IRCO and Bird Alliance of Oregon Partner to Bring Kids into Nature

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

When Aileen, an 11-year-old student at Walt Morey Middle School, arrived on her first day of camp, she was not excited to be there. In fact, that morning at the bus stop, she told her dad she didn’t want to go. It was her very first camp, and nerves are almost always present on day one as kids step out of their comfort zone and into the unknown. Aileen was about to spend the week exploring the natural world, thanks to a partnership between IRCO (the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization) and Bird Alliance of Oregon.

Aileen and 10 other campers were greeted by our educator, two TALON interns, and the advocate for IRCO. Together we headed out to Oxbow Park for a morning of exploration, games, and animal tracking. Somewhere between the Osprey nest, the River Otter tracks, and Rough-skinned Newt, Aileen’s apprehensions disappeared. When it came to tracking, she was a natural, guessing on her first try that the large bird tracks along the river belonged to a Great Blue Heron. Aileen lit up each time she saw a new bird, quickly making her way to the scope to get a closer look.

Aileen spies an Osprey through the scope on the Sandy River.

At Beacon Rock, Aileen’s favorite destination, they saw everything from a Steller’s Jay to a Peregrine Falcon. “It was really fun because we saw a jay and it was cool because we got to see it up close,” explained Aileen. “We were all the way on top of Beacon Rock.”

“She came back and she loved everything,” Maria, Aileen’s mother, shared with us. “All of the people there were just so friendly and so kind to everybody. I would certainly say that Bird Alliance of Oregon changed the way that she viewed nature altogether. I haven’t seen her this excited for anything in such a long time.”

Bird Alliance of Oregon has been doing camps with community partners for well over fifteen years, but this is the first year partnering with IRCO, both through an after-school program and a week of camp. IRCO is a powerhouse organization, with more than 200 culturally and linguistically specific social services. They coordinate the SUN program at 20 schools, helping kids do everything from homework to playing soccer to heading out in nature. And that just scratches the surface of the enormous support they provide to people of all ages and backgrounds from prenatal care to career training to food banks to legal services.

“Ever since Aileen went to school she went to the SUN program,” explained Maria. “It benefits us because if they are here at home, either they are bored or watching TV. So having the SUN program, especially in summer, is a relief knowing that my kids are actually doing something.”

SUN supports Aileen academically and socially, and gives her the chance to take part in the many community partnerships that IRCO has in place.

One thing her mom appreciated most about camp? The knowledge Brodie, our educator, was able to share. Aileen talked about how the Peregrine Falcon they saw is the fastest animal alive. She gleefully described how to identify a Turkey Vulture, raising her arms to show how the birds have a little wobble in flight. When Aileen wanted to know what kind of bird she saw in her backyard, she described it to Brodie. He identified the bird as a House Finch and showed her a picture.

“Brodie took the time to look for what she was describing,” said Maria. “You can tell that the people that work there know what they are doing.”

Brodie points out a Belted Kingfisher along the Sandy River.

Maria explained that between school, church, and the schedules of four kids, they don’t get out into nature as often as they would like. They do get outside thanks to their father’s love of fishing, which he has passed down to the kids, and they enjoy visiting Multnomah Falls. Even with their busy schedules, Maria thinks that Aileen’s week out in nature is going to inspire more exploration.

“Everything was so fun for her. She came home and she was like, we have to go there! We have to go there! So there are things we have to do now because I bet she’s going to be like, let’s go.”