By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies

Photos courtesy of Outdoor Outreach

April 4, 2022 (East County of San Diego) — Now that spring has arrived in East County and our excellent weather is getting even better, the desire for the outdoors is high, especially among our youth. This is the perfect time to start positively connecting our youth to outdoor recreation. Getting outside and engaging in healthy activities can help children achieve a natural high instead of spending time on alcohol and drugs. It really works. It’s not just an anti-drug slogan. Exercising stimulates the brain and can increase serotonin and dopamine levels and increase endorphins. All of this contributes to general well-being, happiness and euphoria while reducing stress, anxiety and low self-esteem.

The average age of someone trying alcohol and drugs for the first time is 13 years old. Nine out of ten addictions start in the teens. For this reason, it is important to carry the message to students from elementary through middle and high school.

External sales

Since 1999, the San Diego-based nonprofit Outdoor Outreach has provided opportunities for more than 17,000 young people to explore their world, nurture belonging and discover what they are capable of. Outdoor outreach connects youth from communities affected by social inequalities with transformative outdoor experiences. By utilizing green spaces and natural resources close to home, participants can discover their strengths and form meaningful connections with positive peers and mentors. Each year more than 2,000 youth participate in adventure-based programs such as hiking, surfing, kayaking and rock climbing. Their vision is an outdoor for all that inspires and sustains healthy and vibrant communities.

Annie Sawyer is Senior Director of Development at Outdoor Outreach. “For the youth we work with—who have had a history of being affected by things like poverty, homelessness, neighborhood violence, substance abuse and more—connecting with the outside world can be transformative,” Sawyer said. “Any opportunity to bike, surf, kayak or rock climb with Outdoor Outreach is so much more than a fun day out with your friends. It’s a chance to explore their world and discover new strengths they didn’t know they were capable of.”

Outdoor Outreach provides programming and collaborations in East County through Chaparral High, Crest Elementary, El Cajon Valley High, Mount Miguel High, and Juvenile Court Community Schools in El Cajon, La Mesa, and Rancho San Diego.

“For some, it’s a chance to step away from the very adult responsibilities or trauma they face at home and just be a kid for a while,” Sawyer said. “Most importantly, it’s a chance to connect with a community of friends and trusted adult mentors who believe in them and show them they matter.”

Of course high

Natural High, another San Diego-based nonprofit operating in East County, is similarly focused on a mission to inspire and empower youth to find their natural high and develop the skills and courage to to live a good life. According to Natural High, “It’s not one thing, but a combination of factors that ultimately drives young people to have the courage to avoid drug and alcohol abuse.” Her curriculum at Steele Canyon High and elsewhere focuses on protective factors and provides young people with comprehensive skills based on the latest drug prevention research.

The outdoors offers a variety of ways to exercise, such as biking, gardening, golfing (walking, not horseback riding), jogging, tennis, hiking, cucumber ball, and gardening, among others. There are also several indoor exercise options such as dancing, chores, aerobics, yoga, and weight lifting. Exercise has been shown to increase energy levels, strengthen the heart, lower blood pressure, improve muscle tone and strength, and reduce body fat.

The great thing about outdoor recreation is that it is an activity that almost all family members can do together. Family hikes, a trip to the beach or a nearby park, or a bike ride can serve as bonding moments for the family. This in turn builds better family relationships, which can help reduce the desire to use drugs or alcohol in adolescents.

County Park and Rec

A helpful resource for East County residents is the San Diego County Department of Parks and Recreation. In addition to listings of all county parks, the site also lists recreational and sports programs, including the SD Nights program. SD Nights is a free program that provides children ages 10-18 with safe places to rest during critical after-school hours.

Whether it’s hiking, biking, exercising, camping or the countless other things you can do outdoors in East County, have fun and be healthy.

IPS works with communities to build power, challenge systems of injustice, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive. To learn more about IPS East County, follow us on or click on the links to our social media platforms: IPS East County Facebook, IPS East County Twitter, East County Youth Coalition Instagram.

As a partner of Live Well San Diego, IPS and its programs, such as Addiction Prevention, are an example of an organization that, through its work and actions, demonstrates that we are building better health and focusing on safety.