At Vacation Races, we don't just run in beautiful places, we seek to protect these places for future generations to enjoy. Our non-profit partner, Wander Project, was started to ensure that we were actively helping the organizations and communities that already execute the critical work needed to protect National lands.
Through the hard work of the incredible athletes who fundraise as part of our charity bib program, funds raised for Wander Project are distributed to organizations that promote initiatives like conservation, diversity, and education.
In 2020, we made a commitment to partner with more organizations that are focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and promised to financially back organizations that do this work. In 2021, we've been able to execute on this commitment by partnering with organizations like Friends of Saguaro (FOSNP).
Simply put, FOSNP seeks to sponsor students from diverse backgrounds who have an interest in exploring a career with the National Parks Service (NPS). While centering on conservation and environmental practices, FOSNP is aware of the importance that diversity, equity, and inclusion plays in exposing young people to opportunities they may not otherwise receive.
In 2021, we held our first race at Saguaro National Park which allowed us to partner with FOSNP. Of the funds raised by our runners at the inaugural Saguaro Half Marathon, $2,000 were used to support young people in FOSNP's Next Gen program. We loved the work they do so much, that we then contributed an additional $5,000 to further support the program.
We're excited to see how this program and others like it continue to create accessible opportunities to all people. Keep up the great work, Friends of Saguaro!
What is the Next Gen Program?
The Next Gen Ranger Corps (Next Gen) was established in 2015 by FOSNP, the non-profit arm of Saguaro National Park, and seeks to provide young people with work and learning opportunities at the park. These opportunities focus on practical field work and educational programs that rangers often employ while teaching others about the park.
The Next Gen program looks for interested young people everywhere and actively tries to expand Saguaro National Park's urban outreach. Next Gen also connects with local schools to provide training, mentoring, and work experiences to students and aims to engage with under-served communities.
What does Next Gen do?
Okay, so Next Gen seeks to educate young people on what it looks like to work for the NPS, but what exactly do those young people do?
Students in the Next Gen program help expand the park's capacity to complete research and may be involved in projects like trail maintenance, building improvements, or invasive species control. On the educational front, students show programs to visitors and help delight Saguaro National Park's 1 million annual park visitors with experiences that will turn into memories.
Who are the Next Gen Rangers?
Next Gen is a group of bright, passionate, and eager young people who are interested in a career with the NPS. They each bring their own perspective and experiences to the program.
To date, the program has employed 75 diverse interns who each received targeted training and mentoring that helped them cultivate specific and applicable work skills.
Of these participants, 95% of have continued to work in the environmental field. Twenty-give of the program's graduates now work for federal land management agencies and 12 work at Saguaro National Park!
Through FOSNP, the Next Gen program develops future environmental leaders and supports students of all backgrounds to discover the NPS.
How does FOSNP support the community?
Environmental stewards are the protectors of Saguaro National Park. FOSNP fosters this stewardship through philanthropy, education, volunteerism, and public awareness while also being conscious of diversity and inclusion. Focusing on schools, FOSNP provides educators and students with valuable educational programs, recreational activities, and volunteer days.
Each year, FOSNP supports and invites 15,000 youth from 80 different under-served schools in southern Arizona to visit Saguaro National Park for place-based programming at no cost. This programming teaches students about conservation, the local ecosystem, and the role of the NPS.
Youth Hiking Clubs are another large part of FOSNP's work. Annually, FOSNP provides support for 8 school-based clubs each with 10-15 students. The clubs are led by Education Rangers who lead the students on monthly hikes in Saguaro National Park at no cost. The Youth Hiking Clubs allow students who may not have access to outdoor opportunities to get transportation to the park, attend a guided hike with the Education Ranger, and bond with their peers over snacks and fellowship after the hike.
In 2020, FOSNP volunteers completed over 31,000 hours of service
In addition to working with local schools, FOSNP organizes and recruits volunteers for service projects. These projects vary in nature, but often have a conservation or naturalist focus to them. In 2020, a total of 1,235 volunteers worked with the organization and they completed over 31,052 hours of service. These thousands of hours of service are incredibly valuable and have immensely helped the community.
And of course, FOSNP supports the Next Gen Ranger Program which recruits and trains the next generation of diverse park leaders.
How does Wander Project support Next Gen?
Wander Project funds that are granted to FOSNP are used to directly support the Next Gen program. In this past grant cycle, we were able to contributed a total of $7,000 to to the Next Gen program through direct gifts and our runners' fundraising efforts.