The New Nature of Learning: Sierra Nevada Journeys Nonprofit Spotlight

Have you ever played the “Why?” game with a child?  It starts with a simple question they have about something they observe, and as you provide an answer they quickly ask again, “but why?” Again and again they ask you — “but why?” and soon, what began as a question about why you drink coffee in the morning has turned into a conversation about the chemical composition of caffeine and how neurotransmitters function, all because of that simple word: “Why”.  A child’s curiosity, once sparked, is not easily satisfied.

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The wonder and curiosity of children, although exhausting at times, is a special and incredible part of life.  This curiosity can be encouraged and shaped in ways that inspire children and help them to learn, and is something that Team Giving’s nonprofit partner Sierra Nevada Journeys loves to encourage.  Sierra Nevada Journeys delivers innovative outdoor, science-based education programs for youth to develop critical thinking skills and to inspire natural resource stewardship.   Many of the children they work with are from low-income families, and many have little to no experience hiking or experiencing local nature areas, but leave their programs excited to come back and explore on their own.  “I get to inspire students to connect with the natural world multiple times each week,” says Natalie Pritchard, Core Educator and Volunteer Coordinator for Sacramento’s Sierra Nevada Journeys office.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” – William Butler Yeats

This is what nonprofits do for our communities: they inspire, equip, and engage their clients in order to meet specific needs.  For Sierra Nevada Journeys, it is important for them to not only educate children, but to provide them with multiple opportunities for engagement, with programs that reach not only students, but also educators and families.  They do this through their “Whole School Model” in order to multiply their impact in the community and connect program areas vertically across the grade levels they engage.

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Programs include behind-the-scenes work with teachers to provide resources and training, in-classroom support and instruction, overnight science experiences for older students, and opportunities for students to bring parents and siblings to educational family fun events.  Besides being awesome, enjoyable, and impactful, can you guess what all of their programs have in common? All of Sierra Nevada Journey’s programs rely on volunteers.  “We couldn’t do what we do without our volunteers,” said Pritchard, “the only reason our programs are a success are because of the time and commitment of our volunteers.  I am constantly learning from our volunteers!”

Team Giving loves to partner with Sierra Nevada Journeys partly because of this–they give volunteers the opportunity to be on the front lines, interacting directly with students excited to learn about science and the natural world, and they offer volunteer roles that fit nearly any schedule, experience level, and time commitment a volunteer needs.

One great way to see Sierra Nevada Journeys in action is to volunteer at a Family Science Night.  These are held at schools throughout our region, nearly twice a week, and don’t require any advance training, work experience with children, or science know-how from volunteers.  At these events, volunteers run a science station where they interact with students and their families, leading them through a simple activity that inspires children to think about how science factors into our lives, taking full advantage of the curiosity and wonder that exists in each of us.  For a donation of just under three hours of their time, volunteers help Sierra Nevada Journeys transform just-another-evening into an educational evening of fun, complete with a STEM Scavenger Hunt, Design Challenge, and more.  Family Science Nights are available through May in our region, so contact Team Giving to find a date that works for you!

If Family Science Nights aren’t the right fit for you, but you’re interested in partnering with Sierra Nevada Journeys in another way, please contact our office.  There are additional opportunities for anybody interested in igniting childhood curiosity in an impactful way.  Team Giving can’t always answer the “Why?” questions — but if you’re looking to lend a hand to empower nonprofits and strengthen our community, we would love to answer the question, “How?”

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