Outdoor Education Adventures (OEA) started as a passion project. For nearly seven years, Theresa Crain and Neyssa Hays have spent more than two hours planning and preparing for every hour they spend with kids outdoors. The pandemic has added to this planning burden and they have kept pace, providing programming and content even in the worst months of the pandemic.

Outdoor education in general is notoriously underfunded and educators are underpaid. We want to grow OEA to allow our educators to be paid fairly for their time and to hire additional staff so we can offer more programming. Even at 100% capacity and with most of our staff making not much more than minimum wage, tuition for our programs covers not quite half of our operating budget. Many of these costs are not favored by grants and so we turn to you, our amazing community, to raise this essential funding.

If you get the impression that it’s all fun and games, then our staff are doing their jobs well. Although our camps and programs might seem to be spontaneously unfolding, there are many hours of imagining, brainstorming, planning activities and lessons, purchasing supplies, preparing materials, and so much more that go into each camp and experience. There are also many hours of computer work – research, marketing, and administration; volunteer coordination; creating and maintaining essential partnerships; grant writing and other fundraising; making sure we are in compliance with ever shifting regulations; staying on top of the latest science; continuing our own education on best practices … The amount of planning and work for one day of outdoor programming is staggering, and because we are outdoors, in the elements, there are a lot of potential unknowns that we need to be prepared for.

Collage of children playing outdoors.

How our staff make Outdoor Education Adventures programs different from childcare

One of the most powerful things we can do to help grow a more sustainable future is to offer younger generations nature mentors, to educate the next generation of stewards. We are experienced, passionate nature educators and mentors who provide a space for exploration and discovery. We guide and support children in developing and understanding of their place within the natural world. We have a deep reverence for nature and an understanding of how to allow children to take healthy risks and the knowledge to answer their questions about the elements of nature that they encounter and are curious about. Creative people, we strive to nurture a desire for lifelong learning.

All of our permanent staff members are highly educated, with work and life experiences that make them multi-talented dynamos! Each member possesses skills and unique perspectives that drive our organization in a well-rounded experience for the learners.

Theresa looks at the big picture, figuring out the logistics of running outdoor programs and how those programs can benefit the larger community. With a background in parks and nature interpretation as well as many years of experience working with schools and school districts, she melds formal and informal education practices. She is incredibly patient, and builds great amounts of trust in the children she works with. A cofounder of the organization, in addition to teaching programs, Theresa has put in endless hours developing curriculum, moulding and remoulding the website, writing grant applications, maintaining our licensing, and keeping the records, among many other things. She is an imaginative story writer, and enjoys telling stories that share lessons about the natural world.

Neyssa has combined a background in theater, art, and a love of languages with a passion for nature and science and a healthy curiosity about gross stuff. Tenacious and creative, she is determined to leave the world a better place for future generations. Her way of doing that is to use her broad education and experience to support learning and encourage curiosity in other people. As a cofounder of OEA, in addition to preparing for and teaching programs, Neyssa has also spent many hours writing grant applications, keeping the books, creating marketing materials, and coordinating volunteers. She grew up running around the wilds of northern Oregon, from the Wallowas to the Pacific beaches, and hopes to instill in others a deep and lasting appreciation for everything that the natural world gives us.

Heidi has an impressive ability to simultaneously be outwardly silly for hours on end, truly engaged with everything the children are saying, while carefully monitoring the children she’s teaching, analysing what they’re learning and considering what her next lessons will be. She is OEA’s Early Childhood Education Director, and has been working with Amy to build Maple Grove Nature School, creating curriculum, teaching, landscaping, and coordinating volunteers. With a nurturing personality she leads students in interactive play and writes her own nature songs and stories. An early childhood developmentalist, she brings knowledge and understanding of how young children learn and uses it to facilitate experiences for learners in a safe, fun, and interactive way.

Amy is curious and knowledgeable, with a long history of taking kids out in nature to learn and play. Into the learner’s experience she brings a love of nature and exploration, taking a spark within each learner and guiding the experience to deepen understanding. Amy is OEA’s Early Education Assistant; she co-teaches with Heidi as well as doing a lot of the marketing and some grant writing for the Maple Grove Preschool program. She has a background in agroecology and environmental quality and has many years of organic farming experience. For four years she traveled around the United States and Hawaii, working on organic farms and off-grid homesteads, and says, “All my possessions fit into a backpack!” A gifted science writer, she also plays the ukulele, enjoys foraging, and is a basket maker.

Our seasonal employees are young people who share our appreciation for nature and want to share that with others. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they enrich the programs for the participants, sometimes reflecting the participants’ own experiences and making them feel more comfortable, other times bringing new thoughts and perspectives that open new possibilities for the learners.