Lecturer: It is important to connect young people with nature News, Sports, Work

Sally Jewell, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, is pictured Tuesday at the Chautauqua Institute. This week’s theme is The Wild: Reconnecting with Our Natural World. Photos by Shawn Smith/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — A former U.S. Secretary of the Interior knows how hard it is to serve the public.

“There are always a lot of demands,” Sally Jewell said.

Jewell addressed audience members at the Amphitheater Tuesday at the Chautauqua Institute, speaking on the subject “The Wild: Reconnecting with Our Natural World.”

She explained that she had traveled across the United States and noted the need to continue to protect the nation’s natural resources and for children to become more involved in resource conservation.

She noted that in today’s society, when children play organized sports in school, they usually play one sport and practice and play almost year-round. This is to the exclusion of other activities.

Sally Jewell speaks during the morning lecture on July 5, 2022 in the Amphitheater. SEAN SMITH/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

She said 98 percent of young people who play organized team sports in school become spectators when they graduate.

“Only 2% continue to play,” she said. “So what did they sacrifice? Lifelong activities — hiking, camping, hunting, fishing, tennis, golf, swimming, biking, whatever. And then a lot of them (students) are introduced to it for the first time when they get to college.

Serving during President Barack Obama’s second term, Jewell’s tenure as U.S. Secretary of the Interior from 2013 to 2017, her work focused on championing the importance of science and data, promoting investment in more sustainable use of public lands and waters, deepening ties to local communities and long-term preservation of the nation’s natural, cultural and historic treasures, according to Assembly.chq.org. Jewell demonstrates a deep commitment to connecting people, especially youth, to nature through opportunities to play, learn, serve and work on public lands.

She noted that technology is engaging and fun, but it’s also addictive and keeps kids indoors. Jewell said even her own granddaughter uses Tik Tok. Affluent kids, who may be excessive, she said, have access to places to escape.

“But there are many, many children whose parents are juggling multiple jobs … and they may have little supervision or safe places to play after school, and that can keep them indoors and isolated.” she said.

Jewell was president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), an outdoor gear retailer and member-owned cooperative, from 2005 to 2013. Prior to REI, she spent time in the banking industry and before banking was an engineer in the energy sector, the website noted.

“When President Obama selected me to serve as Secretary of the Interior, I knew I had both the platform and the opportunity to accelerate connections between millions of young people in the natural world, enhancing the work of so many dedicated people in organizations.” she said.

During her tenure as secretary, a continuum for engaging people in nature was established that included four areas: play, learning, service, and work.

She said the U.S. Department of Education issued a statement saying fourth graders are at an age where they are eager to learn and easy to reach. And every Kid in a Park Pass was released.

“(It was) giving every fourth grader in America a free pass for their family and friends on public lands,” she noted.

She encouraged audience members to make their voices heard and be part of the solution to reconnect people with the natural world and respect the role the natural world has to play in the nation’s collective future.

“And as I’ve learned over the past decade, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” she added. “Your votes matter more than ever today and I encourage you to speak up, to vote obviously, but to make sure your elected officials know where you stand, to thank them for their service because it matters and maybe more importantly, most importantly, get the children in your lives and in your communities outdoors, especially those who may not have had that opportunity.”

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