Leone and 13 other Champions were honored on March 18 at the White House, where they were greeted by Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, an avid outdoorswoman who has scaled Mount Rainier on seven occasions and recently climbed Vinson Massif, the highest mountain in Antarctica.
“Carol believes that every teenage student should have access to safe, healthy and fun outdoor experiences. And that’s why she created the Teens to Trails program — to increase the opportunity for teens in her state of Maine to learn about the outdoors and develop a passion for conservation, all in memory of her daughter Sara, who demonstrated that same care and passion for America’s outdoors during her short life. I will say that, as a member of my high school’s climbing club, believe it or not we had a climbing club in high school — that’s where I learned to mountain climb — it made a big difference in my life.”
In the below video of the event, skip forward to 26:25 to hear Jewell speak about Teens to Trails, and 52:30 to hear Leone speak about Teens to Trails.
Carol and Bob Leone moved to Maine in 1988 because they wanted to raise their family in a place where people loved the outdoors, according to their story on the Teens to Trails website. In Maine, they raised two daughters, Lindsay and Sara, and spent as much time as possible outdoors — hiking, camping, backpacking, skiing, kayaking and diving together. Their younger daughter, Sara, was lost in a car accident in July 2005. She has been the spark behind the nonprofit organization Teens to Trails, also known as T3. In her brief 15 years, Sara developed an amazing passion for life kindled by her connection with the outdoors. Their older daughter, Lindsay became a member and trip leader for the Dartmouth Outing Club. She is currently a lawyer with the Mintz Levin firm in Boston and continues to be involved with T3 as an advisor and volunteer.
During the Champions of Change event, Carol Leone spent her allotted time on the panel explaining the mission of T3.
“Teens to Trails — the name says it all, really,” Leone said. “We’re focused. Seven years ago, our Teens to Trails organization was founded based on a single and really simple concept … essentially, we feel like if every high school had an outdoor adventure program or an outing club for its students, then every student in Maine would have access to the outdoors at that time, when they’re going through their high school years. And it would come to them just at that time in their lives when they need those positive choices the most. So since that time, Teens to Trails has been developing a variety of programs that both promote and support high school outing clubs. It’s all kind of one single focus for us.”
“We targeted teens,” Leone said. “For one thing, there’s just no other group that shows the signs of Nature Deficit Disorder more acutely. And they are so often overlooked.”
Nature Deficit Disorder is a term coined by Richard Louv in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods” referring to the hypothesis that people, especially children, are spending less time outdoors, and this is resulting in a wide range of behavioral problems and a decline in people’s overall health and wellbeing.
“We appreciate this chance to share our vision for reversing that pendulum swing and getting young people so their happy, healthy and outdoors, where they belong,” said Leone during her panel speech.
“When you’re trying to reach out to teenagers, you reach them where they are,” she said. “Outing clubs grab their attention at school, which is the center of their universe at that age.”
The White House event was an opportunity for Leone to spread the word about the importance of high school outing clubs on a national level.
“There’s no reason why this same concept can’t be replicated in any state, anywhere across the country,” she said, offering that T3 is willing to assist people in other states set up similar nonprofit organizations to support high school outing clubs.
She ended her speech with a story that is illustrative of the importance of outing clubs in presenting teens with outdoor opportunities right in their backyards:
“We have an outing club rendezvous that we partner with the National Park Service up at Acadia National Park, and we just spend a weekend together so outing club advisors can connect with each other and students do the same thing, learning from each other, some more experienced than others. And at the end of the weekend, they go away thinking, ‘OK. Well that wasn’t so hard. We can do this on our own.’ But we realized — one time we had 90 students up there, and there were fewer than seven [students] who had ever been to Acadia National Park, which people travel from all over the world to get to … Just because you have the outdoors right there doesn’t mean its accessible.”
For information on T3 and how to get involved, visit www.TeensToTrails.org.