Wilderness Youth Project Creating Access to Nature

BY JULIA NGUYEN | May 19, 2022

Photo Credit: Wildnerness Youth Project

Time in nature has been proven to support mental and physical health for both adults and youth. Studies show that positive interactions with nature reduce stress, improve sleep, and improve cognitive performance in children and adults.

We are fortunate to live in Santa Barbara County, where we are close to the Los Padres National Forest, over 110 miles of coastline and beaches, and an abundance of open green areas. Yet, some youth in lower socio-economic communities have never connected with nature.

Lauren Winnewisser,
Co-Director of Development at Wildnerness Youth Project.
(Photo credit: Wilderness Youth Project)

“We have seen over the years that some of the youth we serve live as close as two miles to the beach on Milpas Street and have never been to any beach,” shared Lauren Winnewisser, Co-Director of Development for the Wilderness Youth Project. “Lack of access and safety are barriers that keep lower socio-economic and often BIPOC youth from experiencing our great outdoors.”

This is where Wilderness Youth Project (WYP) steps in. They have a tradition of guiding youth to nature for 23 years. WYP’s mission is to foster confidence, health, and a lifelong love of learning for young people and families through active outdoor experiences and mentoring in Santa Barbara County.

Access has been the key focus of WYP. With support from the Santa Barbara Foundation’s Small Capacity Building Program grant, WYP has revamped their registration application to now offer their application in Spanish to make it easier for parents to register their children.

Photo Credit: Wildnerness Youth Project

“Our old system required Spanish-speaking parents to fill out a paper application even though our website was bilingual,” noted Lauren. “With the revamp, everything is automatically translated into Spanish and has received more sign-ups and positive feedback from parents.”

Inspired by the work of WYP, Pete Miller and Kat Windley, parents of sons in WYP’s programs, stepped in to help with the accessibility issue.

Photo Credit: Wildnerness Youth Project

“We were particularly passionate about making this vital resource more accessible and inclusive to Spanish speakers, as well as people that use phones and computers in many different ways,” said Kat. “We feel that WYP is vital to our community as we have witnessed their programs first hand with our sons.”

With school ending and the start of summer, WYP is ready to continue its mission to create more access to nature in our county and this summer they will continue to serve our community and hope to have an impact, both physically and mentally, for our youngest residents, their families, and the larger community.”

To learn more about WYP and their programs, visit