Gateway to the Great Outdoors

Nadav Sprague (right), a graduate of Washington University, runs a science enrichment program, which teaches low-income middle-school children about the environment.

Remembering Lois at two services

Two memorial services are now scheduled for Lois Caplan Miller, the Jewish Light’s beloved columnist of more than 50 years. Lois passed away Aug. 8 at the age of 93. 

The first service will take place at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 10 at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Blvd. A dessert buffet will follow featuring chocolate.

In addition, a secular service will take place at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8 at COCA, 524 Trinity Ave. 

Come one or come both. As far as this girl is concerned, Lois cannot be remembered or celebrated enough. Please note that the initial service at COCA, scheduled for Sept. 10 at 5:30 p.m., has been canceled.

Nature for all

As an environmental science student at Washington University, Nadav Sprague wanted to offer hands-on, outdoor experiences to middle-school children who might not otherwise be able to afford, or have access, to them. So in 2015, Sprague, along with other like-minded Wash U. students, began making outdoor and wilderness experiences available to children in lower-income areas of the St. Louis area in a weekly after-school program.

Today, Sprague runs Gateway to the Great Outdoors, a non-profit science enrichment program aimed at giving children from low socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to learn about sustainability, natural sciences and the environment through hands-on activities. The organization first worked with Lift for Life Academy and KIPP: Triumph Academy, both in St. Louis; it has since expanded its reach to four St. Louis area schools as well as one in Chicago and two in Dallas-Fort Worth.

In addition, Gateway is partnering with St. Louis University, University of Chicago and, possibly, Northwestern University, to recruit college students as volunteer/mentors to help staff the school programs, which are completely free of charge.

“Each school program ranges from 15 to 40 kids, so this school year we expect to work with 150 to 200 students,” said Sprague, a Chicago native who graduated from a Jewish high school there and is dedicated to the principles of tikkun olam, making the world a better place.  

“Now that we’re a little more established and in more schools, each program is a little different,” he continued. “In Dallas-Fort Worth, we are working with teachers who are volunteering rather than college students.”

The program’s goal is to teach middle-school students about the environment and the skills necessary to positively engage with it. Overnight camping trips, hikes and other field experiences provide opportunities for students to bond with fellow students and their mentors in an environment outside of school. Food and transportation are provided at both the weekly after-school programs and outdoor trips. 

“The kids have loved it for many reasons — many more than I imagined,” said Sprague, who graduated from Wash U. in December 2016 with a major in environmental earth science. 

“The fact that they have mentors who visit every week means so much to them. Some are talking about going to college, which they hadn’t considered. And they’ve started to become much more passionate about the environment. Some never understood why it was bad to litter — now they do. Some never had been in a lake before. They not only seem to be having fun but they also are learning.”

Sprague said when the program first began, Wash U. helped to fund it. The university still helps, but the program recently got its 501c3 status and can now solicit donations as well as apply for grants. No one draws a salary, including Sprague.

“Potentially, in the future,” he says, adding that he also works as a researcher at Wash U. and is applying to be a tutor for the Princeton college admission tests.

“I really hope to see the organization grow on a national level,” Sprague added. “I think the programs make such a difference in these children’s’ lives. All the mentors love it and the schools love it. In addition to teaching about the environment, the program helps build leadership skills and improves classroom performance. 

“I would like to see this organization big on every college campus and in many more schools nationwide.”

To learn more about Gateway to the Great Outdoors and to donate, go to gatewayoutdoors.org.

Awards for teen and pre-teen volunteer efforts

Students in grades 5-12 can apply for the 2018 Prudential Spirit of Community Awards if they have made meaningful contributions to their communities through volunteer service within the past 12 months (26 hours for age 10 and younger, 50 hours for ages 11-15 and 100 hours for older students). The application, which is due Nov. 7, is available at spirit.prudential.com and nassp.org/spirit.

Winners of these awards can receive anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000 depending on how far they get in the competition. The awards, which were created in 1995, have been granted annually for the past 22 years on the local, state and national level.

In addition, the Helen Diller Family Foundation is taking nominations for the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards for Jewish teenagers at dillerteenawards.org/apply-and-nominate. Nominations are open to teens who are:

• Serving in a leadership role on a project aimed at repairing the world

• Volunteering without any compensation

• Between ages 13-19 at nomination

• Self-identify as Jewish

The awards — a series of up to 15 prizes of $36,000 each — are meant to recognize “exceptional leadership and a commitment to creating meaningful change in the world.” The deadline for nominations is Dec. 13.