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Youth Engagement: Our Longest Lasting Work

Tennessee Wildlife Federation looks beyond getting youth outside once. It focuses on the awareness building, consistent engagement, and social support needed to create lifelong enthusiasts.

Many know that Tennessee Wildlife Federation takes a science-based and holistic approach to conservation. The organization supports resource management and public policy that is backed by the strongest research.

What you may not know is we take that same approach with our programs too. Based on decades of research, we have built a series of programs to get the next generation outdoors and turn them into lifelong enthusiasts.

We are forming tomorrow’s conservationists, who will then grow the next and the next.

 

Laws we support may be on the books for decades. And land we conserve will be around well into the next generation. But youth engagement is our longest lasting work. With your support, we are forming tomorrow’s conservationists, who will then grow the next and the next.

But turning someone into a lifelong outdoorsman or woman—whether they are a hunter, birder, or kayaker—isn’t done overnight. It’s a process that takes thought, opportunity, and encouragement.

This idea was first proposed in 1955 and researched deeply in 1971 by professors Everett Rogers and Floyd Shoemaker. Over the years, additional studies—including those by Mark Duda—prove what these two uncovered 45 years ago.

When making a change—like taking up a new, big hobby—you have to:

1.  Become aware of it.

2.  Explore your interest in it.

3.  Try it.

4.  Decide if you’re going to keep doing it.

The research also shows that social support is key to deciding to continue with an activity. You’re more likely to stay engaged if you have family or friends to discuss it with and go with you.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation has linked our programs to walk youth through those four stages— awareness, interest, trial, and continuation—and provide social support all along the way.

Each program is a step along a trail that leads youth into a lifetime outdoors, and protecting Tennessee’s wildlife and natural resources.

The trailhead of this path was made through the investments of countless sportsmen and women since our founding in 1946. Conservation Policy has always been at the core of our work. Together with our friends and supporters, we constructed the agencies and policies that moved our state’s wildlife from teetering on the edge 70 years ago to a treasure that gives people reason to go outside.

The first steps down the path of youth engagement are taken through the Tennessee Scholastic Clay Target Program (SCTP). In the program, youth grades 5–12 can participate in shotgun shooting sports such as skeet, trap, and sporting clays. For some, it’s their first big outdoor activity and creates an avenue to make them aware of other activities in the great outdoors. And we’ve built it to include a lot of social support—from its team focus, to interacting with peers statewide, to parent involvement.

With firearm safety and shooting skills mastered, Tennessee SCTP athletes are primed to have a successful first hunting experience. We connect these athletes to hunting and fishing opportunities through our Youth Hunting & Fishing program. We focus on getting youth into an activity for the first time, leading them deeper into an outdoor lifestyle.

As these youth grow up, it’s vital they continue to have places to get outside. As young adults, they may not have the means to own land.

 

These range from single-day events to more in-depth Hunt Master weekends—a newly launched initiative that takes small groups of youth, and their parents or guardians, on immersive, multi-day hunting trips. But more than hunting, it provides the knowledge, skills, resources, and social encouragement needed to go again on their own. Confidence and friendships are built to keep youth outdoors. And we hope today’s Hunt Master youth will grow up to become Hunt Masters themselves and pass on what they learned.

Once high school students are engaged in the great outdoors, the Hunger Challenge gives them a way to expand and share their passion with their community. Part of Hunters for the Hungry, the Hunger Challenge works with high school clubs to get venison donations, raise funds, and volunteer to help fight hunger in their hometown. It teaches leadership, community engagement, and shows yet another benefit of being a sportsman or woman.

As these youth grow up, it’s vital they continue to have places to get outside. As young adults, they may not have the means to own land. And as Tennessee loses farms and open spaces, lack of access to natural places is an increasing barrier to all outdoor enthusiasts.

That’s why Tennessee Wildlife Federation is actively conserving or restoring more than 13,000 acres of land as part of our Habitat Conservation work. We’re securing and improving land today to increase access for decades to come.

Regardless of the land they use, Hunters for the Hungry gives outdoor enthusiasts who deer hunt another reason to stay in the great outdoors. In addition to feeding food insecure families, Hunters for the Hungry connects hunters with their community and the community with the resources around them. The result is deepened social connections that keep hunters more active.

While some outdoorsmen and women may only use a program or two, Tennessee Wildlife Federation is blazing the continuous trail needed to get a new generation outdoors. From the trap field to continued access to the great outdoors, we’re taking a science-based view to make sure there’s another generation of conservationists.

And because these outdoorsmen and women are proven to support conservation policy and open their wallets to protect the great outdoors, decades from now they will shape the path for their children. Just like we did.

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