As interest in outdoor activities escalated during the pandemic, the Arizona Trail Association stepped up its efforts to educate youth about our desert surroundings and encourage them to get outside in a safe manner.

Through the Seeds of Stewardship program, the association is providing online, printable guides for hikes and activities and offering ambassador training for high school seniors.

Tucson Electric Power and sister company UniSource Energy Services contributed more than $8,000 to support these educational programs in Tucson and Flagstaff, a way to protect the environment and encourage preservation.

“The Arizona Trail is a perfect outdoor classroom and activity center right here in our own backyard,” said Wendy Erica Werden, Manager of Community Investment, who also served as a former Arizona Trail Board Member and current Segment Steward. “The ability of the Arizona Trail Association’s management to reinvent their programs and continue their educational outreach during this pandemic is inspirational.”

Since the pandemic began in spring 2020, public trails and lands have attracted more people seeking a safe, healthy activity. But some hikers had limited experience outdoors, leaving waste, disrupting habitats and harming the environment.

Because the program was unable to reach the hundreds of schoolchildren that it normally does, the Tucson office instead launched the Ambassadors Program, a six-month internship for nine high school seniors. The association developed strict protocols to ensure safety at a time when students were isolated in remote schooling – providing one of the few safe outlets and interactions for teens.

Starting in October, the program has trained and mentored students to become outdoor educators and environmental advocates, as well as community leaders, said Treven Hooker, the association’s Youth Education and Outreach Coordinator in Tucson. Ambassadors, who come from City High School and Basis Tucson North, participate in two outdoor excursions and two Zoom calls each month to earn high school class credit, as well as other certifications.

“We need more people to be aware of where we live so they can take care of it and we can continue to live here for generations to come,” Hooker said.

For the general public, the association is providing do-it-yourself guides, sensory and ecology activities, handbooks and virtual sharing. Guides for the Flagstaff and Tucson areas each list five locations with activities geared for fifth through 12th grades.

Download or request copies of Junior Explorer Handbooks.

Our companies’ contribution was especially helpful because many other donors were facing financial hardships, Hooker said. Plus, the association wanted to offer the programs at no cost at a time when they were needed most.

“I’m so grateful that TEP was able to provide funding for this. These kids are having a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with TEP’s support,” Hooker said. “Most of these kids don’t get much outdoor experience. Without this support, they wouldn’t have that outdoor time.”

The donation continues our company’s support of the association, a nonprofit organization that aims to protect and sustain the Arizona Trail – an 800-mile non-motorized path from the Utah to the Mexico borders. The mission fits with our company’s philanthropic focus areas on the environment and education.

This story is part of our ongoing series highlighting TEP’s philanthropic focus areas. TEP works with nonprofit partners to develop invitation-based donation requests for community assistance efforts. Funds come from corporate resources, not customers’ rates. Learn more about donations.

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