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Arts & Culture
Lighting the Fire shares four Storycorps-style conversations between successful young people in Dayton and the people who guided them. In fall 2020, Learn to Earn in Dayton and Storycorps collaborated to produce these conversations over zoom during the pandemic.

Lighting the Fire: The 'adventure' of mentoring using science and nature

Lynnze English
Adventure Central is a very popular summer and afterschool program run by Five Rivers MetroParks.

Adventure Central is a nature and science program sponsored by Dayton MetroParks. It has mentored kids in West Dayton for over 20 years. Lynnze English took part in Adventure Central as a teenager and then became a teacher there. Lynnze talks here with Nate Arnett, one of the founders of the program.

Well. Lynnze, so how did you get started with the program?

English I think in the beginning I had kind of what I feel like most kids had is just like: Nature, outside hot. I just wasn't going to like it because it just wasn't what I was used to. You have this unknown thing. They want us to be out five, 4 hours and then go back outside and then, you know, get in this creek or do this. It's like, 'No, no, no, not doing it. I'm going to hate it.' But obviously, like, I end up loving it. Stayed there for forever.

Yeah, well, and you mentioned that you stuck around. So what did keep you involved?

I think that we were learning things that we were not learning at school, so it was really like hands on stuff. We would get to go play in the creek. We would go visit the different Metro Parks, you know, experience with science and nature. And like I said, that wasn't in a super strict super school kind of way. But at that time I went to a Catholic school and then I went to a small private school. So I was pretty much one or two of one or two black kids in my class.

So for me, going to Adventure Central after school and going to Summer Day Camp outside of like seeing my family was really the only time I got to hang around other black children, like other kids who looked like me, who were my same age. So that was something that I needed at the time. It was something that was really important. And I mean, I don't think this would sound bad, but I think that I appreciate that so much of the white staff didn't try to like get urban because they I don't when they're teaching urban kids. Everyone was very much genuine you don't have to pretend to be something that you're not, you know, to play hip hop music to connect with people, you have to be yourself. So I think I very much appreciated that Adventure Central didn't try to be some like savior, some savior space for black kids. So that's something that I always appreciated.

All right. So what's your favorite memory or aspect to the program?

Probably overnight camp, because that's super fun. You know, getting to leave and go sleep away for two or three days and make a fire and, you know, all those fun things that you want to do as a kid.

You were one of the individuals that really pushed it to becoming more of a youth-driven experience. That was one of the first programs where our older youth said, "You guys get out of the way and let us do this. We have some ideas and we want to see some things happen here." And so that was a cool opportunity.

It's funny when I talk to my friend, I have one friend who I always say something. I'm like, Oh yeah, when I worked at an arboretum, when I was like, on a board, she's like, You have all these? Why do you have so many jobs? What were you doing? I was actually doing - I had so many opportunities. I've worked at an arboretum, I worked on like a farm. I was 17 or 16 as a youth member on a on a board. And it's because you gave me all these opportunities, you know, my coworkers were 30 and we're making the same lesson plan and doing the same things - they're driving the van. I am, too. They're in charge of kids. I am, too. What was your aha moment? That moment where you knew that, like, you know, this is what I was meant to do.

The aha moment was when I looked around and all of our staff were either past participants, they had started with us as parents or been a volunteer. And so any of the paid staff that were there had grown up in the program, and so we had truly grown our own future wise.

I would love maybe if I could write like a six figure check to Adventure Central. Thank you. If I've never said it before. Thank you so much.

Yep. Thank you.

Our series – called Lighting the Fire – is produced by David Seitz. These interviews were recorded on Zoom during the pandemic as a collaboration between Learn to Earn Dayton, Strive Together, a Cincinnati non-profit and Story Corps.