For Immediate Release

July 29, 2021 – San Diego, CA – The San Diego Foundation today announced $698,000 in grants to nonprofit organizations expanding access to and instilling a love of the outdoors for children and families who have been historically denied equal access to parks, outdoor education or recreation opportunities throughout the San Diego region.

The grants are made possible by the Opening the Outdoors Program at The San Diego Foundation, which connects, protects and increases equitable access to the outdoors across San Diego County, especially for San Diegans in underserved and park-deficient communities.

Additional funding was provided by the San Diego COVID-19 Community Response Fund at The San Diego Foundation, which launched in March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and raised more than $67 million for nonprofits working in impacted communities.

“The pandemic has affected the health and wellbeing of so many San Diegans and the OTO grants have increased support at a time of critical need,” said Christiana DeBenedict, Director of Environmental Initiatives for The San Diego Foundation. “Access to the outdoors for youth and families in San Diego provides multiple benefits in the face of increased stressors including lockdowns, isolation, and education and safety challenges. The Opening the Outdoors program aims to promote more connected, resilient communities and reprioritize access to the outdoors for our communities that have historically been underserved.” 

Many people from historically marginalized populations, including low-income and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities, have long experienced barriers to accessing the outdoors safely, including a lack of safe infrastructure in their neighborhoods and an inability to afford recreational permits.

The nonprofits supported through the Opening the Outdoors Program offer education, conservation, job training and other programs to improve access to the outdoors for all San Diegans and instill a love of the outdoors among community members of all ages.

The Opening the Outdoors program is closely connected to a key initiative in The Foundation’s strategic plan: building resilient communities. Specifically, Opening the Outdoors addresses environmental issues related to resiliency in communities so they can better adapt and persist through changing circumstances.

The 2021 Opening the Outdoors grants will support 20 local nonprofit programs that create safe, secure access to the outdoors and build better health and quality of life for San Diegans. Each program will address many of the equity barriers outlined in The San Diego Foundation’s 2020 Parks for Everyone report, including safety, walkability, transportation, cultural inclusion, and fees, permits and expenses as well as issues exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as mental health, well-being and food insecurity.

2021-2022 Grantees:

Back Country Land Trust – $40,500

Students from Alpine, Viejas and the Mountain Empire will have free, guided access to the outdoors through field trips, hands-on workshops and the opportunity to work with tribal leaders and trained docents in installing a native plants garden on their school campus.

Coastal Roots Farm – $25,000

1,600 4th grade Escondido Union School District students will have equitable outdoor environmental science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. Many students live in park‐deficient communities, are from low‐income BIPOC families, have never seen a farm firsthand, and have less access to fresh, healthy food. 

Crisis House – $50,000

The free Pathways Year-Round Activities program and Camp HOPE promote restorative healing for children and teens impacted by domestic violence through outdoor year-round experiences, mentorship opportunities, and camp.

Earth Discovery Institute – $12,856

A utility vehicle will be purchased to aid staff in continuing restoration work to help students and families (who are facing barriers to accessing or enjoying nature) engage with local outdoor spaces.

Friends of The Water Conservation Garden – $26,000

Ms. Smarty-Plants Enrichment Experiences will connect local children from low-income communities to fun science and nature-based experiences ranging from field trips to summer camps.

Groundswell Community Project – $50,000

Surf therapy will be offered to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer individuals and women (LGBTQ+) to create safe spaces for women and to discover healing, strength, resilience and a sense of home in San Diego’s oceans and beaches.

Lumbercycle – $40,700

Lumbercycle will develop a food oasis from a food desert near the border by empowering participants with education and tools to affordably produce, prepare and consume healthier food. The community farm is located within Tijuana River Valley Regional Park and will involve students and staff from Chula Vista High School’s “Social Justice and Food” course.

Nature Collective – $5,000

The Escondido Creek Watershed environmental programming will move to a virtual platform and continue to engage Escondido Union School District 5th grade students in the outdoors through nature journaling and exploring.

Ocean Connectors – $50,000

National City youth living in underserved Pacific coastal communities will engage in coastal and marine science education to open doors for students to practice stewardship in their own communities and to pursue environmental and outdoor career pathways.

Ocean Discovery Institute – $25,000

The Living Lab program will serve 2,500 3rd-5th-grade students at City Heights elementary schools with field trips in an urban community within a coastal watershed, and help students discover the connections between their inland neighborhood and the nearby coast.

Outdoor Outreach – $50,000

Outdoor Outreach will provide in-depth, nature-based job training, employment opportunities and youth-led advocacy activities and will also support a new fall cohort of young adults in the foster care system in collaboration with Casey Family Programs.

Pan African Family Union – $50,000

The African Women’s Health and Wellness Project increases the mental and physical wellbeing of African women through the transformative power of the outdoors to create a comfortable and supportive environment for immigrant and refugee women to feel safe in an outdoor environment. The grant will also support ongoing programs and aid in the purchase of a transportation vehicle for programming.

Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation – $50,000

Patients in the outdoor outreach multi-week program will experience positive interactions with the outdoors to challenge themselves, discover their strengths and build their own positive, resilient futures.

San Diego Canyonlands – $50,000

Paid environmental industry internships will be offered to youth throughout City Heights so local youth leaders can enjoy healthy outdoor activity and explore employment opportunities in the local environmental industry.

San Diego Center for Children – $50,000

Youth will create a native plant garden within a canyon rim restoration of approximately 5,000 square-feet of currently unused space at the 12-acre main campus to create safe spaces to engage with nature.

San Diego Coastkeeper – $10,848

The grant will fund equipment purchases for monthly programming that engages BIPOC students in a year-long environmental science program to address equity barriers to San Diego’s open spaces.

Social Advocates for Youth, San Diego – $30,972

Real Connections to the Coast is a program that improves social-emotional and mental health outcomes for elementary, middle and high school students through visits to the coast that include tidepool exploration and kayaking to create memorable experiences.

Urban Surf 4 Kids – $25,000

Trauma‐informed surf therapy camps will empower foster and at‐risk youth who have experienced complex trauma and help them become independent adults, leaders in the community and champions for the environment through surf therapy, mentorship and life skills achievement programs.

Via International – $37,023

Via International will celebrate the 50th anniversary of San Diego Border Field State Park (Friendship Park), improve public access to the park and help grow a leadership network among South Bay residents to support park development efforts.

WILDCOAST – $20,000

The Coastal Connectors program will train local youth leaders from Tribal and park- deficient communities and equip them with the tools they need to become effective leaders and stewards in ocean conservation and climate stewardship.


Theresa Nakata, The San Diego Foundation, or 619-814-1305
Byron Kimball, Mixte Communications, or 619-732-0789 x 297