Annual Celebration of Children in Nature 2012 Awards Recognizes Camp Fire, Candlelight Ranch, Explore Austin and LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School

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September 20 Event Hosted by Westcave Preserve Celebrates Five Years of Commitment to Getting Our Children Out Into Nature; Evan Smith as Master of Ceremonies

One week from tonight, September 20, 2012, the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin will recognize the winners of its fifth Celebration of Children in Nature awards event. Host Westcave Preserve and Master of Ceremonies, Evan Smith, are thrilled to recognize another set of outstanding organizations and individuals this year, including Camp Fire, Candlelight Ranch, Explore Austin and LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School. The Thursday, September 20 event will be held at the Austin Four Seasons Hotel and we welcome press and bloggers to join us. More information is available at:

Recognizing 2012 Achievements:
The annual Children in Nature awards highlight several individuals or organizations doing exceptional work that supports the Children in Nature Collaborative mission and vision. In the previous four years, 16 organizations and individuals were recognized with awards. This year, the fifth such awards highlight four additional organizations to create a remarkable group of twenty Austin-area individuals and organizations dedicated to connecting kids to nature, which has proven to make them happier, healthier and smarter.

The 2012 award winners in four categories recognizing excellence in connecting children to nature, include:

E. Lee Walker Award for Collaboration: Candlelight Ranch
Candlelight Ranch is an outdoor retreat on the North Shore of Lake Travis that enables children who are underserved or who have special needs to experience nature and engage in activities to promote healing, learning and growth. Youth attending Candlelight Ranch experience an innovative and adaptive therapeutic curriculum guided by skilled and passionate staff and volunteers. Activities such as nature hikes, ziplining and painting horses help Candlelight campers build confidence and self-esteem while having fun and enjoying nature.

John Covert Watson Award for Vision: Explore Austin
Explore Austin combines the benefits of mentoring and outdoor adventure in a six-year program for 6th through 12th grade inner-city youth. Each year, Explore Austin’s year-round program culminates with an eight-day Summer Wilderness Trip. "Explorers" learn leadership, team building and life skills in the outdoor classroom. To date, Explore Austin has provided its Explorers with over 96,000 hours of mentoring, 250 Saturday Excursions and 30 weeks of backcountry wilderness trips.

John F. Ahrns Award for Environmental Education: LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary
LCPL Nicholas S. Perez Elementary School embraces the notion that kids who play and learn in nature are “Happier, Healthier and Smarter.” Everywhere you look, Perez students are enjoying time outside. The third graders are hiking along Onion Creek on the extraordinary nature trail created by students, teachers, parents and neighbors. A fifth grade class is enjoying the outdoor classroom where science concepts come to life. And the first graders are releasing dozens of Monarch butterflies that they have been following from caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly. Twice a year, dozens of families camp on the school grounds – pitching their tents, making s’mores, and watching the stars!

Westcave Preserve Award for Enduring Dedication: Camp Fire
Camp Fire builds healthy, resilient, responsible youth through active learning, outdoor experiences, service to community, and by engaging families. The Balcones Council has been providing quality outdoor programs for children in ten Central Texas counties since 1966, including after-school programs, outdoor family nature programs, community service-learning activities and weekend/summer outdoor adventure programs for all ages. The Camp Fire promise: Young people want to shape the world. Camp Fire provides the opportunity to find their spark, lift their voice, and discover who they are.

All four organizations are wonderful examples of the good that is happening in the Central Texas area, the commitment to get our children out and into nature. All are available and willing to tell their stories, talk about their missions, with press, anytime.

“It is a great milestone for our organization to reach our fifth year of these awards. And while we know there are countless individuals and organizations out there in our area doing good and focused on keeping kids engaged with nature, we are thrilled to have been able to highlight the achievements of twenty stand outs,” said Hayden Brooks, chairman of the Westcave Preserve board of directors.

Press and bloggers interesting in attending the event, or speaking with this year’s, or past, award winners or spokespeople for the Collaborative, please contact Laura Beck at laurabeckcahoon(at) for more information.

The Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin (CINCA) is a private/public partnership dedicated to creating social change so that kids throughout Central Texas have easy and frequent connections to our natural world. CINCA is comprised of many organizations who together execute a strategic plan to inspire social change resulting in a significant increase in the amount of time children spend interacting with nature on a daily basis. Scientific research increasingly shows that kids with frequent access to the natural world are healthier, happier and smarter. CINCA delivers such amazing resources as NatureRocksAustin, as a real-time interactive website and comprehensive resource for families to find local places to go and things to do to connect kids with the great outdoors.

More About the Children in Nature Collaborative:
The mission of the Children in Nature Collaborative is to ignite and fan the flames of the movement to reconnect kids to the wonder and joy of the natural world. Westcave Preserve has served as the facilitator for the Children in Nature Collaborative of Austin since the spring of 2007. Examples of the group’s work include influencing the way communities are designed, how schools are landscaped, engaging pediatricians who value and encourage outdoor play, helping teachers integrate the outdoors into their curriculum, and supporting the outdoor choices families make when planning for their play time.

More About Westcave Preserve:
Westcave Preserve, located about 27 miles west of downtown Austin in the Texas Hill Country, hosts approximately 8,000 visitors each year for guided tours of its canyon and its stunning grotto and waterfall. As modern communities, families and especially children are spending more time indoors and less time in the natural world, they often demonstrate symptoms of “Nature Deficit Disorder” – a term coined by bestselling author Richard Louv. These include increased feelings of stress, trouble paying attention and feelings of not being rooted in our world. Westcave Preserve offers an antidote for “Nature Deficit Disorder.” More on Westcave Preserve can be found at:

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Laura Beck
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