to see more and more that we are all at risk, regardless of economic status or location, of developing Nature Deficit Disorder. Our lives are so governed by structured time indoors at school, work and home that we’ve largely isolated ourselves from the reality that we are nature and that everything we see outside is reflected in ourselves as human beings, as creatures of the natural world. Due to this we have become disconnected and foreign to the world of plants and animals, from dirt; from the elements that keep us grounded, healthy and whole.

As we stood there communing with the place and each other one of the youth said, “I mean what are the chances that we would all be up here together like this?”

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It was that one click of the finger on my article by Mary that was the impetus for the whole trip, for the whole experience that we were able to provide these young people, for opportunity to experience education nature’s way and the ability to come back into ourselves through a connection to the natural world.

It is due to my experience in life with climbing as a way to develop a relationship with nature that I was able to share that insight through my writing and that rippled out to bring us all together there in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

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Standing there that evening there was a spark of the imagination for these youth about how to live a life in balance and harmony. It was that same spark that had been ignited me all those years ago in the nature of North Carolina and here we were bringing it back full circle, facilitating the ceremony of nature for them each to experience in their own way and to take back with them.

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With respect,

Katie Lambert - Chief Operating Officer

A Decade of Learning

All children have an inalienable right to be in nature as a way to orient themselves to their human foundations, based on their connection to nature.

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Our first trip will always be memorable due to our enthusiasm to bring young people into Yosemite.  On this trip we found ourselves going up the trail with more than 20 people.

We learned that it was one step at a time.  This set the stage for Sacred Rok – everything has been one step at a time, literally and figuratively, as we have built on these experiences.

Nancy Goodban, Board chair, offers this opening thought:

Why did I want to help create the nonprofit Sacred Rok? Because the first trip was so transformational.

On our first trip in June 2009, we were not a nonprofit or an organization of any kind.  It was just our friend rock climber Ron Kauk, and us helping on a trip with 16 foster youth from Merced County Human Service Agency.   

When they arrived at camp, one of the young women complained about her group tentmates. Her case manager was concerned about her sullen and slightly resentful attitude, but we saw her attitude change 180 degrees by the end of the trip.  At the end of the trip she took a little notebook around to every camper to write a note of thanks to Ron and Katie for leading the trip, and presented it to them in front of the campfire on behalf of the rest of the campers.

When we first arrived, another young man was afraid to wash his dishes by himself after dinner.  But by the end of the trip, he was proudly offering to help Katie wash all the dinner dishes.

Most impactful of all was on the last night during reflections around the fire, no one spoke until one of the staff said, “I wasn’t sure I could make it because I wasn’t in great shape, and I was so proud of myself when I made it.”  His expression of vulnerability opened up for reflection from all the kids.  He is now a member of our Board.

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Over the past ten years we have led dozens of trips for hundreds of young people and adults in Yosemite National Park, as well as more recently Pinnacles National Park.  This spring, the Sacred Rok Board held a strategic planning retreat to review our first 10 years and to plan for our future.  We reflected on our most important characteristics that will continue to guide us:

  • Showing respect for youth and adult partners as learners in natural settings

  • Developing relationships in small groups facilitated by Ron and other respectful adults

  • Our youth population is diverse and we are unique, for example, by taking incarcerated youth to national parks.

  • Our story resonates among people who appreciate the sense of awe created by nature.

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We say “education nature’s way” because a lifetime of rock climbing at Yosemite communicated  to Ron about the beauty and reality of nature and the nature of ourselves, bringing back the harmony needed to respect the natural laws that govern our survival.  Yosemite is a World Heritage Site that has attracted people internationally to look for a connection to the incredible beauty that is displayed in nature. Our Board member Steve Shackelton is involved with other parks around the world to promote what he calls “Centers for Peace.”   The future will be our children becoming caretakers of our earth.

Ron Kauk

Brian Cooley

Nancy Goodban

Kenji Hakuta

Lamar Henderson

Milbrey McLaughlin

Steve Shackelton

Lucy Snyder

Sacred Rok Board of Directors

We are everlastingly grateful to the agencies that help us provide these experiences – Merced County and San Benito County Probation departments, Merced Boys & Girls Club, Symple Equazion, Uplift Family Services, Merced CASA, Stanford University, and others.

And we are so grateful to all our funders and supporters who share our vision, including the Clif Bar Family Foundation, Patagonia, The North Face, the Gumerlock Foundation, and the Moffatt Family Foundation.

Sacred Rok - Nature's Time

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Over the last month Sacred Rok hosted several trips in Yosemite, Pinnacles and Bishop, CA with the diverse groups we work with.

May 6th &amp; June 5th Ron hosted youth from Merced Juvenile Hall on a day trip in Yosemite Valley.

May 6th & June 5th Ron hosted youth from Merced Juvenile Hall on a day trip in Yosemite Valley.

“I have never been on a hike before that was my first time experiencing this type of journey. I thought it was pretty cool. I felt free! I was able to see a lot of different things out there. We saw a baby fox wondering around the park, a pair of squirrels asking for food. Everything was so green and we were surrounded by giant rocks and we even saw a beautiful waterfall. We went through caves and explored all over the park. We basically hiked all day and just kept going forward, it was a wonderful day. “ - Probation Youth

May 7th Ron and board member Steve Shackleton ventured down to Pinnacles National Park for a day trip with youth from San Benito Probation.

