Transportation Solution to Get Kids Outdoors

Transportation is the Most Often Cited Barrier (After Money!)

The Skillman Foundation in Detroit (see report below) is right on the mark. Second to more money, logistics — how to get children from point A to point B — is the most cited barrier to getting children and youth to programs, particularly activities beyond their neighborhoods. A dedicated transportation system is an innovative approach.

Reading hundreds of proposals over the past few years, it is clear that transportation continues to stymie innovative and engaging programs — especially those getting kids into the outdoors. Anecdotally  I have heard of many incidents of a free program being offered to a worthy group, only to be undone because the group was unable to find the funding to get the kids to the site. I remember one outdoor adventure program at San Francisco State, run by college students, was providing free sailing lessons to local nonprofits and neighborhood groups. More than once, the college leaders were ready, but the program was cancelled last-minute when the neighborhood group was unable to secure transportation to the lake.

Leveraging Funders’ Dollars

These stories resonant with funders, and have surfaced again and again in the listening sessions I have attended. It is also mentioned by funders, but there are not enough opportunities for nonprofits to apply for and secure this type of funding. This ongoing frustration is why I helped to develop a dedicated Transportation Fund at the Foundation for Youth Investment. In the end, rather than going it alone, FYI was able to be a lead funder in creating a pooled fund along with other regional and local funders to get kids outside.

SF Bay Area Transportation Fund

This new San Francisco Bay Area transportation initiative, created through the Environmental Education Funders Collaborative (EEFC) helps subsidize transportation costs for low-income schools sending their students on field trips to outdoor and environmental education programs. The fund is managed by a local nonprofit, and administrated through the Science by Nature website. Structured as a reimbursement, teachers apply for up to $500 per field trip. The educators can use the money to subsidize their logistics costs (e.g. pay for gas), or work with MIchael’s Transportation, a regional transportation provider, who has agreed to provide bulk pricing for this initiative.

In the 2012-13 pilot program, the EEFC invested $100,000 of pooled funds, helping to get over 11,000 students from schools with an average of 70% free and reduced meals on a trip. At a cost of less than $10 per student, this is an inexpensive and effective way to provide a real world hands-on learning experience to kids who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend a trip. This idea is scalable, and transferable to any community.

If you are interested in investing in this fund or learning more, drop me a note.

bus in forest

From the Nonprofit Quarterly Report:

Innovative Transportation Grantmaking from the Skillman Foundation

Anyone who has worked in youth programs knows that transportation can be a major barrier to involvement. This program takes that bull by the horns. The Skillman Foundation has granted $100,000 to the Detroit Bus Co. to run a six-month pilot program providing free transportation service to take children to and from more than 90 after-school and summer programs. The programs are a part of Skillman’s Youth Development Alliance. The buses will even drop children back off at pre-approved safe locations, like police stations, fire houses and libraries, if necessary.

Chris Uhl, vice president of social innovation at the Skillman Foundation comments, “Our goal is to increase membership in these programs, but one major impediment is transportation and the ability to get these kids from school to the program and back home…We’re often talking kids ages 11 to 18 who have unsafe and unreliable public transportation and whose folks don’t have transportation.”

For now, the program will concentrate on southwest Detroit and the Chadsey-Condon community, where a lot of the programs are clustered. The Detroit Bus Co. has hired a dedicated transit planner and has staffed the buses to ensure the routes run smoothly.

If the pilot is successful, the Foundation and the Bus Company may expand to other neighborhoods. Says a representative of the bus company, “Right now we’re using the school buses—they are finally being used for school bus work—but we may potentially invest in more if demand ramps up…If they want it, we will make it happen.”—Ruth McCambridge


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