Causes | July 2016
The New Cool
National nonprofit Come Alive Outside
encourages outdoor activity for MidSouth youth
Story by Tonya Thompson | Photos Courtesy of Marc Burford
Days filled with technological distractions in the form of devices, video games, and television have become the new norm for most American children. As research consistently proves the negative effects of this lifestyle on a child’s growth and mental development, parents mourn their own lasting memories of connecting with the outdoors through daily interaction with nature — memories they realize their children aren’t getting nearly enough of. This is especially true when children are encased in urban environments, as the days of free-roaming the woods or digging in the dirt for hours on end are sadly lost.
That’s why the Come Alive Outside Design Challenge seeks to change this status quo in ways that not only reconnect youth with the outdoors, but also teaches them the invaluable lessons of stewardship to the environment, urban gardening, andmutual collaboration to achieve a goal. In partnership with local landscape professionals and landscape architecture college students, the nonprofit presents opportunities for youth of all ages to design and build engaging outdoor learning environments at urban schools and childcare facilities across the nation.
“Come Alive Outside is more than the promotion of children playing outside,” says Michael Hatcher, a local professional landscaper who hosted one of this year’s Come Alive Outside projects at Memphis Catholic Middle and High School. “It is an opportunity for us, as a part of the landscape industry, to expose people to better lifestyles found outside. Whether this lifestyle is through exercise, urban agriculture and gardening, or through stewardship to the environment is based on the individual.”
Hatcher is President of Michael Hatcher and Associates, a company providing a full range of landscape services for Tennessee, North Mississippi and the entire Mid-South. Along with The Kitchen Community and students from Auburn University, Hinds Community College, Louisiana State University and Mississippi State University, Hatcher worked with youth from Memphis Catholic Middle and High School to create an outdoor learning environment that included the creative input of the students and teachers who will use it.
“The excitement that I saw in the students and the commitment to come up with something that was both unique and creative, all while working together, was inspiring,” notes Hatcher, who began the first phase of construction in December 2015 and completed the second phase of the $10,000 project this summer. Along with managing and utilizing rainwater effectively, the resulting space also creates a certified wildlife habitat and area that can be explored with students’ five senses.
Hatcher believes that the greatest achievement with the program goes beyond the actual space being created. “There is a sharing of knowledge that happens when students come together and work together,” he says. “It is these opportunities, such as working in the garden, that broaden experiences. Come Alive Outside has started the discussion on food gardens and the education on how vegetables are grown and where food comes from. This knowledge about food is also being done outside and provides an opportunity to share the environment and nature with others, as well.”
If you would like to participate in the Come Alive Outside program, Hatcher lists several ways for others — both inside and outside of the landscaping industry — to get involved. “Local companies can easily partner with Come Alive Outside just by promoting it in their conversations and marketing materials,” he says. “Understanding what Come Alive Outside means to them individually and sharing those ideas with their clients, customers and employees will help this movement grow.”