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Prescribing the Outdoors One Family at a Time Through Outdoors Rx

Pam Hess is the Director of Youth Engagement and leads the Outdoors Rx program at the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the nation’s oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization. Outdoors Rx represents AMC’s collaborative partnership with the healthcare community to provide free, dedicated resources for prescribing regular outdoor physical activity to youth, especially underserved individuals.

Pamela Hess

Pamela Hess is being honored as a Next Generation of Conservation Leaders Champion of Change.

I am so honored to receive the White House Champion of Change award. I have spent the last 20 years of my professional life helping kids and families discover the amazing benefits nature holds (physically and mentally). As a mom of two young girls, my quest to create the next generation of engaged outdoor enthusiasts has become even more personal. Finding the time to live a more active lifestyle throughout the year can be as challenging but it is so important for the mental and physical well-being of each and every family member it needs to be a priority.

Most of my fondest childhood memories involve “conquering the mighty woods” or sledding down the “big hill” with my family and neighborhood friends. Now when I take my family on outdoor adventures, I constantly hear things like “Wow, it’s great to see a family out here!”. Parents keep telling me they don’t have time or don’t know what to do outside or where to go.

I am in a unique place to help families change this. Through my work for the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), one of the oldest and best known outdoor recreation, education, and conservation organizations in the U.S., I had overseen many of our outdoor initiatives for families, schools, and at-risk urban youth. And then the opportunity to play a leadership role in developing an innovative new outdoor program came several years ago when AMC made the commitment to get 500,000 kids outdoors by the end of 2020 as part of its strategic goals.    

AMC had researched outdoor exercise prescription programs elsewhere, and I knew that we could add a much greater level of on-the-ground support by offering free, easy, and fun local outdoor programs for families who got the prescriptions. One of the things that AMC does especially well is meeting people in their personal comfort zone with the outdoors, even if this means they have no idea how or where to get started and more concerns and skepticism than confidence.

Working with several doctors from MassGeneral Hospital for Children, we were able to combine our outdoor expertise with their medical expertise to create AMC’s Outdoors Rx program. The enthusiastic response we’ve received since launching the pilot program last year has been really exciting and gratifying. We’ve trained over 60 healthcare practitioners in Greater Boston communities, held hundreds of guided programs for over 1,200 kids and families, started training volunteer program leaders, and joined forces with partners ranging from housing authorities to other nonprofits to cast the widest net possible.

Doctors and medical professionals tell us they like having a practical and easy-to-implement option to offer their patients. Parents have been overjoyed at how welcome they’ve felt and how engaged their kids are during programs like our outdoor play parties, scavenger hunts, letter boxing, and nature walks. Of course the best part is the smiles and laughter from the kids.

AMC plans to expand the program in the near term through volunteer efforts, in addition to launching the program in other Boston-area communities later this year. Exploring the outdoors was such an important part of my childhood, and I look forward to seeing more kids and families out enjoying our local parks and recreational trails as Outdoors Rx grows.  

Pam Hess is the Director of Youth Engagement and leads the Outdoors Rx Program at the Boston-based Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC), the nation’s oldest outdoor recreation and conservation organization. Ms. Hess has held a leadership role in youth outdoor education at AMC for the past 11 years. Prior to this she spent 10 years working on National Wildlife Refuges across the U.S.