New Program Gets Northwest Pasadena’s Young People Outward Bound

Pasadena's Outward Bound Adventures puts a contemporary spin on the renowned outdoors program, teams with Water and Power for Ambassador Project

Published : Thursday, November 7, 2019 | 6:05 AM

A new program centered in Northwest Pasadena is helping young people dream a bigger dream by learning about nature, and about each other.

“We’re involving youth that have historically been absent from this kind of work,” said Charles Thomas, executive director of Pasadena’s Outward Bound Adventures. “We’re making sure they’re taking care of the forest and the watershed. We’re teaching them to be stewards of the natural environment.”

Outward Bound: A Famous Name

And, yes, the name Outward Bound has been around a long time.

“Outward Bound is the oldest nonprofit in the United States that services this community,” Thomas said. “Here in Pasadena, we started before the national Outward Bound group.

Thomas said it was wide his experience in various environmentally-based positions over the years that made him interested in bringing in the youths to this program.

“I’m a former Water and Power employee,” he said.

He said Pasadena PWP has really come through for the city’s young people by helping create the Community Watershed Stewards Academy, a way to get young people from the community involved in nature.

Thomas knows what he’s talking about.

“I came back to return the favor, because I would have gone in a different direction in my life had it not been for OBA,” Thomas said. “And Water and Power stepped up to the plate, they have put their money time and resources into this program.

“We do a lot of partnerships with educational groups where there’s an opportunity to foster youth,” said Margie Otto, a Water and Power spokesperson. “With OBA youth can get hands-on experience with a critical asset and they can understand the challenges we face.”

Thomas was brought into the group and was nurtured by the founders, Helen Mary Williams.

“I got mentored by the founder of the organization, so I was fortunate,” he said. “There were four people who created the organization, one was a Tuskegee Airman, one was a science teacher and she took me under her wing.”

The additional founders are educators Helen and LeRoy Criss, and mountaineer Bud Ross. Criss is a former Tuskegee Airman.

The OBA Pasadena

Outward Bound takes kids who historically would not be going up into the watershed and who would not be going outdoors and they are learning all about the natural environment, Thomas said. “They’re learning what a watershed is and techniques to restore watershed that has been damaged. It’s fundamentally an environmental studies program based on watersheds.”

What the young people become are ambassadors to lead events and do restoration and it’s a strong community investment because these are young people from the community where the watershed is. They’ve been training for several weeks and afterward they’ll be paid to work events, Thomas said.

It’s a lot to learn for anyone.

A watershed is basically an area where when the water falls it rains on the watershed, the water collects in tributaries and streams and flows into in this case the Arroyo Seco, which flows into the and Devils Gate dam.

Thomas said he was returning to devote his time and effort to OBA because he appreciates how the program helped him in his own youth.

“I started as a kid in OBA in the gang intervention program in the 1970s,” he said. “That program worked us in the National Forest. It changed my image of myself through nature-based outings that challenged me.”

Three years ago he left the Park Service to rebuilt OBA.

“I’m in the third year of the rebuild,” he said. “I left the park service to come back and rebuild OBA,” he said. “We are in the third year of the rebuild. So when people ask if I’m retiring, I tell them I’m starting a new career.”

Thomas came back to pay the organization back.

“I started as a kid in OBA in the gang intervention program in the 1970s,” he said. “That program worked us in the national forest. It changed my image of myself through nature-based outings that challenged me.”

Thomas said the most important thing about the whole program is the communication.

“One of the first things is we teach young people to look someone in the eye and shake their hand,” he said. “If they don’t, we walk up to them and tell them that they need to communicate by using each other’s names.”

Thomas said he is using what he learned to help today’s youths enjoy something great.

“The founders put together this remarkable curriculum to help us see ourselves differently,” Thomas recalled. “And it really did help to upgrade our academic and social skills that taught us to dream a bigger dream. And that’s what we’re doing with the new program.”

Thomas said the purpose for OBA goes beyond nature.

“We’re trying to get kids to communicate, using the outdoors as the venue.”

See the OBA website here:


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