Jacqueline Hunter first found peace and healing in the outdoors during her time in the military. In nature, her daily worries and fears seemed to fade away. Years later, she again sought solace in the outdoors, this time with her children who have inherited her love of the outdoors.
“When we’re out there camping, there’s a calmness and peace. It’s the only place where we all unplug,” she said.
When Hunter first moved to the Midwest, she was excited to find an abundance of natural places. Coming from Florida, the rural sites, away from noisy highways and cities, were a welcome surprise. The move also sparked a desire to make sure her children were part of a multicultural community similar to the one they’d been part of in Florida.
Early on, she reached out to the Multicultural Family Center (MFC) in Dubuque, which strives to build unity out of diversity through partnerships, programs and events in the city. Hunter’s passion for youth and education eventually led her to become the director of MFC. Here, she shares her vision for how the community could better support young people and families. Creating opportunities for area youth to get outdoors is part of that vision.
Many of the young people that the MFC serves have not experienced the outdoors up close. Families in the area are familiar with community parks, but many have yet to experience nature in more immersive ways.
“We serve a large population of people of color as well as children who are living in poverty,” she said. “For whatever reason, parents don’t see the outdoors as affordable or safe.”
To bridge this gap, the center created Nature Nomads, a year-long program that advocates for outdoor education for young people.
For many of the teens participating in Nature Nomads, nature provides more than a chance to explore Iowa’s outdoors. It offers opportunities for growth, development and an expanded sense of self.
“You begin to see a courage build,” Hunter said. “The idea that this isn’t what they do or that these aren’t experiences they can partake in begin to break down.”
Many of the young people participating in programs through the MFC have experienced trauma. The outdoors provide a space free of the worry and stress many kids face in their daily lives. Here, they can find release, rejuvenation and resilience in new spaces, and explore their capabilities.
“You begin to see a vibrancy that is lost in their day-to-day,” Hunter said. “When they are planning their activities or walking barefoot through a stream you can see that they are absolutely free and they know they’re free.”
Hunter sees a responsibility from the entire community to make sure that opportunities like this are available and attainable for everyone.
“Iowa offers so many amazing outdoor experiences,” Hunter said. “And many times, there are low to no costs associated with them. I think it’s important that we let people know that these are spaces for everybody.”