ELK attends launch of national initiative

Scott teaches youth to fishJune 9, 2009– (WASHINGTON, DC) Denver’s own Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK), a non-profit organization, attended the signing of a Secretarial Order establishing an Office of Youth in Natural Resources through the Department of the Interior (see picture) on June 8 at the National Mall.

Stacie and Scott Gilmore, ELK co-founders, joined U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar and Senior White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett for a youth fishing event to announce the initiative. Also in attendance were several hundred schoolchildren.

“President Obama and I believe that during tough economic times, a new national youth program is needed to provide jobs, outdoor experiences and career opportunities for young people –especially women, minorities, tribal and other underserved youth,” Salazar said.

The Office of Youth in Natural Resources will coordinate present and future youth initiatives, the signature program of which will be a 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps, according to a U.S. Department of the Interior press release. The 21st Century Youth Conservation Corps will include women as well as men and strive for greater diversity.

Last September, ELK students met in Denver with Salazar, who is on ELK’s Advisory Board. He said, “I’m proud of the work ELK does. It’s important to get young people out and involved in the outdoors. (ELK is) doing great work.”

Salazar headed up the Youth in Natural Resources program more than 15 years ago when he was executive director of Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources. Through that program, ELK was founded in 1996 by Scott and Stacie Gilmore, ELK executive director.

“It was an honor to be invited to attend the announcement of Salazar’s initiative, which is right in line with our passion and mission,” Stacie Gilmore said. “When it comes down to it, whether we’re in Denver or DC, we’re connecting kids to the outdoors, fishing and encouraging youth to look at science and careers as options to change their lives.”

ELK’s mission to cultivate a passion in science, leadership and service in a diverse community of learners will localize this national initiative. At the event, Jarrett, who chairs the White House Council on Women and Girls, emphasized Obama’s commitment to the Department of the Interior’s new youth program.

“This program will be a great boost to the Administration’s efforts to provide jobs and opportunities for young men and women,” she said. “Providing career paths in natural resources will be particularly helpful to women, who are under-represented in the sciences.”

According to the press release, Salazar said that the Interior Department expects the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to result in the employment of an additional 5,000 young people by this summer. Many thousands of additional young people – from diverse backgrounds, including underserved populations and those with little opportunity to experience the outdoors –  will be engaged in outdoor programs in the coming months through stimulus funds, increased appropriations, new youth programs and expansion of existing programs.

In 2008, ELK reached more than 21,000 youth and their families with hands-on science education. Since its founding in 1996, ELK has secured more than $160,000 in college scholarships for ELK youth, and there are currently 37 ELK alumni either in college or gainfully employed, the ma­jority employed in a natural resource field.

“It’s exciting to be part of history – not only by our presence at the Mall with Salazar – but also by the work we do day in and day out,” Stacie Gilmore said. “We are already engaging underserved, culturally diverse youth across the Denver area with science education and careers in natural resources. The support and added emphasis from the Capitol will help us that much more!”

About ELK:  ELK serves youth primarily in Denver, Adams and Arapahoe Counties through year-round, school-based and family programs. ELK activities include wildlife studies,  camping, fishing, service projects, leadership training, one-to-one mentoring and college preparation and summer employment opportunities. ELK is funded by donors, corporations and foundations who share the same vision. For more information, visit www.elkkids.org or contact Kirsten at Klamb@elkkids.org.