Children’s Nature Retreat gala set for May 19

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By Shannon Master

The nature of childhood has changed. There’s not much nature in it. The Children’s Nature Retreat is aiming to change that In the last two decades, childhood has gone from playing outside until the street lights came on, to children ages 8-18 spending an average of 53 hours a week indoors virtually hard-wired to technology.

By Shannon Master

The nature of childhood has changed. There’s not much nature in it. The Children’s Nature Retreat is aiming to change that In the last two decades, childhood has gone from playing outside until the street lights came on, to children ages 8-18 spending an average of 53 hours a week indoors virtually hard-wired to technology.

The profound impacts to the wellness of our children include childhood obesity rates doubling over the last 20 years, our nation becoming the largest consumer of ADHD medications in the world, and markedly increased pediatric prescriptions to anti-depressant medications.

This shift inside has been attributed to two primary factors – a lack of access to natural areas and a discomfort with the outdoors.

The Children’s Nature Retreat, located in Alpine, is a 20-acre safe haven to nearly 100 domestic, livestock and equine rescue and adopted animals, including Zebras, African Camels, Alpacas, and Ostriches. The retreat provides an optimal living environment for the animals, and educational and recreational opportunities for visitors of all ages. With the help of donors through the retreat’s affiliate nonprofit, Hands United for Children, the retreat provides free field trips and transportation to children in underprivileged and distressed situations, including Title I K-8 students across the county.

To date, the retreat has hosted free field trips for over 550 students with a goal to double that number this year. Since the retreat’s grand opening to the public in February 2017, they have also hosted free admission for children with Autism and a free field trip for the Kylie Rowan Foundation’s beneficiary families living with childhood cancer.

Bree Rowan, who founded the Kylie Rowan Foundation with her husband, Luke, after they lost their two-year-old daughter Kylie to cancer last year, said their recent experience at the retreat was a gift, even if just for one day, for the children to not have to worry about things they should never have to worry about. 

“Our families ran around and played. The animals are so therapeutic. These kids are used to being stuck in hospitals, so it was a relaxing day for them to be able to be free from going through painful things and just able to breathe.”

The health benefits to engaging the body, mind and spirit with the outdoors and animals are proven to increase fitness, help protect against disease, reduce ADHD symptoms, and protect emotional development. Environmental education programs also significantly increase student performance on tests, improve critical thinking skills, and promote environmental stewardship.

Children’s Nature Retreat is pioneering ways to support environmental education through unstructured outdoor exploration, hands-on experiences with the animals, and encouraging a farm to table connection with where our food comes from through fruit tree orchards and grape vine rows. They will soon add an organic herb and vegetable garden, overnight camps, and day camp programs starting this summer.

“We are the only place like this in all of San Diego County. It’s a one-of-a-kind opportunity for children to unplug, learn and discover,” says Agnes Barrelet, Executive Director of Hands United for Children and President of Children’s Nature Retreat.

Hands United for Children also operates a dental clinic serving 1,400 students of The O’Farrell Charter School free of charge, and built and operates a preschool and nursery that educates and feeds 124 children in Burkina Faso, West Africa. Expanding on their efforts in West Africa, this year the organization is in the planning stage to build a Rural Medical Center that includes a maternity, emergency services and malnutrition center.

Hands United for Children is seeking support to continue successfully providing these programs by inviting one and all to its 6th Annual Fundraising Gala with a fun-filled Disco DJ and Dancing night on Friday, May 19 from 6:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. at Viejas Casino and Resort. There will be a cocktail reception, three-course dinner, and silent and live auctions. 100-percent of proceeds go directly into all of their programs benefitting children. Save 10 percent on tickets when purchased by May 1. For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit www.handsunited4children.org.

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