Pass on your love for the outdoors to the next generation and become a mentor through the Outdoor Mentors organization.
The Outdoor Mentors Inc. is an organization designed to match the great outdoors-loving adults with children who want to learn. It's a nonprofit organization with a heart of gold, the kind we love in the outdoor industry. Offering fishing, hunting, camping, hiking and just about any other type of outdoor activity, it provides opportunities for children to connect with qualified mentors.
I was able to reach out and speak with Director of Outdoor Mentoring Mike Christensen to ask a few questions in regards to the program. I wanted to get a feel for what was the drive behind this amazing program and ultimately, how hard was it for a caring adult like myself to become a mentor. Below is our conversation about the outdoor opportunities it provides.
How did Outdoor Mentors come about?
Pass It On - Outdoor Mentors, Inc. began as a partnership effort between Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism and Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters to bolster the ranks of hunters and anglers in 1999. Since then, it's grown beyond the borders of Kansas to many other states.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provided initial funding for the program and the Kansas Big Brothers Big Sisters (KS BBBS) took the lead role in starting the program hiring me as their Director of Outdoor Mentoring in July '02. In 2006, Pass It On - Outdoor Mentors was spun off as a separate 501(c)3 while still maintaining the close relationship with KS BBBS.
What is your drive and what motivates you to want to do something like this?
When I first got involved as the Director of Outdoor Mentoring for KS BBBS, I was primarily interested in seeing more kids given the opportunity to learn to hunt and fish. As I gained experience with the kids who were served by programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters, it became more about recruiting mentors for these kids. The positive impact that a mentor can have on the life of a child is well-documented by research that BBBS has conducted over the years. What I've seen and experienced is that when mentoring is combined with giving the kids outdoor experiences and passing along the ethics of a good outdoorsman, those impacts are greatly enhanced.
How many years have you been doing this and how many years has the Outdoor Mentor Group existed?
I started volunteering to host hunts for the local BBBS office in '99 and hired on with KS BBBS as their Director of Outdoor Mentoring in '02.
What states currently participate in the Outdoor Mentors Group?
Kansas is where my efforts are focused. In SD, they have a similar program called South Dakota Youth Hunting Adventures and in Texas they have Bigs Outdoors, both programs modeled after what we were doing here in Kansas. Ultimately, however, we have grown beyond Kansas and into Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
What is the best way to go about becoming a mentor?
Youth mentoring organizations like Big Brothers, Big Sisters are always in need of more mentors. This is especially true for the male mentors. They have experience in doing the background checks needed to insure the safety of both the youths and the mentors. They also have experience in managing the matches, doing frequent follow up with the children, their parents and the mentors, to insure that all is going well with the match.
What else would you like people to know about the Outdoor Mentors program?
The National R3 plan calls out long-term mentoring as one of the strategies that will help ensure the future of our outdoor heritage. Mentoring is not difficult. If you are going to go to the range, simply take a kid along with you. If you are going fishing, take a kid. If you go hunting, take a kid with you.The one thing we hear from all of our mentors is that they feel they get more out of the experience than the kids do.
I think it goes without saying that this program is a great idea. The idea of growing our hunting community, through the hearts of our children, is becoming such a necessity. Since the 1070s, we have lost more than half of the amount of hunters. Today there is just a little more than 11 million hunting licenses sold annually.
In 1970, more than 40 million Americans purchased hunting licenses. This money is a huge part of conservation and with such a decline, hunters everywhere should be concerned. More than half of the hunting sales are hunters over the age of 47. This means less and less children are involved in hunting which should scare anyone who wants a future for their children in the outdoors.
Many reasons can attribute to the decline. The cost of licenses, habitat loss, new regulations and modern society's impatience can all attribute to the decline in sales. Let's not let lack of mentoring or lack of opportunities be one of those reasons.
If you'd like to become a mentor and take one of the thousands of young people looking to experience some outdoor activities and share the same passion you do for the outdoors, be sure to visit OutdoorMentors.org.