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Speaker: It’s Important To Connect Youth With Nature

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

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

“There’s always lots of demands,” Sally Jewell said.

Jewell addressed members of the Amphitheater audience Tuesday at Chautauqua Institution speaking on the theme “The Wild: Reconnecting With Our Natural World.”

She explained that she traveled all over the United States, and noted the need to continue preserving the nation’s natural resources and to get children more involved with preserving the resources.

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

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

She said 98% 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, cycling, you name it. And then many of them (students) are being introduced to that for the first time when they get to college.”

Serving during President Barack Obama’s second term in office, 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, encouraging investments for more sustainable use of public lands and waters, deepening relationships with indigenous communities, and long-term conservation of the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic treasures, according to assembly.chq.org. Jewell demonstrated 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 entertaining, but it is also addictive, and keeps children indoors. Jewell said even her own granddaughter uses Tik Tok. Affluent children, who may be overscheduled, she said, have access to places to get a away.

“But there are many, many kids whose parents juggle 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. Before REI, she spent time in the banking industry, and prior to banking, she was an engineer in the energy sector, the website noted.

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

During her tenure as Secretary, a continuum was created to engage people in nature which included four areas: play, learn, serve and work.

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

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

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

“And as I learned over the last decade, if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” she added. “Your voices are more important 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 perhaps more importantly, most importantly, take the children in your life and in your communities into the outdoors, especially those who may not have had the opportunity.”

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