An even more fundamental challenge is the huge cultural shift away from outdoor activities for people of all ages, and most dramatically for children and adolescents. The bad news is that this shift has occurred more or less rapidly without people noticing. The good news is that when they do notice (or have it pointed out), many people immediately see how this could be at the root of various social and behavioral problems. In order to get people thinking about the situation, Rick made a presentation to the Vermont Association of Court Diversion Programs. Hooked on Nature then provided 100 copies of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv so that Rick could distribute the book to people throughout this statewide coalition.
As a result in November 2007, Executive Directors of Court Diversion programs in all 14 Vermont counties, along with a number of Vermont agencies and programs who are invested in helping kids connect with the natural world, and Governor Jim Douglas participated in a conference called Hooked on Nature: Building Leadership and Community in Vermont. The conference brought together people working at all levels of restorative justice to discuss the vision and strategies for including nature-based activities in court diversion contracts. The participants focused their creativity and experience on how to overcome the obstacles and challenges. You can read more about the conference on our blog.
Some counties have already been experimenting with nature-based projects. For example, Lamoille County in Vermont now offers mountain biking and other adventurous activities as part of their court diversion contracts. The conference will be an opportunity to share information about different initiatives, how people perceive the value of them, and what is needed to pilot these projects in additional settings
Hooked on Nature will continue to work with Rick and the Vermont Association of Court Diversion Programs to develop best practices that will enable trip leaders, mentors and caseworkers to help offenders develop leadership skills and explore their role in their community through a wide range of activities in nature. As the best practices evolve, they will be disseminated to other court diversion
Rick Bjorn is very encouraged by the progress since he made the first presentation in March 2007. As an Executive Director of the Court Diversion program in another county said to him, ?When I first heard this talk about connecting people with nature, I just couldn?t see how it relates to our work in the criminal justice system. Now it?s making sense to me and it seems so obvious.?
Although Rick knows there are significant hurdles to overcome, his commitment is fueled by his own experience of turning to nature at times of great personal stress. ?I could imagine ways that being in touch with nature can help with combating most of the ills in our society. But right now I can see immediate concrete ways that a connection with nature can help offenders by creating more skills to deal with stress and get connected to things that make them feel good about themselves and about their community. So much crime occurs because people feel under terrible stress. They feel isolated and they don?t know how to cope.?
According to Rick, Hooked on Nature?s role has been critical in launching this initiative in Vermont. He says, ?They?ve been a guiding force in helping me influence the criminal justice system and in giving me the support I needed. Hooked on Nature also sent me to conferences which allowed me to meet people, get more education and gain insight. I understand a lot more about why it?s important to implement these ideas in the criminal justice system and I?m able to articulate it better so that others can get involved. I now feel confident to say that a program that combines nature, leadership and community is the best combination to keep people out of the court system.?