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Great Outdoors University Shows City Kids What They’re Missing

Great Outdoors University Shows City Kids What They’re Missing
Olivia Hilt is 12, lives in Charlotte’s Belmont community and has an ugly history with fishing.

“I once tried years ago,” she recalls, “and accidentally hooked a friend in the lip. She had to go to the emergency room.”

So it was with a great reluctance that Olivia recently accepted a fishing pole during a session of the Great Outdoors University of Greater Charlotte, a year-round program that introduces inner city kids to the wilderness. Olivia was part of a group with the Boys & Girls Club that went fishing at McDowell Nature Preserve on Lake Wylie.

She summed up her feelings in three words: “Fish are stupid.”

University manager Mary Bures says Olivia’s initial reaction is common among children who show up for completely foreign activities like fishing, hiking and canoeing. They almost always change their attitude by the end of the sessions. More than 10,000 have participated since the program kicked off 2 1/2 years ago, and many are from low-income families, while others live in group homes.

WE’RE FINDING A FAIR SHARE OF PARENTS DON’T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN WHEN TAKING THEIR KIDS OUTDOORS.

University manager Mary Bures
Still others are homeless and living at the Salvation Army Center of Hope.

“We have kids who don’t want to be here, but they come around and you start to see them get excited about things like a goose floating on a pond, or blowing the seeds off a dandelion,” Bures said.

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