May 7th Ron and board member Steve Shackleton ventured down to Pinnacles National Park for a day trip with youth from San Benito Probation.

“I enjoyed hiking at Pinnacles. It was my first time being out there. We got to hear the birds chirp and sing, water passing through the stream, so many different kinds of plants, flowers and big trees. The air was so fresh; I wish I could have saved some. Seeing all the big rocks and knowing people climb them, it's pretty amazing.  We saw two mountain climbers when we were having lunch. We saw squirrels, turkeys and some lizards crawling around, lots and lots of creepy crawly bugs. It got pretty hot, on the way up my lungs were about to pop out. It was nice views, good vibes, we met two new cool guys Ron and Steve. They were cool to be around. I will be going hiking again soon I hope. “ - San Benito Probation Youth      

May 24th - 26th Ron, Katie and board member Kenji Hakuta hosted Stanford University EAST House students in Yosemite for a weekend trip.

May 24th - 26th Ron, Katie and board member Kenji Hakuta hosted Stanford University EAST House students in Yosemite for a weekend trip.

“This has been a great experience to get back in touch with nature. It used to be a huge part of my life and I had a great balance but, I lost it when I came to Stanford. I’m glad I got to reconnect here as well as go at my own pace. I hope I learn from this experience and adopt it to my adult life. Just remember whats important” - Stanford Student

June 7th Ron hosted Merced CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate)     staff on a day trip to Yosemite to orient themselves with our program in preparation for future trips with foster youth.

June 7th Ron hosted Merced CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) staff on a day trip to Yosemite to orient themselves with our program in preparation for future trips with foster youth.

“Our staff had a wonderful day. Everyone walked away saying it was so much better than they had anticipated” & “I enjoyed the relaxed hiking and going to a part of the park people don't typically visit. I like to hike and backpack. I would like to spend more time with Sacred Rok in conjunction with children that my organization advocates for.” - CASA Staff

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We are continuously learning from our experiences with all the diverse groups of people that join us in what we like to call the ceremony of nature. These experiences are bringing us back to the basics, to our foundation as human beings with the natural world. By watching waterfalls and hiking up trails we can feel the rhythm of our heartbeat and awareness of our breath; we are connected with the natural timing, the kind we can observe from the mist of waterfalls swirling around with the wind.

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Sacred Rok’s commitment from the beginning has been to help children respect nature and through that to respect themselves. What we understand now from this commitment is that all children should have the inalienable right to create a connection with the natural world in order to develop as whole human beings and to recognize the responsibility and profound beauty that we are all nature.

This is the knowledge that Sacred Rok has cultivated through these rich experiences of observing our youth in nature and furthers our commitment to brining back balance starting with ourselves.

Its all about working together through communing, communicating and community.

With respect,

Ron Kauk- Executive Director & Katie Lambert - COO

Boys and Girls Club - Sacred Rok

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In late April Sacred Rok was joined by six youth ages 7-9 from the Merced Boys and Girls Club for a day of exploring in Yosemite Valley. Working with this age group provides a unique experience as they are on the cusp of very deep and permanent development.

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Developmental psychology tells us that this is an important time in their lives as they start to understand more complicated ideas and ask more questions about their observations, like cause and effect; they develop more in their language and communication skills and their peer group starts to play a bigger role in their lives. During this time they also need a lot of encouragement from the adults around them and start to show interest in being involved with groups or clubs as they become curious about other points of views and learning how to include them in their day to day.

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At this stage in life there is a tremendous amount of intelligence in our youth to absorb things and this is why we know that bringing youth into nature during this time is paramount to helping them develop into healthy and whole human beings. 

It was profound to be out with this group of young people as it not only evoked a sense of wonder and interest in the youth but also helped spark our adult imaginations. 

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With the natural cycle of the seasons the waterfalls in Yosemite are flowing at max and upon arrival into the park we took our time around them; taking our shoes off and fully immersing ourselves in the natural playground of streams, rocks and trees. It seemed as if we could spend the whole day crawling through the boulders seeking out caves and observing the patterns in the leaves.  Their sense of wonder and imagination was fully open and expanded. 

“Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” - Richard Louv

“Nature calmed me, focused me, and yet excited my senses.” - Richard Louv

Over the course of the day it was interesting to see their reactions to the spray of the falls. What was initially panic and retreat from the spray turned into sheer joy and mesmerization by the end, as they became more comfortable and trusting of us and familiar with their environment, one child yelling with her arms in the air, “I just want the water all over me!” 

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We were first hand observers in watching their appreciation and connection to nature develop in just the six hours we spent together. Imagine how deep and meaningful it would be if they were allowed the freedom to express themselves in nature on a regular basis? 

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Throughout our 10 years as an organization we have come to understand more and more how essential it is in the development of an individual to nurture a relationship with nature early on; to evoke an intimate connection to place and themselves, laying a foundation for the rest of their lives. This is what we are dedicated to at Sacred Rok and this is what we mean by Education Nature’s Way. 

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

Katie Lambert - COO & Ron Kauk - Executive Director