How this local man is getting kids to unplug and ‘experience the healing benefits of nature’

Beavercreek Twp. resident Jonathan Slider started a nonprofit that aims to get kids unplugged, outside and away from their phones.

In a time when it is safest to gather outside because of the coronavirus pandemic, Slider said his first program was a huge success.

In October, Trailblazing Hope Outdoors, held a five-week program in collaboration with Beavercreek City Schools focused on introducing the outdoors while unplugging from technology to embrace the beauty and wonder of nature. More than 40 high school and middle school students participated from Beavercreek schools.

“It’s super important because their routines are being disrupted,” Slider said. “I actually just talked to a parent the other day and they said, ‘Another great thing that came out of your program is my daughter and another participant are now Facetiming all the time, and their relationship is growing.’”

Spending time outdoors also improves mental health, he said.

“There’s something about getting outside and walking through the woods or just being out at a park, experiencing nature,” Slider said.

Four of the five weeks were located at Russ Nature Reserve, Phillips Park and Beaver Creek Wetlands and the Narrows Reserve, all part of Greene County Parks and Trails. Slider said that the programs are free for kids.

“We’ve seen that the outdoor recreation community has seen a surge, an explosion of people going out (since the start of the pandemic),” Slider said.

Volunteer Mary Michner said she enjoyed seeing the transformation many of the children in the program made.

“In the beginning I think some of the kids thought it was going to be a boring experience, but they quickly opened up,” Michner said. “It was something a lot of them hadn’t really experienced before.”

Michner said she plans to continue volunteering with Trailblazing Hope.

“It was just as rewarding for me as it was for the kids,” Michner said.

Beavercreek resident Laura Cox said her two boys, who are 12 and 13, learned a lot from the Trailblazing Hope program. Cox said she hasn’t worked since March because of COVID, so it was nice to have a free activity for her boys.

“(Slider) really tried to get the kids to participate,” Cox said. “It got them to come out of their shells and it got them some social time, which is so important right now.”

Programming for 2021 is set to start in February, Slider said, and he plans to again partner with Beavercreek City Schools and Greene County Parks and Trails. Activities will include hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, kayaking and other outdoor recreation.

“We’re really wanting just to get kids out to experience the healing benefits of nature from a mental, emotional, physical and potentially even spiritual standpoint,” he said.

The program offered an introduction to the outdoors by teaching “Leave No Trace” principles, a basic land navigation course using a compass, basic first aid awareness and exercises in connectedness and mindfulness in nature. Slider said they want kids to learn recreation, education and conservation through the program.

“It’s just being connected to something that they may not have interaction with on a regular basis,” Slider said of teaching the kids mindfulness. “And instead of saying, ‘Oh, the woods are scary, there’s animals out there,’ they can say, ‘Well, no, it’s beautiful. It’s life giving, it’s something that I can embrace and be a part of, and take care of and help protect.’ And that adds to people’s value into their self worth.”

Trailblazing Hope is hosting winter pop up hikes in several local parks through December and into January. The next pop up hike is scheduled from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 23 in Bill Yeck Park in Centerville.

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