Fostering values – Casey Family Program – teens from foster homes help cleaning Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho

Fostering values – Casey Family Program – teens from foster homes help cleaning Nez Perce National Forest, Idaho – Focus: Partners for the Land

Sally Blevins

But I’m afraid the deer might charge me.” “What about snakes?” “Hey, I’m getting an eye for garbage now!”

These are a few of the comments heard on a five-day backpacking trip in the wilderness of Idaho with 12- to 15-year-olds from foster homes. These youngsters were participating in the Casey Family Program, a cooperative, cost-share program with the Red River Ranger District in northern Idaho.

The program was created by Jim Casey, co-founder of United Parcel Service. Having lost his parents at an early age, the young, industrious Casey began a small delivery service, starting with nothing more than a cardboard box. As Casey’s business flourished, he shared his wealth with children who had experienced family tragedies similar to his own. A child in the Casey Family is entitled to health care, a college education, and summer camps or work programs such as the one at Red River.

Tromping through the woods with a group of 13 energetic teenagers is not my idea of a typical wilderness experience. However, it wasn’t long before my heart went out to them. Many came from Louisiana and had never seen mountains, much less camped in them.

Participants learn minimal-impact camping and develop personal philosophies about wilderness, while the Forest Service benefits from the trails they clear and the litter they pick up. The staff who accompany the Casey children realize the importance of developing social skills along with a work ethic; the discussions and campfire programs they conduct enrich the lives of the entire group.

On one such evening, after a day spent cleaning up an old dump near a campsite, the group members discussed the day’s activity. One young boy was asked what it was like when he and his dad had gone camping in the wilderness. He responded, “We always threw out garbage everywhere and never thought about anyone picking it up. Now that I know what it’s like to have to clean it up, I’ll never do that again.” The group responded with applause.

COPYRIGHT 1990 American Forests

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